I guess it’s just an eighty-two-year-old eccentric New Mexico multimillionaire thing.

Forrest Fenn† filled a treasure chest with up to three million dollars in gold coins, diamonds, and emeralds and then buried it somewhere. Then he challenged America to go out and find it.

† If that were your name, you’d have been an eccentric multimillionaire as well.

It all started when he was diagnosed with cancer in 1988. Fenn was going to bury the treasure and die out in the wilderness, leaving the hidden treasure as a legacy. He survived the cancer, but he moved forward with his treasure plans.

Fenn provided an unusual map to help people find the treasure: a poem with nine clues hidden in it. He could have gotten the idea from an old episode of Scooby-Doo. I don’t know. But he has a very definite philosophy, and in his autobiography, The Thrill of the Chase, he laid it out for us. He wrote about the rare and valuable things he collected over the years, and how the real treasure in life is the pursuit itself.

By burying the treasure, he was trying to show as many people as possible what he meant. He was saying, “Turn off the TV! Get away from those video games! Do something real for a change, instead of living vicariously on the adventures of fictional people on living room screens. Go after a true prize.”

Fenn’s message is that anything truly worth having must be pursued. You can own a DVD of Treasure Island, or you can get out of your recliner and live your own story, letting other people live vicariously through your adventures. The best stuff in life is buried. You have to go after it. You have to figure out where to dig, and then you have to go lay claim to it. Fenn believes it’s high time people give up their tiny mass-market dreams and do something real and memorable.

You have to admit he has a compelling point. His challenge has inspired thousands of people to go in quest of his hidden treasure—which, so far, has eluded all pursuers. Every now and then he publishes a new “clue” based on undesired developments. It’s not in a graveyard, so please don’t dig those up. It’s not at a historic landmark, so don’t dig there either.

I suspect—because of the way most of us are wired—he touched a nerve. People believe there’s something out there for them, but they can’t seem to find it. Life itself is a kind of treasure hunt, and you have to think hard about what you’re looking for and where to dig. And where do you find the map? In the movies, someone always finds an old treasure map, supposedly left by some pirate who opposed conventional banking, and the question is always whether the map is authentic.

A friend says, “This is it! This is the real map, and the treasure is on the island called Achievement.” So you start out on your expedition, and it’s hard walking, hard digging. After enough fifty- to sixty-hour workweeks, we find “it”—recognition, promotion, salary—and it doesn’t really seem like much of a treasure.

Someone else is squinting at the map of the island of Wealth. Another believes the Love Boat will carry her to treasure buried on some island. The thrill of pursuit is nice, but you’d like to find a treasure that’s ultimately worth something. And eventually you find yourself singing along with Bono, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Death Is Life

The Bible says life’s real prize is hidden, and you have to know where to search.

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:3)

Kyle Idleman, The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-down Ways of Jesus Begins (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2015).

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