August 5, 2014

Cliff’s Edge

Whether you deem Edward Snowden (the National Security Agency contractor who absconded with top secrets) a hero or a traitor, one thing is for sure. His treachery (or heroism) is another revelation of what we should all know by now: privacy in the twenty-first century is like rotary dial phones, eight-track cassette players, and Joe Camel ads on billboards.

However much our digital gizmos give us access to the world, they also give the world access to us. It’s Newton’s third law of motion, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, only in the digital realm. To be wired to the world runs both ways.

Who, for instance, hasn’t yet had the creepy experience of browsing a Web site only to later find ads related to that site pop up on your screen when you are looking at something else entirely? You think it’s just a coincidence that CNN Sports knows your obsession with chocolate truffles?

We are being watched, monitored, categorized, and parsed. When you surf the Web, you leave a trail that will remain long after you’re gone. Your smartphone reveals where you’ve been, even if you turn it off while it’s in your pocket. When you walk down a city street, or into a store, you’re likely being taped and your image uploaded to the cloud. Every online purchase remains etched somewhere in silicon, with backups galore. And if we can carry Google Earth on our phones (technology that 20 years ago was probably top secret), do you think that when hiking the Appalachian Trail or lulling on a beach in southern Spain, you can’t be watched by someone in a cubicle at Fort Meade?

“Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed—no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.” Thus wrote George Orwell in 1948 about what he expected by 1984. And though things haven’t turned out quite like that, who knows what technology awaits and how it will be used.

On the other hand, isn’t privacy a myth anyway? Haven’t we been told in the Bible, “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done’ ” (Rom. 2:5, 6)? Or “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14)?

Privacy? God knows things about us that the NSA or Google never will. And to have every secret thing, good or bad, brought into judgment? I’m toast for what I have done publicly, much less in secret. Who would not be condemned, utterly and justly condemned, by a holy and righteous God who judges all that we ever did, including the thoughts “in the few cubic centimeters inside your skull” that Orwell’s dystopian goons couldn’t get to?

That’s why we need the gospel; that’s why we need the cross; that’s why we need the righteousness of Jesus covering us, now and in judgment. Otherwise, we would stand before the bar of heaven guilty of transgressions that would condemn us to the oblivion from which we first arose.

Instead, “before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:2) our Creator instituted the plan of salvation. That way none of us have to face the damnation that our deeds demand. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).It’s not that we haven’t earned that condemnation; we have, especially with the “secret things” that maybe even Google and the NSA don’t know about. Rather, there’s no condemnation because of God’s grace, made manifest in the person of Jesus, whose every word, deed, and secret thing becomes credited to us “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

Yes, God knows more about us than does the Internet. Despite that knowledge, thanks to Jesus, He offers us a grace that we shouldn’t expect from Google, the NSA, and everyone else taking extensive and detailed notes.