August 26, 2015

Lessons From Ashley Madison

Ashley Madison, the website devoted to helping people cheat on their spouses, is back in the news. 

You might remember that the service for philanderers made headlines a few weeks ago when hackers compromised their data and threatened to release the names of cheaters to the world unless the website shut down. Ashley Madison did not shut down, so last week, the hackers made good on their threat and started releasing names and personal data — 10 gigabytes’ worth.

Now a couple of Canadian law firms, possibly smelling opportunity, have entered the fray. This past Thursday, Charney Lawyers and Sutts, Strosberg LLP filed a class action suit against Avid Life Media, Ashley Madison’s Toronto-based parent company.

The amount? $578 million. Why? The hack is being described as an unprecedented violation of privacy. The compromised data involves more than mere names and credit card numbers; it involves the public shaming of participants, including a large number of public figures. As writer John Herman put it: “Most leaks of this size don’t implicate people in anything aside from patronizing major companies. This is new territory in terms of personal cost. The Ashley Madison hack is in some ways the first large scale real hack, in the popular, your-secrets-are-now-public sense of the word. It is plausible — likely? — that you will know someone in or affected by this dump.”

But was this really the work of hackers? Cybersecurity expert John McAfee says it was not. In the International Business Times, he wrote: “Ashley Madison was not hacked — the data was stolen by a woman operating on her own who worked for Avid Life Media.” In other words, it was an inside job.

I must admit (as I did in an earlier post) that it’s hard to work up sympathy for the people caught up in this scandal — with the exception of the people about to discover, possibly on a public platform, that their spouses have been cheating. They are true victims. Everybody else? Perpetrators.AshleyMadison

There was a passage in the gospel of Luke that used to terrify me as a kid: “He began to say to His disciples first of all, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops’”(Luke 12:1-3).

I must have been 9 or 10 years old the first time I came across that statement, and it nearly made my pre-pubescent heart stop. Everything? Every secret I’ve ever had will come to light? I imagined a humiliating public experience where angels would literally stand on rooftops, reciting my darkest deeds for the entertainment of just about everybody I knew.

Humiliating. Maybe not Ashley Madison humiliating, but humiliating nonetheless.

Of course, if you confess your sins and choose to accept the gift of salvation, your sins are expunged and tossed into the depths of the sea (1 John 1:9; Micah 7:19). The angels would have nothing to shout from the housetops because the perfect record of Christ has been substituted for your own. As Ellen G. White wrote in her masterpiece on the life of Christ: “Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which he had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed’” (The Desire of Ages, p. 25).

Marinate in that thought for a while: Christ was publicly humiliated so that you won’t be. He hung naked on a cross, condemned as a criminal, mocked and spit on, and your sins were placed squarely on His shoulders. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us,” Paul wrote, “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us,” he points out to the Galatians (Galatians 3:13).

Christians have become so used to the idea of the cross that we forget how scandalous it was: the innocent Son of God dying a shameful public death. “Who for the joy that was set before Him,” the book of Hebrews says, “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).

Imagine (God forbid that you don’t have to imagine this) that your name is among those leaked to the public in the Ashley Madison data dump. With fear and trembling, you search through the information being released, knowing your guilt. It’s only a matter of time before your shameful conduct is made known to the world. But instead of finding your name, you find Christ’s. He is utterly innocent, but He has stepped in and agreed to wear your shame, because He can’t imagine eternity without you. The world scoffs Him, ridicules Him — and you are free.

“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!” says the old American hymn. “That caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul.”

No, maybe you didn’t use Ashley Madison, but you are still guilty of the sins that cost Christ such a high price. Your sins are a form of infidelity — the Bible repeatedly compares sin to marital unfaithfulness. They utterly disqualify you from membership in God’s kingdom. That should have been the end of the story: you get outed publicly, and you wear the consequences of sin. But “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5:20).

I doubt it’s possible to mop up the mess made by tens of millions of people in the Ashely Madison debacle. It’s hard to see how anything good can come of it; it’s just too big and too horrible. But the bigger mess? The one we made? There is a solution — one that cost Jesus everything.

That ought to change how you live.