Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Message You’re Sending

“There’s always someone looking at you.”

The line was penned by Sir Bob Geldof way back in 1979, long before personal computers with memories that the average person cannot easily erase, long before the Internet, before the NSA was on your hard drive and tracking your every movement through your cell phone, before your TV started watching you while you watch it, and before the unblinking eye in the sky that is Google Maps. It seems more than a little prescient, but Geldof had become (briefly) famous, and the world was paying more attention than he would have liked.

In Geldof’s song, the narrator assumes the persona of a paranoiac with arguably legitimate concerns about creeping government intrusion, all the while carrying on an argument with his girlfriend:
“And I wish you’d stop whispering.
Don’t flatter yourself, nobody’s listening.”
If that couplet seems to contradict the first quote, it really doesn’t. In fact, it couldn’t more accurately describe the surveillance state in which we live.

Life in the Surveillance State

Everything we do online is preserved forever — or, if not forever, for as long as technology exists to preserve it, which will certainly be orders of magnitude longer than any of us would like. Delete an ill-advised tweet five minutes after you send it if you like, but somebody has already archived it and will use it against you if and when it suits their purposes. That unflattering Facebook post you wrote has been circulated halfway round the world by the time you wish you hadn’t. And your browsing history? Don’t even go there. You may delete it daily, but your Internet service provider has it, your employer has it (if you’ve ever surfed the Web on the job), your government probably has it and Google most definitely has it: what you watched on YouTube today, where and when you’ve traveled, every photo you’ve ever uploaded — at least 2G of data on every person alive that regularly uses their browser and some that don’t.

Someone is indeed ALWAYS looking at you.

Nobody’s Listening — Yet

At the same time, don’t flatter yourself, nobody’s listening. Yes, sure, your entire life is up there in the Cloud somewhere along with everyone else’s, but even with current data mining technology that amounts to a stupendous quantity of information to pore over and pick through. Chances are that unless you stick your head up above the crowd, nobody really cares whether you shop at Walmart or Saks Fifth Avenue, whether you got a new tattoo or whether you regularly browse inappropriate websites. The clandestine powers-that-be are too busy to care about little ol’ you right now: they’re off chasing Donald Trump’s tax returns, or maybe Jennifer Lawrence’s most recent poor-judgment photo op, or even hard evidence of Richard Spencer’s Nazism.

But make yourself visible for even a moment and rest assured somebody will take notice of what you’re up to — and it doesn’t have to be a sinister government plot. In fact, that’s the least likely scenario. More likely it’ll be the HR department at work deciding that your online profile doesn’t flatter their product. Or it could be a nosy neighbor deciding that home schooling your kids constitutes abuse. It could be a transgender activist halfway across the country taking issue with your latest blog post or the contents of the audio files on your church’s website. Or it could just be your favorable review of a non-PC book on Amazon that draws the ire of the social justice crowd.

There’s an online mob with your name on it ready to form at the drop of a hat any time you express an opinion, and there’s a readily available cache of very personal material available online for use against almost everyone.

Most of us know this and have become somewhat blasé about it. If we think about it at all, it’s to reassure ourselves that it’ll never be us.

Phalanxes at Attention

More importantly, I think, there’s Someone looking at you. Always.

There is a concerning aspect to God’s omniscience, to be sure. One way or another, every word, every action, every thought will one day be brought into judgment before the throne of God. That should inspire reverent fear.

But that’s old news for most Christians. Even Muslims fear judgment. Here’s something you probably consider a little less often.

No matter how small or irrelevant you may feel you are, the fact is that whole phalanxes of beings in the unseen spirit world are paying attention to the little things you do. Maybe it’s their job. Maybe they’re just curious. Maybe angels and demons watch human beings like we watch TV. I don’t know and I can’t guess, but I’m not sure how else to process statements like this:
“That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.”
Now, Paul doesn’t explain this. The word “angels” here simply means “messengers”, and some readers have suggested he may be referring to people sent to observe and report what went on in first century Corinthian churches. It’s possible. Regardless, Paul’s point is that, whether humans or spirit beings, someone is looking.

That Nobody in the Back Row

It’s also possible that real, live angels are taking time out from their heavenly responsibilities to see what that insignificant nobody quietly sitting in the back row of that tiny little local church out in the sticks thinks about authority. That’s an issue that matters to angels. After all, Satan has his own angels, each of which has rejected the authority of Almighty God. Angels also are beings with agency, able to choose good or evil, and surely this choice remains open to those who have not bound themselves in service to the devil.

I think the force of what Paul is saying here is that when you or I accept the rule of God over our choices rather than insisting on our own way, that testimony is witnessed in heaven. And it is not witnessed casually. Peter declares that angels “long to look into” the details of the plan by which God has brought salvation to men and women through his Son. The mysteries of God’s grace are intriguing and marvelous to them. They are not the least bit indifferent to what is going on in your life as you seek to serve Jesus Christ.

Someone’s looking at you.

Have You Considered …

The angels were looking at Job, weren’t they? The sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and God used his servant to demonstrate Satan’s inability to successfully corrupt his creation: “Have you considered my servant Job,” he asks Satan, “that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

Ouch. You may not fear authority, Satan, but some of my created beings do, and here’s one. Take a good look and see if his consistent obedience doesn’t set your teeth on edge just a bit.

And lo and behold, looking at Job provoked in Satan precisely the reaction God anticipated: he took the bait. Once he was forced in front of his peers to consider Job, Satan (inadvertently and very much against his own wishes) wound up bringing glory to God by failing repeatedly to turn the servant of God on his Master despite using almost every trick in his book.

I’m not Job, and neither are you. But someone’s looking at us all the same.

What message are you sending today?

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