Living as Christians in an Age of Ultra-Surveillance

by Alan Ludwig

The year 1984 is long past, and our lives are under scrutiny in ways George Orwell never dreamed of. Big Brother doesn’t advertise that he’s watching us, but it turns out he is. Besides our own government nosing its way into our privacy, there are foreign agents, hackers, online merchants and who knows who else wanting to keep tabs on us. Even if we’re of that increasingly rare breed that has no cloud
connection, the electronic eyes and ears are everywhere. So far they can’t read our thoughts. But there’s a technology in the works even for that.

In what ways do Christians need to adapt to this era of ultra-surveillance? The answer is, or should be, not in many. The Christian life is an open book. The God who has baptized us, forgiven our sins and transferred us out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col. 1:12–13) has called us to renounce the hidden works of darkness and to walk in the light. We are to lead lives that will stand up to the closest examination, not mainly to avoid public shame or to appease Uncle Sam but to please the Lord, who has purchased us with His own blood (see Rom. 6:1–19; Eph. 5:1–21; 1 Thess. 4:1–12; Titus 2:11–14; 1 Peter 2:11–25). Our only “crime” should be our open confession of Jesus Christ.

As Christians we also know that, without wire taps, video cameras or drones, God sees and hears everything. On Judgment Day all will stand before the throne and give an account of their words and deeds, as every secret comes to light (Matt. 12:35–36; Rom. 2:16; 14:10–12; 1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10). Our current lives are, or should be, lived in view of that great Day, which will make today’s and tomorrow’s sophisticated electronics seem like toys. In comparison with that, the secret and not-so-secret scrutiny that we undergo in today’s world isn’t so shocking.

But what if we have a dark past or present? Is all lost? The world of surveillance is unforgiving. Some of the public humiliation people are experiencing is deserved, but some is slanderous and unfair. By contrast, God’s “surveillance” is just. More important, it is merciful. When we repent of and confess our sins and receive the Lord’s absolution, He wipes the record clean. All is washed away by baptismal water and the shed blood of the cross. When God forgives, He is faithful to His new covenant and no longer remembers our misdeeds (Jer. 31:31–34). Thanks to surveillance, our old missteps can come back to haunt us in this world. Yet even in such dire cases they won’t come back to torment us on Judgment Day.

Lent is an ideal time for us to reexamine our lives, not so much in view of the sophisticated surveillance that crowds into our space but much more in view of our accountability to an all-knowing God. While no one’s conduct is blameless before Him, nevertheless it can be God-pleasing through Jesus Christ. Now is a perfect opportunity to devote ourselves more to prayer and meditation on the cross and to faithful church attendance, where we receive the forgiveness and strength we need.

The Rev. Dr. Alan Ludwig is a theological educator serving with the LCMS Office of International Mission in Novosibirsk, Russia.


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One Response to Living as Christians in an Age of Ultra-Surveillance

  1. John Joseph Flanagan March 16, 2017 at 2:12 pm #

    The FBI Director, Mr Comey, recently remarked that we Americans really no longer have any privacy, and that every phone call, every comment we have made on the internet, everything we have searched for on Google…it is all accessible by the government. An investigation by the government, a background check, all public records, comments on blogs… is all an open book so far as the government is concerned. What about a warrant? Very easy. No problem. Google and all other Internet giants will always please the authorities. Judges can issue warrants like candy, and they do.
    Think about this: On Trump’s first day in office, he made a phone call from the Oval Office. Picture his dismay when CNN provided details of the call the next day. He said that if even the President has no expectation of privacy, what about you…and me? In Trump’s case, the Intelligence monitors are filled with officials who casually leak information to the media as a matter of routine…but I call this by it’s true definition….treason and abuse of power.
    Since this is the world of Orwell’s prediction of 1984, we will have to live with the reality of it all. It is like, in days of old, when people lived in small villages or towns where the local gossips and troublemakers watched your comings and goings, spread the word around, and destroyed reputations and lives in the process.
    For we, as Christians, the Bible tells us to be wise, to guard our tongues and our conduct, and in these days of evil, it is more important than ever. As things are today, saying and doing the right things, standing up for Jesus, and freely sharing your faith….it too is being recorded. You are being surveiled. But it is better to be persecuted for loving God, than for being foolish or indiscreet with your words or for the sake of besetting sin.

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