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.