Also known as: A theology of government surveillance (part 2). Part 1 was here.
The Bible is 2,000 years old. Technology back then was pretty simple. So I don’t read the Bible because I’m looking for exact answers on what to do. Instead, I read it to learn principles. These principles transcend the technology that is here today and obsolete tomorrow. These principles address who we are as humans, and who God is as the creator.
The creatures and the Creator
- Achan sinned by taking the spoils of war that were to be dedicated to God. The consequences were dire: Israel lost a battle. Achan’s sin was not kept private, but “all Israel” participated in the stoning of him and his family (Joshua 7:25).
- God sent spies to the promised land. They were asked to report on the reality of the land that they were attacking, and Moses told them to “be of good courage” (Numbers 13:20). When the spies came back and gave their report, their courage was lacking. They said “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31). These spies disobeyed because they forgot the reality that God is great. However, the spies’s words led the whole congregation astray, and the people complained bitterly. They failed to trust in God to be stronger than the nations they were opposing. The consequence for the false report was 40 years of wandering in the desert!
- Through the coming of the wise men, Herod learned that the king of the Jews was born. He was afraid of this new information, so he asked the wise men to tell him where Jesus was. When they did not, Herod ordered that all male children under two years be killed in Bethlehem. But Joseph was warned, and Jesus was not in Bethlehem when the killing happened. It seems that God was in control over the situation. Herod knew something (the king of the Jews is under two years old and in Bethlehem), yet he didn’t know something (where he is located). Joseph knew something (that he should flee to Egypt), but he didn’t know something (the exact nature of the threat). Yet God was in control, and prophecy was fulfilled by the tragic actions that happened. (See Matthew chapter 2)
- While David is on the roof of the king’s house, he sees a woman bathing. While this woman might have wished that her naked body remain private, David now sees that she is beautiful. David has not sinned up to this point, but what he does next is entirely his responsibility. He inquires about the woman and learns her name is Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:3). Spies may or may not gather certain information that we wish to be held private, but it is their responsibility what they do with that information.
Reading these stories (can you think of others?) helped me remember that God is in control and I am not. I am reminded of God’s attributes (as I wrote about earlier) and of my position before him as a child of God, clothed in righteousness because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now I am ready to respond to the situation in front of me!
When faced with recent revelation that the United States government is overstepping its constitutional bounds in searching and seizing our data, how should we respond? I don’t think we should panic or become paranoid. After all, we should not fear those who kill the body, or spy on it, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But fear him who sees all and has authority to cast into hell! (Luke 12:4-5)
So if you’re reading this and you don’t know Jesus and trust in him for the forgiveness of your sins and to change your eternal destiny, please trust him now! His work has been done, and that is good news. (Others have written and spoken about this–here’s a good starting place.)
If you do know Jesus, then God has an interesting kind of surveillance over your heart: “O Lord you have searched me and known me” (Psalm 139). Indeed, the very hairs on your head are numbered (Luke 12:7). (Even the NSA and the CIA don’t know that.)
I love the reminders from the Bible. They help me worship God. Still, my original issue is unanswered, how do I maintain the security of my data in the face of government surveillance?
Much of this surveillance is in response to the terror attacks of 2001. I ask myself, what is my response when tragic events happen in the world? In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus uses some contemporary tragic events to make the point that we should repent. Terror attacks remind us that life is short, and we need to be ready to die. I think that many Americans have failed to see this reminder, and our government has decided that what is best for us is to be “safer.” So we change some security rules, hoping that someone will notice that we tried to make our country “safer.”
An ideal government would do what is best for the people. But I know that I live in a fallen world. Sin affects the relationship between people and their God, and it affects the relationships among people. Therefore, I am not surprised when my government is imperfect. I can pray for my government leaders and (praise God) I live in a country where I can write my representative leaders and vote in elections.
Still, in the short-term I would like to keep my data private. Some people will say, if I haven’t done anything wrong, why should I worry? I can’t address the answer to this question here, because it would take too long, but Daniel J. Solove has written an excellent answer in his article Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide’.
After reading that article, do some research and learn how much information about you is being collected: by the government, by the cloud services we voluntarily use, and by the advertising agencies that track us on the web. Then do something about it. Maybe delete a few cloud services, and install a cookie blocker on your web browser. Some changes will be minor, some may be a little inconvenient, and some are more drastic. It is up to you.