I couldn't help but think of this Judgment Day prophecy as I read about the Ashley Madison hack. The Judgment Day isn't hear yet, but millions of families are experiencing their own smaller version. This week's Economist frets: "People will lose their jobs. Celebrity magazines and gossip columnists will have a field day." It's been worse, tragically. Despair has apparently driven some of the customers to suicide. The newspaper continues: "But perhaps the greatest significance of this episode is that it illustrates, more vividly than ever before, the woeful state of internet security." Well, yes, Ashley Madison is the umpteenth dead canary on the subject of cyber safety, and maybe this one has given the tech industry a jolt of urgency that will keep our data safer in the future if that's possible. Ashley Madison itself is surely ruined, and if the hackers have tossed this horrible website on the digital ash heap, then something good beyond improved data security has come about.
Meanwhile, and I think more significantly, we are warned, by the hack and by that repellant prophecy: Things have a way of coming to the light, and one way or another, they will.
The Economist's editorial echoes the prophecy: "No doubt some people signed up on a whim, while going through a rough patch in a relationship, or while drunk. In the past, the mere contemplation of infidelity left no physical traces. But now millions of people's thoughts and deeds are open to public scrutiny." Proclaimed on the housetops.
Technology's brought the housetops closer, hasn't it? A hacker with a grudge could easily publish my digital profile - how I spend my time and money, where, when, and what I click. Companies have that information and use it for advertising, but it could also be used for embarrassment or worse. I find that thought as horrifying as the Bible verse. Sure, I try, in my tweeting and posting, to shape the image of the thoughtful, funny, family man who occasionally has something interesting to say. But my inner thoughts and behaviour are more than this, much of which I would like to remain covered, even if there are plenty of corporations and government agencies who (if inclined) could piece all of these together and click post. To be so fully known and not on my terms but on the terms of some anonymous institution or prankster is a hellish thought, and the network of machines I'm writing on has a much better memory than we do.
Ironically, Ashley Madison's customers were probably driven by a desire to be known. It's a tension we all feel. We're petrified of being found out, and we're disturbed by how much soulless corporations, government agencies, insurers, and employers have on us, what someone with the computer know-how could dig up on us - even if we have, more or less, nothing to hide. There are intimate thoughts and feelings that belong to our inner selves that, if someone knew, could be used as cutting weapons to the most fragile part of our beings.
Still, we want to be known. We want eyes that see, hands that touch, hearts that feel these parts of us and acknowledge, understand, affirm, correct, forgive, and love. That's what we're to do for each other. That's what friendship is for, and that's also what marriage is for.
I suspect that most adulterers are in it for more than carnal passion (as delightful as that is). The Biblical euphemism for sex is "to know," and that hints at the truth that sex is, or is meant to be, a deeper knowledge of someone, that souls entangle themselves together as bodies do, oneness in a deeper sense. That's why we holy rollers keep insisting that sex and marriage are one in the same and physical unity consummates spiritual unity. The search for sex elsewhere, then, even if it's just pictures or mental images, could be a search for deeper knowledge, whatever we tell ourselves otherwise.
The author of Hebrews writes that sin "easily entangles us." How true, and this includes infidelity, which can be the results of "series of bad decisions" anyone can make, including creating an Ashley Madison profile "on a whim, while going through a rough patch... while drunk." Ashley Madison is designed to make this deadly entanglement easier. (It's ironic that a website designed as a platform for infidelity couldn't be faithful with its own users' data) The downfall of the website, of course, won't end a human failing that's old and popular; it's supply for an insidious, common demand. But there's a better way of knowing and being known.
I'm a Christian, because to be a Christian is to revel in being known and deeply loved. The Psalmist sings:
If this is true, then it is either extremely scary or unspeakably joyous. I don't know how it makes you feel, but the Psalmist rejoices, and I do to. This knowledge isn't for maximising customer service, and it isn't to sell to a third party. It isn't for a list of enemies of the state. It is not to commodify us or use us or manipulate or hurt. This is the knowledge of Love himself, who is the ultimate Lover, because he knows us like no other, because he made us. He sees and delights in his workmanship, our talents, our potential, our joys, our humour, our place. Yes, he is well aware of our wretchedness. He knows the extent of our unfaithfulness, whether or not we find our names on hacked spreadsheets. Still, in his love he has drawn near, and we're invited to turn away from all that has warped us and delight in his love and, in doing so, be what we're created to be.
If this is true, then all will be known, one way or another, even the parts they haven't managed to digitise. This should discomfort us, except that, though we're known, but we're also loved in places nothing on this earth can reach.
There's a reminder here, not only for the married, but for anyone in relationship. As far as appropriate and possible, let's know our colleagues, our friends, our family members, and our spouses, and love their wonderful parts and do so in spite of their horrid parts. For those of us who are married, this means pursuing and receiving intimate knowledge with our spouses and not nurturing hopes to find it elsewhere. It means going on the difficult, patient, and wonderful journey of knowing and loving another person, and in doing so, giving them a foretaste of the love of God.