Forgiveness In The Digital Age?

sei_17273522On July 30th Chris Pratt posted on social media a united response from the main cast of The Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. What were they responding to? The firing of James Gunn as director after tweets from 10 years ago resurfaced. As Chris Pratt summarises in the comment attached to his post, “Although I don’t support James Gunn’s inappropriate jokes from years ago, he is a good man.” Gunn’s tweets led Disney to sever all ties with him, including his upcoming role as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3. The tweets themselves, as he himself explains, are clearly meant to be provocative and are about paedophilia and rape, amongst other things. There is absolutely no excuse available for his words, and no-one is giving one. Gunn himself has clearly taken responsibility, and the cast has no interest in defending his words. They appeal on the basis that his appalling tweets were sent a decade ago and Gunn has since changed.

Forgiveness is an interesting concept in an age where everything you write and send via social media, or even by email is retrievable and readable.

Gunn isn’t the only individual to fall foul of his internet history. In 2013 Paris Brown (Kent Police’s first Youth Police and Crime Commissioner) was pressured to resign after potentially racist and homophobic tweets emerged. Again, these tweets were posted three years before she was hired for the role. In a statement she wrote, “I’m sure many people today would not have the jobs they are in if their thoughts in their teenage years were scrutinised.” In a more bizarre case outside of social media, on August 24th this year Lilly Diabetes (a pharmaceutical company) dropped their sponsorship of driver Conor Daly ahead of his NASCAR debut after discovering Daly’s Father was recorded using a racial slur. Derek Daly, Conor’s Father, used a racial slur for African-Americans during a radio interview in the early 1980s, 10 years before Conor was even born. His Father’s response reads, “Finally, I want everyone to know I deeply regret and sincerely apologize for what I said more than three decades ago.”

Forgiveness is an interesting concept in an age where everything you write and send via social media, traditional media, or even by email is retrievable and readable. I am personally becoming more aware that everything I post or engage with might one day be reread, perhaps out of context, and used against me. As a result, I am exceedingly more cautious about what debates and interactions, if any, are safe to become involved in. It is as if the internet (if personified) were keeping a record of every word ever sent, every voice ever recorded by a microphone and posted, and every opinion (however long-held) shared with friends, family and followers online.

This is particularly challenging for someone trying to change and move on with their life, For someone who has asked forgiveness for what they have done but still finds their past irreversibly etched into the fabric of the world wide web.

Now this conversation risks overflowing into conspiracy theory territory, which isn’t my point. Also, I am not claiming to be important enough to occupy any researcher’s time. But I do believe this new reality really does present a powerful challenge for everyone. An employer interviewing a candidate, for example, has the ability now to judge you based upon words you have written that were never intended for an interview context. This is particularly challenging for someone trying to change and move on with their life. For someone who has asked forgiveness for what they have done but still finds their past irreversibly etched into the fabric of the world wide web.

God’s knowledge of humanity is more intrusive than any concept of an Orwellian Big Brother and more inescapable than any human-made surveillance system.

CCTV-camerasThe digital age, in some ways, reframes for us an ancient truth; what we say and do lasts forever. There may have been a time where ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’, but with cameras capturing our every move and microphones potentially picking up our every word, and Facebook storing our every post, ‘what happens in Vegas’ could easily become the number one trend on Twitter. In some ways, everything has changed, but in other ways, this is how it has always been. Whether we like it or not, there is a God who sees every word ever spoken, every human action, and even the motivations and desires of every human heart. God’s knowledge of humanity is more intrusive than any concept of an Orwellian Big Brother and more inescapable than any human-made surveillance system.

This is good news or bad news, depending upon your view of God. It is true that no matter how hard we try we cannot erase our words and actions, both good and bad. They are written into history and there is nothing we can do to change them. Carved into stone. Scored into titanium. Seared into flesh. There forever, no matter what, and God has them memorised. This is bad news indeed if you believe God is itching you judge you. If you believe He has His finger constantly hovering above the trigger linked to a Hellfire missile. But what if instead of being itching to judge, He is bleeding to forgive.

It is only a matter of time before another public figure falls to a public revelation of their past. The media will pour over them and seat them in the mob’s court. We will either be surprised or fatigued by the revelations (depending on our faith in human nature). But we will all watch as another one of us is dragged through the mud and made an example of (one wonders whether those in the judgement seats would stand up to the same scrutiny). But this is not what happens with God. God is not shocked by the revelation; He’s known all along. Jesus, already armed with that knowledge, made the decision to die for us as Romans 5:8 makes clear; whilst we were still sinners. And unlike the mob court, where another sinful revelation is only around the corner, in God’s court forgiveness is final and forever and unchallengeable. We needn’t fear the truth coming out and ruining our relationship with God, He already knows more about us than we do.

Suddenly, knowing God is watching you becomes a comfort rather than a curse. Knowing His forgiveness leads to a freedom we could only dream of in the digital age. His forgiveness comes with a new life and not one that is scarred by the past. We aren’t prisoners declared free without being presented with the key to unlocking our shackles.

God’s forgiveness means a new life, a new start; the equivalent of an internet history scrubbed clean, even from Google’s servers.

Luke

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