The Greek philosopher Plato once told a story about an ancient and magical artifact known as the Ring of Gyges. This ring possessed the power to grant invisibility to the one who wore it. Such an invisible person was given near limitless anonymity and could–it is supposed–do almost anything they wanted to without the fear of getting caught. The story is intended to be a thought-experiment. The question at issue is whether or not the invisible person would use their power for good or bad. How would you use it? If you had the guarantee that you’d never be caught, what would you do?
Apparently for some, such anonymity was used to create profiles on the social website, Ashley Madison whose tag line is: “Life is short. Have an affair.” This Proverbs 7 website exists for the explicit purpose of encouraging and cultivating an atmosphere where people can secretly break their marital vows and engage in adultery–and all under the guise of near-invisibility. It boasts of over 39-million anonymous users. It promises 100% discreet services. It has even received trusted security awards. But, as it has now become apparent, Ashley Madison has overpromised and underdelivered. As almost everyone has probably read by now, hackers have made available 32-million account profiles which are now being copied and searched by internet users around the world. Their message to exposed users–“Learn your lesson and make amends.” Secret profiles are secret no more–so much for the promise of invisibility and anonymity.
It seems the social commentary on this event has largely been the same in one way or another: they got what they deserved. Personally, I have to admit that it’s hard to feel very bad for those who have been found out even if their accounts were accessed illegally. Our hearts should ache for the spouses who will learn of their husband or wife’s infidelity and the children whose lives will be shattered as a result of lies and deception. But I don’t think we’ll see much sympathy to those who willingly and secretly found ways to exchange marital faithfulness for adulterous unfaithfulness. After all, the Bible warns us: “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9).
But before we let this be an occasion for us to point a self-righteous finger, or derive some twisted sense of satisfaction, or luxuriate in the knowledge of these revelations, perhaps we should use it to reflect on the sobering reality of final judgment. Sometimes I hear people blithely say, “God is my judge.” I’ve often wondered if they have any idea what that actually means. The Bible tells us “He has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). God wants us to be assured–made certain–that he will judge all the world. And when he does, we’re told “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14) and “[he will] bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
That’s a humbling reality. You see, like Ashley Madison sin’s cheap marketing ploy is to try and guarantee us 100% discreteness. Often, in my own life, I have bought the lie that “no one will know.” After all, they are my thoughts, imaginations, fantasies, intentions, and motives. And sin tries to promise, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive” (Psalm 94:7). But there’s no such thing as secrecy, anonymity, and invisibility. Again, as the Bible says: “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:13). Whatever sin tries to promise it cannot deliver! Even my secret habits, desires, and actions will be exposed before an all-seeing God–and so will yours.
Now as a Christian I don’t think final judgment is intended to paralyze us with fear. That seems very contrary to the promises of the gospel, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). I remember as a child I was often told that the day of judgment would be like having my life played on a movie screen for all to see. How frightful (and embarrassing) that seemed to me! I doubt that’s what it will be like. But even if it is, the purpose of a believer’s judgment isn’t to terrify and embarrass us by making much of sin, but it’s to cause us to rejoice by making much of Jesus. In that day I will see, as I have never seen before, why I need Jesus Christ–his perfect life and sacrificial death. Rather than a scare tactic, final judgment motivates me here and now to live my life with Calvary as my focal point–to live visibly, openly, and transparently in the very presence of God praying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).