In the wake of the 2013 NSA data spying controversy, last summer The Wall Street Journal ran an article titled “Phones Leave a Telltale Trail.”
The authors note that everyone who owns a cell phone creates “metadata” that leaves a “digital trail.” While each individual crumb of data might seem insignificant, when it’s combined and analyzed, it provides “one of the most powerful investigative tools ever devised.” By tracing our metadata, investigators can pinpoint where we were or where we are at this moment.
Here’s an example from an imaginary smartphone user named “Geoff”:
1. Geoff poses by a waterfall and snaps a self-portrait, which he immediately tweets, then emails to his grandmother.
2. Geoff’s text, photo, and email ascend a series of remote servers, each dragging their own trails of metadata.
3. Once there, the metadata may be extracted and interpreted by any interested party with access.
4. Thanks to the above “digital trail,” without ever having met Geoff, we know he was at Shoshone Falls near Twin Falls, Idaho, at 3:57 P.M. on April 22nd, that he has a certain brand of smartphone, and that he speaks English.
One of the facets of this little “digital trail” experiment that intrigued me was the fact that it illustrates perfectly a couple of principles right out of Psalm139:1-2, which says, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.”
The main thought that arises here is that everything about us leaves a trail. In this day and age of digital and social media, is it any wonder that our every movement is somehow traceable? It does not matter whether we use our credit cards, or our cell phones, or… well, whatever. Our every motion is somehow and somewhere on a record that someone else could find and follow. What a concept—take great care about how you live your life, because someone is watching.
This is news to columnists and authors, but it’s hardly a revelation to those who believe in a sovereign, all-seeing God. King David in Psalm 139 is expressing the fact that what is true for our physical lives is also true for our spiritual lives. God knows everything about us. Nothing we do or even think is hidden from His penetrating view.
While, for some, that may be a hazard for living – that nothing we do or think is hidden from God – for others that is a powerfully comforting statement. For you see, the fact that God knows exactly where we are, where we have been and what we have been doing, and yet, He is a Father who loves us in spite of all that He knows about us, for those who follow Christ, is a peace-giving, and assuring truth.
The truth of the matter is that God loved each one of us before and in spite of our lack of love for Him. He provided in His Son a payment for our sins and the promise of His love, acceptance, and forgiveness, no matter what the digital and spiritual trails may reveal.
What this also demonstrates is that there are no coincidences with God. He knows what is going to happen. He is in control of what is going to happen. And if He so desired, He could change what is going to happen. God is in the business of demonstrating His faithfulness on a daily basis. He wants us to consistently see the events that happen as His demonstrations of His love and care for us. He indeed is watching over us!
Listen to one man’s testimony about this very fact:
“Shortly after my wife and I became Christians, the IRS asked me to defend a tax return from years earlier. Unfortunately, I couldn’t defend it. I hadn’t been honest. So I began months of painful meetings with the IRS.
“The day came for my last meeting. After parking, I discovered the meter wouldn’t take my few remaining pennies, and I was already late. I nearly cried. Instead I prayed, ‘Lord, we’re trusting you with a huge tax problem. It’s dumb not to ask you for help with this little meter.’
“When I came out later, I saw what looked like a ticket on my car window. I was stunned! Hadn’t I asked God to help me? I yanked the paper from under the wiper blade and read these words: ‘Mike, your time was expired. I took care of it. Chuck.’
“Incredibly, a friend ‘happened’ to recognize my car and noticed the expired meter. Happened? No. God had used my friend to speak to me that day with a promise of forgiveness and healing, just as he spoke in the months following by resolving our tax debt.”
The point: God is watching over you, and there are no coincidences with God. No matter what your circumstances, God cares for you. The great tragedies of life are not tragedies with God. They are simply His calls to each of us to recognize His care and compassion for us and His love for us, and most of all His desire for us to love Him!
So be careful about your digital and spiritual trails – Someone is watching!
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Times-Gazette and the Associated Press.