The Digital Age Underscores the Need for Grace

As the New York Times observes, in the digital world it’s the end of forgetting, and in the midst of this Jeffrey Rosen draws from the Jewish world:

In addition to exposing less for the Web to forget, it might be helpful for us to explore new ways of living in a world that is slow to forgive. It’s sobering, now that we live in a world misleadingly called a “global village,” to think about privacy in actual, small villages long ago. In the villages described in the Babylonian Talmud, for example, any kind of gossip or tale-bearing about other people — oral or written, true or false, friendly or mean — was considered a terrible sin because small communities have long memories and every word spoken about other people was thought to ascend to the heavenly cloud. (The digital cloud has made this metaphor literal.) But the Talmudic villages were, in fact, far more humane and forgiving than our brutal global village, where much of the content on the Internet would meet the Talmudic definition of gossip: although the Talmudic sages believed that God reads our thoughts and records them in the book of life, they also believed that God erases the book for those who atone for their sins by asking forgiveness of those they have wronged. In the Talmud, people have an obligation not to remind others of their past misdeeds, on the assumption they may have atoned and grown spiritually from their mistakes. “If a man was a repentant [sinner],” the Talmud says, “one must not say to him, ‘Remember your former deeds.’ ”

Unlike God, however, the digital cloud rarely wipes our slates clean, and the keepers of the cloud today are sometimes less forgiving than their all-powerful divine predecessor. In an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS, Eric Schmidt, the C.E.O. of Google, said that “the next generation is infinitely more social online” — and less private — “as evidenced by their Facebook pictures,” which “will be around when they’re running for president years from now.” Schmidt added: “As long as the answer is that I chose to make a mess of myself with this picture, then it’s fine. The issue is when somebody else does it.” If people chose to expose themselves for 15 minutes of fame, Schmidt says, “that’s their choice, and they have to live with it.”

I think it’s fair to say that God will be around long after our digital cloud is gone.  But much of the problem here is that we are trying to force people into a perfect construct, something that human beings are simply not built for.  And that problem is going to get worse as we not only compete with each other for jobs and advancement but also with digital intelligence.

Christians know but don’t always understand that we are saved by grace, which we define as God’s unmerited favour.  The imperfections screamed out in cyberspace–be they by ourselves or others–underscore “unmerited.”  The reason why Jesus Christ came to give us eternal life by his work and not ours is because we could not meet God’s standard of perfection, and the problems people face by stuff getting out on the Internet only underscores our need for grace from God, who has by his own Son furnished the means to obtain it.

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