Do you ever get the feeling that they’re always listening? That our cellular phones are portals for people to monitor our conversations?
Who are they, anyway? I’m not sure. Advertising agencies. Big corporations. But one encounters enough anecdotal evidence to stoke the fires of paranoia: Their ears are open to our conversations!
At a youth event a few weeks ago, I happened to mention the movie “The Land Before Time,” which was popular when my son was a child. A few hours later, an announcement popped up on my Facebook newsfeed: “‘The Land Before Time’ is coming to Netflix!”
When Christina, our secretary, was just starting out at St. Paul’s, about a year ago, she found some of the old-fashioned terminology from our hymnal confusing. We say “collect” instead of “prayer of the day;” We say “introit” instead of “entrance psalm.” So I told her: “Just imagine that you’re Margaret Mead in Samoa exploring a primitive culture.” A few days later, my phone rang…with a call from Samoa! I didn’t answer. It freaked me out just a bit.
One of our members told me an even more interesting story. He was on his phone…and he coughed. A few moments later, an advertisement for a cold remedy popped up, asking: “Still have that cough?”
It is perfectly possible that this is all coincidence…after all, with six billion people in the world, at least one person is bound to have a conversation about Samoa and then, totally coincidentally, receive a call from Samoa. But the frequency of such events does make you wonder: are they listening?
God, of course, is always listening. God’s ear is always open; God’s eye is always upon us. David says in the Psalms: “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…Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.” (Psalm 139:1-2, 5). The fancy word for this is omniscience—“all knowing.” God knows our every word, every thought, every action.
This does not always make us comfortable (any more than the idea that they are listening makes us comfortable.) David in the Psalm is a little uneasy about it: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7). After all, if God knows everything, it means that God knows our negative thoughts, our hurtful words. I love the story about two little boys who were fighting in a bedroom. The mother came to the door and said: “Boys! Boys! Stop fighting! Remember, God is in this room with you!” The boys fell silent for a few moments. And then one of them said: “What do you say we move to another room?” The idea that God could hear and see their misbehavior made that lad very uneasy!
But the idea of God knowing our words and thoughts and actions comes with a very positive aspect—God is always watching over us! “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He cares for me.” His knowledge of us is so complete that “the very hairs of your head are numbered” (Matthew 10:30). But if God is going to watch over me 24/7, then he inevitably is going to know my sins, my failings, my faults. Think of a Secret Service agent…who knows a lot of dirt about the politician he or she is guarding. The agent sees the politico’s failings and faults. But that’s a by-product of the agent’s mission: guard-ing the politician. It’s similar with God. If we want Him to always be there for us, if we want Him to watch over us, then He’s ultimately going to see and hear us at our worst.
Does seeing our sins make Him hate us? Does it fill Him with contempt for us? On the contrary…because of all the corruption He sees in our words and our thoughts and our actions, He sent Jesus to take away our sin and our guilt. Instead of making Him hate us, His knowledge of our sin led Him to send His beloved Son as a sacrifice for that sin!
So God’s knowledge of all that we do or say should not make us feel oppressed. When The Police sing “Every breath you take, every move you make I’ll be watching you,” they’re talking about an obsessive stalker. “Big Brother is watching you” in 1984 is an expression of political repression. But God is engaged neither in stalking nor political repression. Rather, His watching us is a sign of His love. He watches and listens to us always because He loves us always.
God’s watching us can act as a good deterrent to bad behavior, of course. When we’re about to say or do something questionable, it’s good to remember: God is watching. Perhaps that will keep us from destructive words or deeds. It’s not oppression—it’s a way of helping us live responsible and conscientious lives.
We may fear that they--nameless forces of advertising and commerce-- are listening to our lives. But we rejoice that “They”—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!—are constantly listening to us and watching over us. Their surveillance makes us feel secure and loved.
God loves you and so do I!
Pastor David W. Anglin