I often write because I feel I have something valuable to contribute to a larger conversation that is happening.
This is not one of those times.
I find myself sitting with my fingers on my ever-so-familiar keyboard at a complete loss. I am setting out on another writing journey in hopes that it helps me process my own thoughts.
This journey is for me. You are welcome to ride along if you’d like however I can’t promise you there will be a destination at the end though.
Last month a friend text me asking if I was following the Ashley Madison story.
As naive and disconnected as I can be at times; initially I had no idea ‘who’ Ashley Madison was. In my mind it had to be another celebrity story gone awry.
As our conversation continued I quickly learned Ashley Madison was not a ‘who’, rather a ‘what’.
Ashley Madison is a website where married individuals go to seek out affairs. Their motto? “Life is short. Have an affair.”
I was shocked to know that such a website existed; that there was an ‘official’ outlet for adulterous affairs. Adultery is a part of the seedy underbelly of humanity; not an open classified section to browse for affairs.
I don’t mean to sound sheltered when I say I was shocked by the existence of such a site; I guess I just like to think better of us as people.
Apparently not only does a site like Ashley Madison exist, but it is quite popular. They have an estimated 38 million registered user accounts.
I continued to learn that Ashley Madison’s user database had been hacked and the hackers (Impact Team) were threatening to release the entire database to the general public if Avid Media did not shut down their websites, Ashley Madison and Established Men.
On one side, internally I was cheering Impact Team on. I was so completely disgusted that this service could exist that I couldn’t help but support an effort to bring the site to an end (regardless of if the hack was done illegally or unethically).
I am just being honest with myself, friends. Remember, I’m writing for me this time.
The first thought that crossed my mind was a very recognized passage from Luke:
“But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.” Luke 12:2-3
The users that were at risk of being exposed had made their bed (pun intended), and now they could lay in it. I felt a sense of righteous justice taking place in the uncovering of this sin.
On the other side my heart broke at the reality of what all of this really meant.
38 million users.
That number represented the potential for 38,000,000 shattered families. With spouses and children brought into the story we are looking at potentially hundreds of millions of broken hearts and hopes.
As a Chaplain I am often confronted with the grit and reality of broken lives. To think of that many people being devastated in one swoop was simply overwhelming.
That side of me wanted the hackers to go away. I wanted the database to go corrupt. I wanted everyone to be able to swallow the blue pill (Matrix reference) and “wake up in their bed believing whatever they wanted to believe.”
I didn’t want people to hurt. I didn’t want people to be broken.
Sin has devastating effects and consequences.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around what the right outcome should be as I was confronted with this new ‘sin machine’ of Ashley Madison.
If the users were exposed; the hurt of the sin committed by those 38,000,000 users would completely ravish a huge portion of society.
If the users remained hidden the false realities of these families would be maintained; yet a false reality is no reality at all. It is just veiled brokenness and sin. The ultimate hurt wouldn’t be avoided, rather postponed and eventually prolonged.
Amidst my processing all of this I did as we often do when confronted with something bigger and scarier than us. I distracted myself with something else and eventually forgot about it.
That is until my friend text me to update me that the leak had happened.
Avid Media did not shut down Ashley Madison and the Impact Team hackers stayed true to their word.
The data rolled out and the first ‘celebrity’ user was leaked along with the entire database on the dark web.
I found myself both thankful and heartbroken.
I was thankful that sin was being uncovered; in an awkward hard to convey way. There is this chamber within us that always wants to celebrate justice; we have this propensity to get excited when the bad guy gets caught.
A lot of bad guys got caught; and I was okay with that. I was thankful that, for at least the registered users, there was an opportunity for their actions to come to an end.
The hackers didn’t create the sin; they just brought it into light. They didn’t destroy these families, the users did.
Yet I was simultaneously heartbroken. I could not even begin to process the amount of people that were being completely blindsided. That blue pill would no longer work and they were now being forced the red pill which would awaken them to the reality that existed behind the smoke and mirrors of their lives.
The sin that had continued to grow in secret was let loose to bring destruction to everyone it could touch.
It is hard to celebrate that. It is hard to be okay with that. It is hard to want that to happen.
But it is reality; and it has consequences.
We can’t treat cancer if we don’t first discover cancer. We don’t discover cancer without welcoming an onslaught of hurt, fear, heartache, discouragement and more that surround it.
I am still wrestling with what all of this means and what emotions I should be feeling. I am even wrestling if I should be hitting post on this when I am done; it seems like very few in Christendom are even willing to talk about this.
The sad reality is, with 38,000,000 users, the chances of many other Christians being exposed is a very real possibility.
That is a very angering, yet very real and sobering thought.
The intentionality and thought that goes into creating and paying for a profile to seek out an adulterous affair makes my stomach churn; as do many of the other forms of sin we are seeing celebrated throughout humanity.
But truth be told; I’ve made mistakes in life too.
I’m a broken, sinful man.
As a husband, a father, a son, a Chaplain and a friend I’ve let people down and I’ve hurt people with things I’ve done. I’ve tried to follow and emulate Jesus yet fallen miserably short at times because of my own selfishness.
We have ALL been on the giving end at times.
For some of us our deeds have been exposed and for others of us we continue in secret like the millions of Ashley Madison users who thought they could continue to fly undetected; seeking the sins of self over the sacrifice of others.
We have all been on the receiving end as well, too. We’ve felt the unbelievable blows of sin slamming against us like an unrelenting boxer.
So what are we to do? How are we to respond in times like these?
Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve. Mercy is not receiving what we do deserve.
We all are deserving of the penalties of sin. We all deserve the consequences of our decisions and broken situations we’ve created. There is not one of us worthy of the amazing love of God.
So while I want to celebrate the justice we’ve seen and I want to talk about how I hope the registered users get what is coming to them; I can’t.
The exposure needed to happen, and I think I am glad it happened, but I can’t celebrate it that way.
Mercy isn’t just for me in my brokenness and sin. Grace isn’t just for me amidst my own shortcomings. Grace and mercy are for you as well. They are for the adulterer. The murderer. The liar. The thief.
Jesus paid all of those debts.
I am so thankful for the hope found in Ephesians 2.
2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
It doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for our sin; but it does mean that I am not in the position to be doling out judgements, commentaries or degradations.
Right now we are seeing a ‘mass casualty’ sin situation unfolding. My heart is broken yet my heart is hopeful. Sin cannot be treated until it is uncovered. I pray amidst the uncovering rawness of what has happened; amidst the shattered relationships and broken homes this uncovering allows for healing.
I still don’t ultimately know my destination but I will continue to journey; praying for those that are broken as well as allowing this to be a time to evaluate areas of brokenness in my own life as well.
So for now I’ll put the car in park and hop in the backseat; why don’t you take the wheel and journey some as well. I’ll listen while you drive, so how are you processing all of this?