A Reasonable View of Privacy
“THE EYES OF JEHOVAH ARE IN EVERY PLACE, KEEPING WATCH UPON THE BAD ONES AND THE GOOD ONES.”—Proverbs 15:3.
FEW people would be comfortable with the idea of another human monitoring their every move, scrutinizing their secret thoughts, detecting their deepest desires. Even so, this is exactly what the Bible says God can do. At Hebrews 4:13, the Bible states: “There is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.” Is this not an invasion of privacy? Not at all. Why is that?
To illustrate: While swimming at the beach, you may be under the ever watchful eye of a lifeguard. You do not view this as an invasion of privacy. In fact, his presence gives you a sense of security. You know that if you get in trouble, he will quickly be there to help you. Likewise, a mother constantly monitors her baby’s every move. If she did not, she would be viewed as negligent.
Similarly, Jehovah God monitors our thoughts and actions because he has our best interests at heart. A Bible prophet stated: “As regards Jehovah, his eyes are roving about through all the earth to show his strength in behalf of those whose heart is complete toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) But to what extent does Jehovah actually see our private thoughts and actions? Several incidents involving Jesus, the Son of God, provide some insight.
The Ability to Read Hearts and Minds
While Jesus was dining at the house of a Pharisee, a woman known as a sinner came and knelt at Jesus’ feet. She started weeping and then wiped her tears off Jesus’ feet with her hair. The account states: “At the sight the Pharisee that invited him said within himself: ‘This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman it is that is touching him.’” Jesus’ response shows that he not only knew the woman’s background but also knew what the Pharisee had just said “within himself.”—Luke 7:36-50.
On another occasion Jesus was confronted by a group opposed to his performing miracles. The account recorded at Matthew 9:4 says: “Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said: ‘Why are you thinking wicked things in your hearts?’” Jesus’ ability to know the thoughts of others was more than just shrewd guesswork.
Reasoning on the account of the resurrection of Lazarus reveals that much more is involved. Jesus’ close friend Lazarus had been dead four days. His thoughts had perished, and he had started to decay. (Psalm 146:3, 4) When Jesus instructed that the entrance to Lazarus’ grave be opened, Lazarus’ sister Martha protested: “Lord, by now he must smell.” Yet, with the aid of God’s power, Jesus resurrected Lazarus, including all the intimate and private memories necessary to make Lazarus the person he had been before he died.—John 11:38-44; 12:1, 2.
Jehovah God’s ability to know our innermost thoughts is confirmed by Jesus’ comments regarding prayer. Before teaching his disciples the model prayer, Jesus said: “God your Father knows what things you are needing before ever you ask him.” Jesus also said: “When you pray, go into your private room and, after shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you.”—Matthew 6:6, 8.
Benefits of Knowing That We Are Being Watched by God
Does knowing that God is searching all hearts and is discerning “every inclination of the thoughts” cramp our movements or limit our freedom? (1 Chronicles 28:9) On the contrary, recognizing that nothing can be kept private from God can be a powerful force for good.
Elizabeth, mentioned in the opening article, says that her main reason for remaining honest is not that surveillance cameras are watching her at work. Rather, she says: “The fact that I know that Jehovah is observing my conduct motivates me to be honest in all my dealings, even when I am not at work.”
Jim makes a similar observation. He works in a factory where employee theft is a common problem. Jim, though, refuses to steal from his employer. He states: “It is true that I could likely get away with stealing from my company, but I value my relationship with God and know that he sees everything I do.”
The knowledge that God is aware of all our actions, coupled with the desire to have a good relationship with him, can motivate a person to make big changes in his life. For example, Doug was brought up in a Christian family but never really took seriously the fact that God could see his actions. As a result, he lived a double life. He attended Christian meetings with his family but afterward took drugs with his friends. His love of motorcycles led him to join a notoriously violent motorcycle gang. To gain acceptance, Doug committed serious crimes.
Some years later Doug again started studying the Bible. He began to see Jehovah as a real person who is aware of and affected by people’s actions. Doug was motivated to start living his life in harmony with God’s high moral standards. Although it was the gang’s custom to beat severely anyone who quit, Doug attended a gang meeting and formally resigned in front of all the gang members. He recalls: “When I stood up to speak, my heart was pounding. I felt like Daniel in the lions’ den. But I prayed silently to Jehovah and then calmly explained my reasons for quitting. When I left, all but one shook my hand and wished me well. I experienced the truth of Isaiah 41:13: ‘I, Jehovah your God, am grasping your right hand, the One saying to you, “Do not be afraid, I myself will help you.”’” Doug feels that Jehovah provided the strength he needed to change his life.
A Reasonable View
It is unreasonable to think that we can keep things private from God. The Bible frankly states: “The senseless one has said in his heart: ‘There is no Jehovah.’” (Psalm 14:1) As the preceding articles highlighted, humans have produced surveillance cameras capable of recognizing one specific face in a crowd. They have developed eavesdropping devices capable of sifting out one particular voice from the many thousands using the telephone system. Surely, then, the Creator of the human brain has the ability to tap into the thought processes of any individual, whenever He sees fit.
While our Creator has the right to know all of a person’s private dealings, humans do not. The apostle Peter admonishes all who are interested in gaining God’s favor: “Let none of you suffer as . . . an evildoer or as a busybody in other people’s matters.” (1 Peter 4:15) The apostle Paul also warns against meddling “in other people’s affairs.”—1 Timothy 5:13.
An extreme example of being “a busybody” and meddling “in other people’s affairs” is the growing trend in some countries for private citizens to use miniature audio or video recording devices to spy on others. In Japan, for example, marathon runner Naoko Takahashi, who won a gold medal at the Sydney Olympic Games, recently discovered that a miniature camera had been hidden in her bathroom and had filmed her without her knowledge. A video was produced, and thousands of copies of it have been sold illegally.
Also widespread is identity theft or fraud, the practice of using advanced technology to steal personal details. It is only reasonable to take steps to protect your privacy from unauthorized scrutiny.* The Bible states: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty.”—Proverbs 22:3.
Private Actions—Public Accounting
As crime, violence, and terrorism increase, governments will likely keep an ever closer eye on their citizens. Soon, though, there will be no need for surveillance cameras and wiretaps. The Bible promises that in the near future, Jehovah God will call all of mankind to account for their actions, both public and private.—Job 34:21, 22.
From that time forward, the earth will be free from the violence, hatred, and criminal activity that have plagued mankind for so long. How will this be possible? Because at that time not only will Jehovah know intimately all those alive but all those alive will intimately know Jehovah. The words of the prophet Isaiah will prove true: “They will not do any harm or cause any ruin in all my holy mountain; because the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.”—Isaiah 11:9.
See the box “Be Aware!”
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Recognizing that nothing can be kept private from God can be a powerful force for good
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PRIVACY AND ON-LINE JOB SITES: Job seekers who post their résumés on-line face considerable threats to their privacy. Résumés may be stored on on-line job sites for years and may even become a source of information for identity theft. Some job sites request personal information from job seekers, such as name, address, age, and work history, and then pass that information on to third-party vendors, such as advertisers.
PRIVACY AND MOBILE COMMUNICATIONS: Currently there is no inexpensive way of guaranteeing privacy on either cordless or cellular phones. If you are discussing a private matter, it may be safer to use a standard wired telephone. Be sure that both you and the person you are talking to are on standard phones. The signals from many cordless phones can be picked up by radio scanners, some even by other cordless phones or baby monitors. If you buy something over the phone and give your credit card number and expiration date, your cordless or cellular phone call could be monitored and you may become the victim of fraud.*
Information adapted from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Web site.
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The watchful eye of a lifeguard is not viewed as an invasion of privacy
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Knowing that God is aware of our actions motivated Doug to make changes in his life