The Internet knew I was in Australia. My BBC podcasts started having advertising in them – particularly for a brand of Aussie sunburn cream and my emails started to be peppered with the numerous new advertising not seen in the UK and the one that made me chuckle was the Australian funeral plan! I should start a plan as an ‘Australian senior’. I also noticed as I travelled Australia that the ads would become localised – with the details of a nearby supermarket or tyre place. The Internet knew where I was.
Of course my location wasn’t a secret and was known to many people – even some of you – who probably would have said ‘he’s in Australia, I’m not sure where exactly’. On any given day, my family would know my location even if it was ‘he’s travelling between Canberra and Mollymook this afternoon’. And that’s not uncommon among us – we all roughly know where family members are in a day. In fact the routines of life mean that we can even predict where people will be – he’s at the pub after work – she’s at church Sunday morning – and, most of the time, we’ll be right. Relationships produce knowledge.
I suppose the unease some people have about the Internet knowing is that my location is giving people – most of whom don’t know me personally – an opportunity to make some money from me, sell me something, affect me, help me in some way for their benefit (and, of course, for mine they say). Such is the way – the transaction? – of today’s world. It used to be said that if something is free, you’re the product but today there’s no escaping analytics even if you pay for the product or service.
I wonder if the nebulous, all-seeing, all-knowing Internet is perceived in the way God is and was in history. Many people today in the ‘western world’ would regard themselves as ‘past believing in God’ and claim that science or something else has ‘proved’ that there is no God. And what might have contributed to this version of God – knowing exactly where we are and doing at any time has been the claim that the relationship between God and people is transactional. God will do the right thing by us provided we do the right thing by him. I am still told these days or it is hinted at that they don’t need to go to church or need God because – and there are numerous versions of the answer that come but in essence they usually say something like ‘I don’t need what God is offering’. In fact – and there is truth here – why would I want to relate to a God who needs me?
It is hard to convince people differently – not impossible of course – thank you, Holy Spirit – but whereas many people point out human deficit or need – the terrible world we have made – what is very important to make clear about the Triune God – about Jesus – is that God doesn’t need us! God is self sufficient – Wonderful Love in communion in Three Persons – and yet in grace the Creator has created so that we can live – and even when rejected, this Creator, now Saviour, has rescued us because he relates to us through grace and mercy – he wants us to live well. This isn’t transactional at all! This is gift upon gift!
Jesus told the parable of the grumbling workers in the vineyard getting the same wage for different hours of work and that the owner is free to be generous as he wishes. The gifts God offers – life itself, forgiveness, peace – are beyond price – we couldn’t pay for them if we tried – and yet God gives them freely. The cross doesn’t show us a transaction but grace – underserved love – and points all people to a wonderful truth that the God in Christ who knows us all the time is for us and not against. We are not the product of God’s ego – our obedience doesn’t give him more points in a ‘deity league table’ – but we are people he loves. That’s the foundation of a relationship with our God. Would all the world know and trust Jesus too!