Reports this week are indicating that the mastermind who snagged the digits off of about 100 million credit cards from Target at the end of December turned out to be a 17-year-old kid from Russia. That’s right…..17-YEARS-OLD!!! I was running VHS’s at Family Video when I was seventeen. He’s taking down global retail juggernauts like Target and Neiman Marcus.
Does that bother you? Your financial security is that fragile – any kid with a Wi-Fi connection on the other side of the planet could potentially wipe you out.
If this all really bothers us, it was hard to tell when I was shopping at Target before Christmas. Several days after the news came out, it didn’t seem to be affecting their business too adversely, either because people seemingly didn’t think it was that serious OR people literally hate the crowded Wal-Mart parking lots THAT much. But I think it’s the former. I think we middle-class Americans just have a bulletproof sense about us – that we really don’t think anything too bad is coming our way. And when it inevitably does, we’ve got no idea what to do with it.
I remember reading an article once from a psychologist who was making the case that Americans process grief less successfully than most others around the world. He suggested that we simply don’t think we deserve grief. Furthermore, we believe that if pain and suffering comes, we believe we just need to tweak a couple of things – go on the right diet, read the right book, take the right pill, talk to the right expert – and it will all go away. In other words, Americans tend to think that vulnerability is purely optional.
With the 17-year-old cybercriminal, people are clamoring about why the right security system was not in place. Perhaps there should’ve been a better system. But there’s a flaw in that way of thinking. Any system that is designed can be compromised. In other words, with digital security, it’s simply a matter of coding. And if a human developed the code, there is absolutely nothing stopping another person from cracking that code. Your security is dependent on the ethics of another. This really is no different from several generations ago, when the security of your wealth was dependent on the ethics and skill of the one storing it in a locked room. You’re vulnerable. You’ve always been vulnerable. You’ll always be vulnerable.
And we’re not just talking about financial fragility here either. All you need is one microscopic germ to attack a cell on your body for you to get sick. If just one single cell in your body divides and starts growing uncontrollably, you can die of cancer. If just one person in their car is preoccupied with their cell phone, changing the radio station, hits a patch of ice, is daydreaming, falls asleep, has had too much to drink, or simply isn’t a great driver, you can die on your drive home from work. And if just one 17-year-old Russian kid knows something about malware coding, your life savings can be gone in an instant. And you can say, “Well I have insurance for that sort of thing.” Great. Do you honestly think that, if 100 million people had all of their money stolen, the insurance companies could cover it? No more than Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac could absorb 3 million home foreclosures. There’s nothing impossible about it.
Health, wealth, beauty, and all created things, life itself, can go at any moment. Anyone in touch with reality should possess a sense of vulnerability.
Playwright Tennessee Williams once famously stated,
“I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really.”
They’re strong precisely because they’re in touch with reality.
So there’s two extremes and one healthy way to deal with human vulnerability.
One option is paranoia. You can distrust everyone and everything to the degree that you become holed-up in your home and end up on some TLC reality show called “Extreme __________.” You’ll arguably be safer, but you’ll be miserable.
Another option is to thumb your nose at the dangers of the world. This is the carefree, “No, I don’t need a helmet” approach to life. It’s probably more fun, but inevitably leads to more traumatic head-cracking.
The gospel’s approach to human vulnerability, however, is much healthier. The gospel says that we are all flawed, broken sinners who are saved only by the grace of God through Jesus. Those who believe the gospel have no problem acknowledging that we could go at any minute, be victimized at any minute, and that every moment of our lives we’re simply dangling here by grace. So, we’re inherently fragile. Yet, the gospel also says that we have a providential, divine Being who governs all things for our good (Rom. 8:28; Gen. 50:20). He loves us enough that he’s willing to die for us, so what lengths wouldn’t he go to for us?! He’s powerful enough to rise from the grave, so what wouldn’t he be able to do for us?! So, if you believe the gospel, you know that we can humbly move forward, but with confidence, simultaneously holding together both the truths of our vulnerability and God’s invincibility.
The secret, of course, lies in Jesus. Imagine how the one through whom all things were created (John 1:3; Heb. 1:2) made himself vulnerable for us. And not just a little vulnerable – he entered the world as a poor, feeble baby. He worked as a fairly uneducated carpenter, before he gathered around him a fairly uneducated, motley crew of nobodies with zero social influence. He was mocked, betrayed, beaten, flogged, stripped naked, and crucified before his own mother. But worst of all was that his own Father had to turn his back on Jesus in order to pick us up as children (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). This is what you and I needed to be saved. You see? Jesus, the eternal God, experienced the ultimate vulnerability so that we, who are by nature vulnerable, might become invincible.
Furthermore, this becomes even more beautiful in the believer’s life as he/she recognizes they don’t have to fear their own vulnerability. Someone who is not afraid to die will live without fear. Someone who is not afraid of losing wealth will live with generosity. Someone who is not afraid of social criticism will show extra kindness towards the socially outcast. Someone who really recognizes that Jesus put all his energy into their salvation will move their life into a pattern of living to save others.
It only stands to reason that if one single 17-year-old can negatively impact 100 million people, then can’t a 17-year-old positively impact just as many? Can’t we all have a positive impact beyond our wildest dreams? If we focus more on our Jesus-gifted invincibility, less on our natural vulnerability, won’t that lead us to take chances that can actually change people’s lives for the better?
You’re going to die. You’re fragile. You’re vulnerable. Get comfortable with that based on where you know you’re going. And then you’ll be free to start living.
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matt. 16:25)