Big Brother, bigger God

By Erin Mackenzie 

I didn’t even have to scan my passport. I just looked at the camera, pushed the “Take Photo” button, retrieved the print out and got in line. How the latest iteration of Global Entry kiosks knew who I was is a mystery to me. The US Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) streamlined immigration program has been a godsend given the number of connections I’ve had through Miami in the past year, but their latest technological upgrade? Borderline creepy.

Many of us interact with similar innovations daily. Apple launched Face ID with its iPhone X in 2017, and Google Display Network is a digital Big Brother. Recently, it picked up on my frequent travel and showed me a Facebook banner ad for something called “CheapOair.” After I voted on a T-shirt design for our upcoming regional conference, it thought I might wish to place a bulk order from Custom Ink while scrolling through my MSN homepage. Yes, my browser’s “cookies” leave a trail of crumbs that are a feast for marketers, who can learn much about my lifestyle, preferences and habits based on my online actions.

Psalm 139 begins: “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” (vv. 1–2).

Google’s algorithms, surely, have searched us. Google Maps can pinpoint our location with astounding exactness, so it might as well know when we sit down and rise up. My iPhone long ago learned the answers to the first questions we typically ask to get to “know” someone: hometown, occupation, interests. With our devices silently gathering so much information about us, we might feel like strangers to those around us by comparison!

But the fact remains that neither Apple nor Google really knows us. To them, we’re faceless statistics. I’ve always wondered what the CBP agents’ screens show as they ask me a series of questions they can probably answer themselves. The contours of my cheekbones clue them in to a wealth of information. Even still, they don’t know me.

There are two Spanish verbs that both mean “to know,” but with different implications. Saber is used for factual knowledge. I “know” Spanish in this sense. Unlike before I moved to the tropics, I now “know” how best to cut a mango. Conocer conveys a deeper sense of familiarity. After almost a year on the field, I’m starting to feel like I “know” my city, Santiago. At least, visitors I chauffer around tell me it looks like I do! I’m getting to “know” the people around me better and better and vice-versa. On my most recent of four trips to Jamaica, a member of the local church told me with a wide grin, “You’re not a visitor anymore!”

Apple, Google, and the professionals who tap into Google Analytics have factual knowledge about me. The CBP has more. God, too, sabe many things about me. In Psalm 139:2, “know” is commonly translated into Spanish using “saber.” God knows our whereabouts at all times! Later in Psalm 139, the RVC and many other Spanish Bible versions use “saber” to convey that God knows our thoughts and what we’re going to say before we even think to say it.

But God knows us more profoundly, in a way that corporate America and government agents don’t and never will. “Know” in Psalm 139:1 is almost always translated using “conocer.” God knows us. He’s familiar with every atom of our physical being and every quirk of our personalities. The Creator who knit me together in my mother’s womb knows more about me than I know about myself. Oddly, it’s not creepy in the least, this being known by an all-knowing God, because I am also deeply loved by the same, abundantly-merciful God. More than Google can, more than any of my friends can, more than I myself can, God knows me truly and fully: He created me, and He loves me with perfect love.

This intimate knowing is also mutual.  God invites me into a cherished, familial relationship with Him through Baptism. John records these words of Jesus: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (10:14). What a privilege to know the Heavenly Father so fully! I can list many facts about each of the three persons of the Trinity, but, perhaps most importantly, I can say with Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (19:25).

Erin Mackenzie is a career missionary in the Dominican Republic. When she’s not traveling around Latin America overseeing the regional short-term team program — too often, according to her cat, Freddy — Erin enjoys reading, trying new recipes and challenging anyone who claims they can beat her at English or Spanish Scrabble.

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