What a lesson was driven home to us this last week end! A cyber bug crippling hospitals and businesses; operations and consultations stopped in their tracks, and cars frozen on assembly lines. The lesson was simply that our modern world is appallingly vulnerable. Cyber sabotage, for whatever reason, may not be as obviously bloodthirsty in the way that terrorist attacks on our high streets are, or that atomic conflict would be, but potentially such sabotage could be much more dangerous and widespread, especially if primary essential services, including food distribution, came under attack on a national scale.
We are a computerised society in every way and increasingly so, and the more electronically integrated we become the more vulnerable we are. And this is not only in the realm of cyber-attack; electronic personal communication between people on a vast scale has left us open to every kind of misinformation and false news, and is already being used by unscrupulous national governments to interfere with the political affairs of other nations. This is not to mention the huge battle we are now obliged to wage with corporate interests to shield vulnerable people (young and old) from every kind of insidious temptation (pornography, gambling etc.) and fraud.
You will probably have noticed that most commentators on these recent attacks have made the point that it was a catastrophe waiting to happen. We have known of the possibility, even the probability, of cyber “warfare” for at least two decades, and indeed have had frequent incidents of it happening. During the military attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan voices were raised in protest saying that concentration by the U.S. on cyber defence and such issues would have been a much better use of resources. At a much lower level we have pretty well all of us had a bug- prompted crash on our computers that perhaps should have brought the issue more in front of us and made us more aware of a growing danger. It is always easy to be wise after the event, but the failure of the NHS to protect its computers, despite all the warnings, seems monumental. “Why would anyone want to attack a hospital?” might have seemed to be a sensible reason for saving a bit of money, but that was a failure to recognise the malign forces we are dealing with in the modern world.
The fact is that there is another lesson to be learned from the week end attacks and that lesson is that there are people (Individuals, rulers! nations!) that are ready and willing to take such appalling action if they can get away with it and it suits their purpose. Holding hospitals to ransom in order to line their own pockets is the work of utterly blinded and twisted people, albeit very clever! But the fact is that the forces of evil are very present in our world, some would say increasingly so. Those forces of evil are to be found rooted in human beings, and unfortunately not least in clever, able, gifted and “successful” people, and that is a lesson in itself to be deeply pondered. It is that essential problem of the evil bent in humanity that the bible focuses on and provides answers. It is, of course, the pervading modern liberal philosophy to say that man is essentially good, and in one sense that is true – human beings were created good, “in God’s image” in fact, and there are a lot of extraordinarily altruist people around. But that all humanity is warped with a bias toward doing evil is equally true and brings a needy balance to our understanding of the need of control.
There is yet a further lesson to learn in all this. Being vulnerable and feeling vulnerable is not a totally bad thing. In fact it has some real merit, and this has to be good news since we can never get to a point in life where we are completely protected from everything. This is true despite the fact that the main aim of the vast majority is to get to a point where they are living totally risk free in every aspect of life (financially, socially, health wise etc.). Understandable! But a life can get so comfortable, so pleasure filled, so protected, so self-centred that it switches off from the real source of its protection and peace. That is, quite simply, it switches off from God. Jesus told a simple story of a rich man who grew enormously rich, built many barns to finance and protect his future, and told himself to live the good life he could now see in front of him. He had no need of anything, least of all God. (What a picture of so much of the modern world!) The story ended with a very sharp kick; God said to him, “You fool; tonight your life is required of you”. In similar vein, God spoke through Moses to the Israelites when they were delivered by the grace of God from the torments of the Egyptians and headed toward their promised land. He gave them a warning; “When you have eaten and are satisfied … be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his laws and decrees I am giving you today. Otherwise …when you build fine houses and settle down and when your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold increase, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God. If ever you forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed”. Deut. 8:10ff. That was a pretty devastating warning, but it doesn’t just belong to the historical past. Self-satisfaction, complacency and the rejection of God remains a road to destruction today. An awareness of vulnerability is spiritually always a good thing. It can turn our eyes toward God. It doesn’t mean we go looking to be vulnerable – we don’t need to do that because the truth is we are in fact very vulnerable. It simply means we recognise it, and we recognise that whatever plans we lay for ourselves in life we actually need something beyond ourselves to protect and watch over us. God intends that our very vulnerability should lead us to him and to rest in all the protection, safety that he promises to bring to our lives as we walk with him. It is not a stupid or weak person who looks to God for his strength and protection and is ready to acknowledge it; on the contrary, that person is wise and has their feet on the ground. Vulnerability becomes a pointer in the right direction.
And I remain very grateful to God for the young fellow that found a way to switch off the destructive bug, and for the fact that we do have people who can bring us some defence against such unmitigated evil. But don’t let’s take that kind of thing for granted! Even less should we take God for granted and ignore him!