Tag Archives: identity

Stuxnet and holiness

I spent this morning having a much longer than expected debate about holiness with Greg Sharples, leader of Pip n Jay’s student work and co-leader (with me) of Pip n Jay’s intern programme.

We’re totally agreed that we’re called to be holy – special, set apart, owned by God. We know that our life is really in Christ, not in our own schemes and efforts to be good (see “Who are we?”). So what is there to debate?

What we need to do, practically, in order to live a holy life is a big question. What makes us sin and need forgiveness is another. We know people who are much more radical than we are in how they deal with this by isolating themselves from bad influences. I am convinced that God works in us to deal with bad influences in various ways so, like Jesus, we can live in a broken and corrupt world without sinning ourselves. In Mark 7, I believe that Jesus’s point is that sin comes from our desire, not from our surroundings or even our consumption (directly). 

But Greg was also right to express some alarm if that was our whole teaching, because we also need to be mindful of how our consumption can corrupt us and lead us towards sin.

I think it’s difficult to arrive at an answer about how to live in a holy way purely by regulating our consumption or by assuming we can deal with anything bad which enters our minds.

The problem is that our decision making processes, our very minds, are corrupt and in need of fixing. God wants to do this, and it’s possible because our life is in Christ. We are not consigned to struggle alone, but are being transformed. We’re also not to be self reliant, but to help each other, be open and accountable with one another, and take advantage of other people’s ability to see our blind spots.

During the day, I found an odd example to illustrate – I’m not sure how helpful it is for the non technical people, but here it is anyway – I’d welcome your thoughts!

Stuxnet. A self replicating computer program (technically a worm, not a virus, because it’s self reliant, not part of another program), and probably the cleverest and most damaging one ever made. When it was discovered last July, it shocked experts with the audacity of what it seemed to be designed for, and how subtly it achieved its designers’ aims.

It seems that it was designed to make its way into a particular system no-one expected could be infiltrated – Iran’s uranium enrichment machines. When it eventually found its target – the system software which controlled these machines – it embedded new code into the system programming which did three things:
(i) It made the machines work in a way which, rather subtly, damaged the machines (making them spin too fast and slow down abruptly, causing physical damage) and at the same time made the product useless.
(ii) it disguised the fact that this was happening by delivering false feedback to the machine operators, who relied on the screens to tell them everything was fine, as well as to sensors which monitored operations for safety.
(iii) it hid itself, so that in the event of discovery, clear up would be extremely difficult, if not impossible without junking the machines and everything else connected to them.

It’s hard to estimate the cost of all of this and, although the machine manufacturers initially denied the could be significant physical damage, they later admitted that this was the case. Iran’s nuclear programme has probably been put back at least three years as a result.

What’s the link with holiness? This looks like an example to me of how something can be corrupted by what it takes in, and how that ends up causing damage and spoiling the product (or the fruit God expects us to yield) while at the same time the operator thinks everything is fine, because the corrupted system is outputting lies. If we’re the operators of our body machines, we have to pay attention – not just to what “the screen” says (our conscious thought and non-conscious instinct?) but also check the health of our bodies and the quality of our fruit. But that’s not all…

Stuxnet was not discovered by the Iranians, but by computer security experts in Belarus. In other words, it could have gone on working for longer without some outside intervention. The alarm was triggered by people who spotted SOMETHING was going on with certain types of systems, and they worked out that the problem was corrupted programming. The fix – to renew the correct programming.

Guarding against future infections is very much non-trivial – now that this kind of attack has been recognised, they can’t simply disconnect machines from each other which need to be connected in order to do a job. No-one was browsing the internet on these machines, but someone, somewhere probably used an infected USB thumb drive somewhere in the building. It’s likely that no matter how careful people are about the environment of an industrial machine, if it needs to connect to anything, it’s vulnerable. The smart thinking is going into how to protect, check and, if necessary, renew the programming. It strikes me that this is only possible if there’s a trusted, secure reference point which we know cannot be corrupted.

And that is where there is some good news for us in Jesus. We have a reference for good life, and we’re connected to it – in fact, Jesus should be defining and refining who we are. We can’t do this alone, or even with a set of rules we’ve come up with in our best intentions. We can’t define holiness through our best efforts to regulate our conduct or check our desires – we can still be deceiving ourselves because our minds are corrupt. It has to be a God-driven transformation process, renewing our programming.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 

Who are we?

I believe we have a choice – to be defined by Jesus or defiant against Jesus.

This weekend we had a visit from Pip n Jay’s new vicar-to-be, Rev Tim Silk. He is facing a really difficult job, taking over a church which spent over forty years under one leader, and the last two years in between leaders, wondering about who and what it is, and what it is meant to do next.

After months of speculation and uncertainty since Tim’s appointment, this was the first time most of us got to see him explain his vision and process for going forward. The big question we can expect to hear a lot is “who are we?”

I think this is genius. Tim has been very clear that he’s not after the job description labels we have been carrying around (that would be “what are we?”) So right away, this sets the expectation that things can change, not because Tim doesn’t respect who we are, but because things are not as important as people. Tim is planning to spend about a year finding out who we are each saying we are, what is in our hearts.

That sounds good, but the best is still to come. Looking further forward, “who are we?” is also the key question for people following Jesus. 

A Christian grows in many different ways, and no-one seems to take quite the same path as anyone else – we all have different starting points after all. Christians have love and concern for each other, or at least know that they should even if this is something to improve on, and it’s not uncommon to try and work out how others are getting on in their journey with Jesus.

It is quite typical for people – including church leaders – to make some sort of judgement about this based on activity. A church can be set up to do lots of stuff, and there may be a belief that Christians grow by participating in that activity – from socials to training courses and service opportunities. “What are we doing?” then becomes the key question as we plan for growth.

However, there is compelling research from Willow Creek which shows that high participation in ministry programmes does not correlate well with spiritual growth. Some growth might happen, but it’s not guaranteed by a long way. Increasing activity is not the best gauge of increasing faith or faithfulness. So what is?

“Who are we?” turns out to be a much better question, not just for measuring where we are, but also for defining an aim as we move onward. It is not a Christian’s goal to become proficient at juggling massive numbers of commitments to activities. It is our goal to become more like Christ.

Life can end up being defined by our activities, roles and responsibilities if we are not careful. “I am a discipleship group leader” or “I am a piano player”, for example. Outside of church, “I am a music consultant” also seems pretty good to me. There are obvious potential problems ahead if I lose one of those roles for some reason, perhaps beyond my control. It could lead to me questioning who I am, not just reconsidering what I do – it’s the sort of thing which leads to depression when people lose their jobs.

On the other hand, if everything I do and everything I think I am is secondary to who God says I am in Jesus, that gives me an eternal significance and much greater stability. The caveat is that, to live this fully, I have to be able to accept that anything other than my identity in Christ can change, and that might be painful. But Jesus calls us to this.

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39).

Jesus adds some good news – living this kind of life is not an isolated or pointless experience, but one which brings God into people’s lives. “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)

Paul writes that we have to consider old life gone and new life in Jesus – “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)

This has amazing, everlasting consequences for us – defeating the power of death itself – “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4); “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

Are we truly living in Christ? That is the BIG question. In order to do so, I need to be defined by him, not by my own plans, roles and ambitions. Jesus tells me that I am accepted, secure and forgiven, a member of God’s family and heir to his eternal kingdom. (Best summary ever – from Freedom In Christ)

I’m not really sure why I would want to defy that and go my own way – I probably like my own ideas a bit too much! I might also be confusing the love God has for who we are (who he has made us to be) with the things I call love, which might only be for what people do for me.

What I do know is that I want to love more like Jesus, and be defined by his love for me.

(I made the mosaic image at a day conference called “Imaging God” in June 2009 at Saint Stephens Church, Bristol – the main source image is a sculpture of Jesus at St Peter’s Eastern Hill, Melbourne, photo cc licensed by flickr.com user mugley)