I imagine that if I were to ask you what you think of when I say the word, “hack,” you might come up with a variety of things. You might say an imposter, a cheat, or – if your vocabulary is really fancy – a charlatan. Of course, these days the word hack is most likely used when talking about computers. Hearing that might make you think of one of the great the boogey men of our day – identity theft.
Although you may think of computer hacking as some nefarious person sneaking in through the internet and robbing you blind, there is a lot more to it than that. Hacking has become a more general term for any kind of rule bending and out of the box thinking that you can come up with. It is not good, nor is it bad. It just is.
Take video gaming as an example. For those of you who do not know, in the world of video games – which is a multibillion dollar industry that crosses virtually every facet of our human society from raw materials, to production, to community formation and interpersonal relationships – it is OK to cheat. I have to say that I don’t like this, but virtually every game has embedded “cheat codes”. These are a series of commands you can give to bend the rules, get special characters, or bypass levels instead of getting through on merit or skill. The thing is – even though the cheat codes let you do things that you otherwise could not – it is still considered fair play, because the options exist inside the code.
You could probably make the argument that “just because the option exists it doesn’t make it right.” Indeed, I believe the greatest ethical issue of this age is that we tend to think that access equals permission – and we have way too much access to too many things. But we’ll have to tackle that issue another day. For now, I want you to think about the positive side of the argument. That is, that hacking is not about cheating. It is about divergent thinking. It is about collaborative problem solving, community building, and mutual inspiration!
Hacking, for some, is not about computers at all. It is about a way of living. In fact, there are tons of resources on line these days to “hack your life.” These sites offer procedures and tasks to simplify your life and reduce stress. One site offers advice on everything from the latest software to how to make the perfect cup of tea, or get organized, or even how to stop internalizing fear and anger.
What does all of this tell us? It tells us that life is full of disappointments and limitations, and that we believe that we can and should do something about it! That’s what hacking means these days, and with it comes a great tension between maintaining the status quo and moving into the unknown territory of what might be. That can be kind of scary. Most people are risk avoidant, and they don’t want to step into unknown waters without knowing how deep they are (or who lives down there).
Not only that, but the idea of hacking carries with it the very real weight of the fact that hacking is equally as destructive as it is creative. When hacking your life you have to consider the relationships, the resources, and the personal costs involved. When hacking computer code, bits of command strings are torn apart and put back together. There are basic parameters that offer some natural boundaries, but the goal is to tear it apart to make something new.
That’s why the annual global competition, BattleHack (a contest of teams that compete for 48 hours to come up with something that benefits others the most), actually gives its winners a battle-axe as one of their prizes. The axe is a tool designed for destruction that instead becomes a symbol of hope and meaning.
In my way of thinking, this contest also represents what it means to be, in the words of Paul, “reckoned as righteous” before God. You see, God is the ultimate hacker. Think about it. God had already made a covenant with Abram. An heir was promised. Sarai knew that she couldn’t do anything about it, so it only seemed reasonable to give Hagar to Abram. And God hacked in, re-wrote the code, and explained the covenant. God even changed their names to make it clear to everyone. Their names meant “exalted mother and father” and now they mean “mother and father of the nations.”
And so the hack continues in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome when he tells them that their relation to Abraham has nothing to do with their heritage or their ability to follow the law. Wait. What? God’s law is what makes them God’s people. Yet Paul tells the hodge-podge community of believers in Rome that before there was a law there was a belief in the God who claimed the descendants of Abraham, and who was over all nations. And then the little hacker tells them that their relationship with Abraham is only valid through that same belief.
And Abraham’s belief is firmly rooted in his ability to disregard his own limitations through his expectation in God’s faithfulness. And that’s us, folks. When we can recognize that all of our systems and values and expectations are limited, then we can see the activity of the One who is ever faithful and always moving things – hacking the very universe – toward some unknown greater good. Not only that, but Paul is pretty specific in saying that we are recognized as participants in this hack because of our belief in the One who raised Jesus.
And this Jesus died so that we might know of our own limited nature. And this Jesus was raised to confirm God’s ability to redeem anything this world might throw our way – if we are willing to be a part of the hack. That’s what the conflict with Peter was all about. Jesus called him Satan – the Adversary of God – because he could not see past his own experience. He was not open to the possibilities of the hack.
So Jesus turned to face the crowd and invited them into the opportunity to hack the universe wide open. The thing to bear in mind here is that he may as well have asked them to join him in an open revolt that would surely result in their death. Picking up a cross was not a metaphorical proposition. It was an acknowledgement that following Jesus naturally puts us in conflict with the status quo, and not only that but staying out of that conflict means that we have become the adversary that Peter is accused of becoming.
As if that weren’t challenging enough, he has to throw down the gauntlet of shame. I have to admit that this does not square with my understanding of a God of grace and mercy. The best I can do is to hold this in tension with God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah, and Abraham’s expectation that God will be faithful even when we are not. And then the cross that was a tool used to inflict suffering becomes a symbol of life and hope in this hacking competition for the universe!
That’s what we are involved in. As the church, we are involved in the greatest hack ever – the redemption of God’s creation! It actually breaks out here and there all around us. Just the other day I read about a young man with autism named Cody whose mother advocated for him to be an assistant to the football team during his senior year. This school, Thomas Dale, is somewhat of a powerhouse in its conference and has been for years.
Cody loved football. He idolized the players, and was more than a little scared that they would tease him. But they didn’t. He always worked hard, and they took him in like a brother. They made it to the playoffs, and they were getting crushed. About halftime everyone was completely dispirited – everyone except Cody.
Through Cody’s belief in the team and his encouragement, a fire was lit, and the team went on to win in triple overtime! Several of the boys who were interviewed said, “We just never quit. We did it for Cody! I don’t know how we did it. We just did it!” As for Cody, he said, “It just really helped me to be a part of the team and know who I really am. So, I won’t be left alone with no friends and stuff. It gives me self-respect.”
You see, God is going to break in and keep hacking away at this world until it fully reveals God’s kingdom. The question is, will we be a part of it? Yes! In fact we already are! We participate in God’s saving mercy through Jesus Christ every time we gather around God’s table in remembrance of Jesus. We participate in the mighty acts of God to redeem and restore the world every time we help people reclaim their stolen identity as children of God! And we are called to greater and more sacrificial love when we remember the sacrifice of Jesus and the promises of God that it revealed!
As for me, I hope to be a little more like Cody. I hope that as we move forward into some greater good that is yet unknown that we can be like Abraham, and play more to our weaknesses than to our strengths. Because I believe in a God who is both the cause and the consequence, and who is bending the universe toward the greater good – even here and even now. Amen!