About a year ago, Megan, a teenager from Dardenne Prairie, Mo., became the target of an e-mail hoax attacking her character. It eventually led Megan to commit suicide. The perpetrator wasn't a shadowy cyberpredator, but neighbors â€“ one of them apparently the mother of another teenager, who felt driven to know what Megan was saying about her own daughter.
Just as Johannes Gutenberg may not have foreseen how his invention of movable type sometimes would be used for base and destructive purposes, the innovators who first conceived the network-linked computers now known as the Internet may never have foreseen its potential misuse, even for malicious attacks and criminal acts.
These inventors' aims were largely good and noble. Their inventions revolutionized communication. Then why the perversion of these remarkable gifts to humanity? What makes people take good concepts and do bad things with them? And are there any reliable means of defense in a world so pervaded by electronic communication which can enter your personal space through your personal computer anonymously and tamper with your thinking?
The printing press was as transformative when invented as the Internet is today. On some of the first printed pages to come off his world-changing press, Gutenberg could have read (in Latin) the Apostle Paul's lament: "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Rom. 7:19). The Bible shows that evil is essentially a deceptive inclination to think and do things contrary to the nature of God and His creation. When someone is ignorant of, or willfully blind to, the divine good and gives in to such base instincts as envy, greed, revenge, malice, or even obsessive curiosity, he or she is prone to err â€“ to do "the evil which I would not."
Today, those evils may take on more hidden forms, such as cyberharassment or cyberbullying. As in Megan's case, this is no longer considered just social misbehavior; some communities and lawmakers now see it as a full-fledged criminal act. Internet service providers and social networking websites such as MySpace are well aware of the medium's misuse. New laws and user rules can be helpful and may prevent some abusive or criminal incidents. Parents' daily awareness of their children's online lives â€“ and the examples adults set with what they say and write â€“ can make an ever greater difference.
The deeper need, though, is for spiritual alertness and self-defense. For an awakening to the mental nature of criminal behavior, and in particular to the effects of malice. And for a wider understanding of the protective and saving power of Christian, scientific prayer.
Alertness can begin with a growing awareness of God's everywhere-presence â€“ in knowing and feeling throughout one's day the presence of God as supreme intelligence; as the loving Father and Mother of everyone; as the ruling Mind and Shepherd who never leaves His creation wanting for safety and comfort. The spiritually alert also look beyond physical appearances to find the spiritual man and woman that God made and maintains as His own, incapable of deceiving or being deceived â€“ "For we are [God's] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph. 2:10). Christ, God's sheltering presence in the world, is alive and universally active â€“ God's open door to the safe haven that excludes no one.
A report on the Megan Meier case concluded with a plea from her father: "Be as watchful as you can be" (ABC News, Nov. 19). That's good counsel. It echoes these words of Jesus: "What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch" (Mark 13:37).
Watch for any urge to harm or any adverse influence. Watch from the standpoint of living fearlessly in God's presence and unerring care. Watch with the Christ that loves and protects you and all.