Somewhere in America right now, there is a little girl locked in a dog cage. A man will bind her with duct tape. The man will sexually abuse her while another takes pictures and videos. The men will distribute these materials over a vast network of child pornography file sharing servers. Tens of thousands of other men will look at the pictures and videos, discuss them in chat rooms, use them as masturbatory tools, and demand more. And they will get more, much more.
I know this is true because I’m teaching a course this semester on “Cybersecurity Law.” Most of the course focuses on commercial and public espionage – hacking, data theft, and so on. This week, however, the topic has been online safety – cyberstalking, harassment, obscenity and child pornography. Our guest speaker yesterday was the Brian Sinclair, Chief of the Computer Crime Prosecution Unit in Bergen County, New Jersey. While he mercifully didn’t show us any of the volumes of child porn his unit has seized over the years (it is technically a felony to display such materials even in an educational setting), he described in general terms the sorts of things that commonly appear, including what he noted as “disturbing recent trend” towards the literal caging of victims.
What is justice? When is justice? Where is justice?
It is nearly impossible to theologize about something like this without becoming either morose or trite. Bergen County is a wealthy suburb of New York City, and most of the perpetrators of child pornography and child cyberstalking here are educated middle-aged men. I could write about how the corruptions of wealth and power tempt these men to think of themselves as above any sense of law, morality or decency. Or, I could write about the perversion of the mainstream entertainment media, and how it feeds into far darker “entertainments.” I could explore how these sorts of practices explode whatever reticence I might have about the personal reality of the “demonic.” These are worthy topics.
But I feel compelled to write today about the victims. The girl in the cage is rarely rescued. As Assistant Prosecutor Sinclair explained, in the rare cases where the prosecution is able to obtain a victim statement, the victim usually has already grown to adulthood.
Where is “Justice” for these victims?
This is a piercing theological question. Any wise theologian will first admit that he or she cannot really offer anything like a satisfying answer. As a Christian, I cannot offer a satisfying answer. I can offer a Lament. I can offer some action, even the meager offering of a law school course that maybe helps raise awareness. And I can cling to a glimmer of hope, which I know with the heart of faith is more than a glimmer: Christ will return and make this right. Indeed, I can pray for these victims, and as I do so I can strain forward with the Church and the saints throughout all the ages towards the day when Christ will bring final justice into this world, the day of his return.
We Christians have lost, I’m afraid, the “blessed hope” of Christ’s return (Titus 2:13). On the one hand, this is because the dispensational “Left Behind” theology has perverted this hope into a wish for me to be “raptured,” leaving the world – including the girl in the cage, if she has not made a “conscious decision for Christ” (and how could she, being locked up and tortured?) — to burn in dramatic High Definition and Dolby Surround Sound. It’s a sort of parousia porn. On the other hand, the this-worldly rendering of the parousia popularized by figures such as Jurgen Moltmann and N.T. Wright, while offering a valuable and necessary correction to dispensationalism, at times seems to mitigate the drama and decisiveness of Christ’s personal return.
The Biblical drama of the parousia is that it is a final unveiling of what is truly real. Evil and injustice and the powers of this world are to be unmasked and shown for what they truly are. Christ is to be shown fully for who he truly is. The Church is to be shown fully for what it truly is. All will see and know.
The girl in the cage will see and know. If the Bible’s claims about God’s unwavering compassion for the poor and oppressed are true, then I have a confident hope, indeed a kind of certainty, that the girl in the cage will recognize Christ the Lamb, will be drawn into his blessed presence, will be welcomed into the company of the saints who have held her in their prayers, will be marvelously healed.
The men with the duct tape and cameras will see and know. I won’t presume to know the fate of any such individual person. Yet I am certain, based on the Biblical witness, that many of them will gape in terror and hatred at Christ the Lion, and will justly be devoured.
None of this is comforting to the girl in the cage right now – again, how could it be, while she is locked up and tortured and unaware of her own hope for redemption? None of it excuses the work that must be done right now to free her. But it should compel Christians to echo on of the concluding prayers of the Christian scriptures, without which no Christian account of “justice” is complete:
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20-21.)