“Man has affair”
Doesn’t seem like much of a news story, does it?
Clearly it’s of extreme, perhaps even supreme, importance to his wife and kids, and to the family of the woman involved, but it surely doesn’t merit being on the news, does it?
Yet this story has lurked around the British news cycle for weeks now. Why?
Firstly, because the man involved is a ‘celebrity’. Second, because until a couple of days ago, no-one knew who he was.
That’s right, the story was actually “Unidentified man has affair”. Crazy, eh?
It became news because said man went to court and got a ‘super-injunction’ meaning that no newspapers or TV or radio stations were allowed to reveal who he was, what he did, or even the fact that he had got an injunction to hide who he was and what he had done.
The story has reignited questions that smoulder away on the fringes of British celebrity culture into issues of privacy and ‘public interest’:
Do you surrender your right to privacy when you become a celebrity?
What areas does a right to privacy cover?
Is ‘that which interests the public’ the same as ‘that which is in the public interest’?
…and so on.
The fact is, almost all people in the public eye are there by choice (or at least in the knowledge of what they’re letting themselves in for) – people born into the Royal family are possibly the only exceptions to this. For the most part, the rest have deliberately entered a field in which they wish to excel and for which they wish to become known.
There is a spectrum of desire, from simply “I want to be recognised (and admired) as the world’s best X“, to “I want to be recognised (and loved) all over the world.” Those on the latter end don’t really care what they are famous for, so long as they are famous. They know they’ve made it when everyone wants to know what they ate for breakfast, what brand of jeans they wear and who they’re sleeping with.
And there’s the rub. It’s fantastic being watched, being sought-after and being emulated. We love to feel known, understood, respected and admired – right up until the point where we do something we are not so proud of. Whether it’s running to the supermarket without makeup on, or having a relationship with someone they’re not married to, there are some things that celebrities wish they could do in complete anonymity.
And of course it is precisely those things that the public are most interested in. As soon as something is slightly concealed, our interest is piqued and we want to investigate further. This seems to be a completely natural, inherent response: think of the allure of a door standing ajar, or the fact that your neighbour’s paper on the train is always more interesting than you own. Perhaps it is part of the instinct to explore and create that God has placed in us.
When it comes to the secrets and troubles of others, though, I think that instinct to find out is simply an excuse for the desire to find – and expose – the weaknesses of others.
One of my colleagues once described it as “heaven without the mercy”. It took me a while to think through what he meant – it didn’t look much like heaven to me at all – but I think that’s quite an insightful comment.
In heaven we are known through and through. Every one of our innermost thoughts is known before we even think it. We are known better than we know ourselves, and many people find that a terrifying and intrusive concept. We fear that deep knowing because there are some things we want to keep hidden, things we are ashamed of, things we wish we had done differently, things we wish we didn’t think and feel.
But God is not like a tabloid journalist or a nosy neighbour. He doesn’t want to dig up our innermost secrets to make them known to the world; he has no desire to bring us down a peg or two, to expose our failings or to mock our weaknesses.
He brings them to our attention so that, if we let him, he can forgive them, cleanse us and heal us of them. He reveals them not because of his mighty power, but because of his infinite mercy. His headline doesn’t read “Unidentified man (or woman) commits sin” but “[Insert your name here] is deeply loved.”
May you know his love, his power and his mercy in your life.
May you experience the joy of knowing and being known without fear of rejection.
And may you offer that merciful love to others.