The Christian faith stresses the dignity of and respect for human personality and the need to protect its privacy. Our human right to privacy has an importance in this age of electronic communication and information data bases that it did not have in the days when our scriptures were written. The right to privacy, however, and the corollary duty to protect the privacy of others, are not without mention in the Bible.
Jesus tells us to give our alms in secret so that God may bless us (Matthew 6:4). What God commands us to do, we surely must have a right to do. And with that right, comes a duty. We are to protect the secrets of others and not disclose them, for doing so will bring us both shame and ill repute (Proverbs 25:9-10). Vulnerability is closely linked with our need for privacy and we have a positive duty to make the vulnerable less vulnerable; when we see the naked, we are to cover them (Isaiah 58:7), and by extension, when we encounter information which is better kept private, we are to keep it from going farther.
The ability to respect the privacy of others is a virtue: he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing hidden (Proverbs 11:13). Conversely, because gossip leads to the invasion of others’ privacy and the revelation of their secrets, gossips are viewed as destructive people, and a careful steward of private information will not let oneself become vulnerable to them (Proverbs 20:19).
At the same time, our scriptures recognize that privacy can be abused. Employing privacy to slander another in secret is an offence against God, who will destroy the violator (Psalm 101:5). Delilah abuses her relationship with Samson to learn the secret of his strength, then violates his privacy, jeopardizing his life by sharing his secret with his enemies (Judges 16:9). The Bible recognizes that privacy can be abused in the service of oppression; the poor are devoured in secret, Habakkuk (3:14) reminds us, for frequently evil is the result of conspiracies undertaken in secret. The prophets of Israel denounced the repression of the poor, widows, orphans, and others of their society, and our Lord’s ministry began with the announced purpose to set at liberty the poor and disadvantaged.
Privacy takes on special meaning in the context of our spirituality. The Psalmist identifies privacy with inwardness; “You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). Privacy is an attribute of God, who owns secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29), and who creates humanity in secret (Psalm 139:15). We have no privacy, however, from God, from whom no secret is hidden (Ezekiel 28:3, Mark 4:22), and who will reveal all secrets (Luke 8:17). The secrets of our heart are disclosed to God (1 Corinthians 14:25) who judges these secrets by Christ (Romans 2:16). These scriptural roots claim our attention in several areas of modern life.