Have you ever heard of “Catfishing?” Not the kind where you use a fishing pole and go down to the river. I’m talking about the kind that happens virtually, via the internet. I bet you’ve heard about it, just didn’t know the term, “catfish.”
Remember a few years ago – after the 2012 college football season? Notre Dame linebacker, Manti Teo, was publicly involved in a catfishing scheme. It seems that the girlfriend who inspired him during that season was fake. She didn’t exist. She never existed. She was “created” by another person. Teo met her online, became close, considered her his girlfriend, even suffered her tragic fake car accident and fake death from leukemia. All the while telling her story to reporters and drawing inspiration from her. (You should really read that link. It is craaaazy!)
A Catfish scam occurs when someone assumes a persona (or many) in order to trick another person into believing that they’re really that person online. Oftentimes a “Catfish” will go to extremes to continue their lie and typically use social networks, dating sites and all different types online forums. They might display fake profile pictures, get a separate phone line and even create a complete online profile with “fake” friends to cover their tracks.
This is one of the newest and most recently publicized catfishing scams although, they’ve been going on a lot longer than people know about. Remember that “Andy Griffith” episode where Floyd pretends to be rich and glamorous for a woman he has met through a dating service? Floyd Lawson was a “catfish” before the term was invented.
Typically, the catfish reaches out to a person through a forum or social network and engages conversation with them. The catfish will create fake profiles and elaborate stories to keep the charade going. There are different things that motivate each of these people. It’s most commonly a need to be liked, hide who they really are because of confidence issue and sometimes it’s because of greed because they want your money but, in all cases, the catfish is lying about who they are.
Have you ever received that e-mail scam from a Nigerian Prince? You’ve been “catfished.” Internet experts call it the “419 NIGERIAN PRINCE SCAM.” The number “419” refers to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud, the charges and penalties for offenders.
Why am I telling you all this? Because some people “catfish” others for the same reasons that a lot of us “catfish” God. “Catfishers” wear masks, for many reasons – some illegal, some just sad and insecure. We wear masks before God for many reasons, mostly because we believe his love and acceptance of us is just too good to be true. Our mask serves the same purpose that an “online mask” serves for a “Catfisher” – makes us look better, more acceptable, more holy. As if we need one!?
You can’t “Catfish” God, and you don’t even really need to! He loves us anyway!
Magrey DeVega, in One Faithful Promise, says we wear masks in order to survive. During our days we navigate so many challenges and situations that we have to maintain some sense of adaptation in order to make it.
“The problem emerges,” he says, “when we become so adept at wearing masks that we don’t really know who we are seeing when we look in the mirror.” (p. 14) In other words, we forget our truth. More impotant than forgetting who we see, is forgetting who God sees.
Transformation happens when people are most vulnerable and authentic in front of God. Take Adam and Eve, for example. Their masks were the fig leaves they wore after they sinned, to hide their shame. Nicodemus began his journey to transformation at night, when none of his Pharisee friends could see his authentic searching. (John 3) The very next chapter in John contains the “Woman at the Well” story. She came to the well with a mask. Jesus didn’t care. He talked to her anyway. The mask came off, She was transformed!
Psalm 51 is a result of King David’s vulnerability and authenticity before God. My Common English Bible introduces it like this: “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him just after he had been with Bathsheba.”
King David couldn’t sleep. Joab was leading the Israelite army against the Ammonites, and David was waiting for news from the front. He was walking – pacing back and forth – on his roof when he saw Bathsheba bathing. He sent for her and began an affair with her. She became pregnant. David sent for her husband, a soldier named Uriah.
When Uriah arrived, David acted all concerned, “So, how’s the battle? Joab doing okay? You look tired. Go home! Spend some time with your wife. What’s her name? Bathsheba?” But, Uriah, being the good soldier that he was, couldn’t bear the thought that his “brothers-in-arms” were out there sleeping in tents and he was at home, getting comfortable with his beautiful wife, so he slept in front of the palace.
The next night, after hearing this, David got him drunk. “Surely, he’ll go home tonight!” Nope. Same thing. Slept on the palace steps. So David sends a sealed letter to Joab – by way of Uriah, no less – that says “Put Uriah in the fiercest battle and let him die.” He did. Uriah was killed in battle. David was now free to marry Bathsheba.
And you wonder where soap operas get their stories?
Then, in the next chapter, the prophet Nathan comes and confronts David with his sin. David repents and writes Psalm 51.
Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
2 Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
purify me from my sin!
3 Because I know my wrongdoings,
my sin is always right in front of me.
4 I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
completely correct when you issue your judgment.
5 Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
from the moment my mother conceived me.
6 And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.[a]
7 Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
9 Hide your face from my sins;
wipe away all my guilty deeds!
10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways,
and sinners will come back to you.
16 You don’t want sacrifices.
If I gave an entirely burned offering,
you wouldn’t be pleased.
17 A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.[b]
You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed.
David removed his mask when Nathan confronted him. What will it take for us to remove our masks before God?
When we re-commit our lives to God in this Covenant, the first step is “Confiding in God.” In the “Homily” section of the service, he says:
First, set apart some time, more than once,
To be spent alone before the Lord;
in seeking earnestly God’s special assistance
and gracious acceptance of you;
in carefully thinking through all the conditions of the covenant;
in searching your hearts
whether you have already freely given your life to Christ.
Consider what your sins are.
Consider the laws of Christ, how holy, strict, and spiritual they are,
and whether you, after having carefully considered them,
are willing to choose them all.
Be sure you are clear in these matters, see that you do not lie to God
It’s a matter of integrity – making sure your outward actions match your inward attitude. Whatever good we do, whatever actions other people see, must come from a heart that is “right, pure and just.” (DeVega p. 16)
Confiding in God consists of letting God be your “Nathan,” letting God confront your sin, claiming that sin, and seeking forgiveness for that sin. Ask the question: how can I get to be in such a close relationship to God that the good that I do is a pure expression of the person that God sees? How can I get to a place where my visible works are a true sign of who I am, not a mask to hide inner ugliness?