Catfishing for a Counterfeit Jesus

It's time for me to make a public confession.  I think I may be addicted to the MTV television show 'Catfish.'  This is a reality based program starring two young men named Nev and Max who travel the country helping people investigate suspicious Internet activity regarding dating and relationships.  The show has brought to the forefront an entire sub-culture of scam artists who dedicate their time to luring unsuspecting people into relationships by creating false online depictions of who they are, often using fake profile pictures and phony geographic locations.  Much of the time, these people even lie about their gender.  The innocent victim invariably ends up hiring Nev and Max in order to investigate those instances where something sounds a little too good to be true, and then the race is on to find out who is really on the other end of that computer.  Unfortunately, most of the time each episode ends in heartbreak for the love-struck protagonist, and a rude awakening for the identity thief. 

I suppose the appeal of the show comes from observing all the unique and inventive ways that these scam artists invent in order to seduce people into starting a relationship.  The metaphor is apt, as they are truly fishing for victims.  Once hooked, these poor unfortunates can spend months (if not years) pouring out their heart to someone they don't really know at all.  

With the popularity of this show, I'm surprised anyone attempts Internet dating at all anymore.  But they do, and many of them get 'catfished' in the process.  It happens over and over again.   

It is difficult for me not to draw comparisons here regarding the battle being waged for our spiritual allegiance these days as well.   We have various groups (both religious and otherwise) fishing for new members and promising people anything they want.  We have recent news stories about hundreds of people taken in by cults - remember David Koresh and the disaster in Waco, Texas?  As of late, we even have people speaking out about Scientology, and how its proponents forced thousands of its adherents to hand over large sums of money in order to stay in the church.

No doubt there are people out there who have had similar catfishing experiences when it comes to finding a church home.  

The Bible has much to say about this.  I am reminded in particular of Ephesians 4:14, which says, "As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming."   Or 2 Tim 4:3, which frames the problem like so, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but with itching ears will surround themselves with teachers who cater to their peoples' own desires."  

There are good reasons to be skeptical when it comes to religion.  To paraphrase something C.S. Lewis once wrote: when it comes to spiritual matters, we are often sheep among wolves.  There are those who consciously seek to malign the word of God, trick people into following false principles or seductive lies, and who cannot wait to catfish anyone who may be swimming by.  Though it definitely isn't the fault of those who succumb to these scams, Scripture does seem to imply that we have a responsibility to investigate what type of water we are wading into, prior to leaping off the diving board.  And really, how easy is it to be hooked in - especially when it is often our own ears doing the itching?

We have at our disposal some Biblical warning signs about false religion and bad doctrine as well.  We are to recognize the proverbial catfish by its fruit.  In other words, what legacy is being left behind by certain religions or sects?  What is the end result of what they are doing and saying?  Are people being uplifted and encouraged by these belief systems, or are they being oppressed and dehumanized?  Does a church discourage going outside their own four walls for fear of losing control of its members?  Or do they promote going out into the community and sharing ideas with others?

It is sometimes very difficult to discern truth from fiction, and in fact the people that reach out to Nev and Max on the television show are often powerless to make right judgments.  They are too far gone, and too much time has been invested.  Something feels wrong, but they cannot quite put their finger on the source.

When I read through the Bible I cannot help but think that not only did God realize that discernment would sometimes be difficult, but He sent one magnificent and influential sign to humanity so that no one could miss it.  Jesus is God's supernatural mouthpiece.  He was someone who screamed to the world "Follow me, and I will show you the real God."  

Other leaders from history have claimed God's special dispensation also, but none were resurrected on the third day, in accordance with prophetic Scripture.  It was as if God knew that spiritual confusion would abound, so He sent someone for whom it would be impossible to dismiss.  We may love Christ or hate him, but we cannot ignore him.  We must all make a choice as to what his existence meant. 

I believe Christianity to be one of the only religious endeavors that doesn't shy away from asking hard questions.  It has stood the test of time, and has welcomed investigation from all manner of people groups for the last two thousand years.  In fact, if your church doesn't permit you to ask questions about its doctrine, then I would suggest you may want to find a new church.  The Bible has answers to difficult questions, logical constructs to correct supposed inconsistencies, and even an offer of eternal life for those brave enough to accept Jesus.  It is a belief system worth looking into, and I believe it was designed with that in mind.  It is okay to look around and kick the tires, and it is okay to ask questions when it comes to the Bible.  

Every great once in a while an episode of 'Catfish' actually ends well.   Nev and Max will set up a face to face meeting with a mysterious person who actually turns out to be the real thing.  A budding romance may start at this point, and everyone goes home happy.  "It was worth the trouble," the love struck person will say.  So is our journey to find the real God.  No counterfeit Jesus will suffice in this situation, and none were meant to.  

If you are in an online relationship that sounds too good to be true, you may feel inclined to call Nev and Max after reading this article.  If you are searching for God, please open the Bible and poke around a bit.  Ask questions, and look for truth within its pages.  I have a feeling you will find what you are looking for, and a budding romance may even begin.



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