Relationships in the Days of Digital Deception

    August 29, 2018 | Articles by Rev. David Bodanza

    Many people complain today that they are unable to find a mate with which to have a lasting relationship. Times have certainly changed. We communicate differently with the proliferation of cell phones and social media. There may be widespread contact but less intimacy. Face to face communication is qualitatively different than a post on a social media site or a text message. Digital media with its modifications and enhancements has set up an image of the desirable woman and man that few can match in real life. It is easy to have a critical attitude toward others and think that nobody can measure up to the man or woman who is "right" for you. Critical people are often lonely people. They send the message that no one is good enough for them and consequently no one attempts to qualify. Online dating has become a common way to start a relationship, apparently second only to meeting through friends. But does it seem strangely akin to shopping for a product on Amazon.com? The online dater is sifting through a host of attributes in an army of candidates to find the ideal love.

    Single people fear that they will never find a lasting relationship. Yet, have we become a nation of consumers, even when it comes to romance? Ironically, we have become uncritical when it comes to testing the latest ideas and trends, disdaining even honest and respectful debate, but unfairly critical when relating to others, romantically or otherwise. Do we excuse that which we blindly do not see in ourselves only to condemn it in others?

    Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:1-5)

    We are not to be condemning of others. Of course, this does not mean that we are to jettison all proper discernment of character in favor of foolish gullibility. We are not to be spineless jellyfish. Yet, as R. Kent Hughes observes, "A critical spirit, a judgmental, condemning spirit, is endemic to the human situation. The media, our social relationships, our schooling, and our work situations are immersed in it. And though we often joke about it, experiencing it is

    most unpleasant. Few things are more exhausting and debilitating than harsh, unloving criticism." We are not to act as hypercritical fault-finders, who are ready to gossip and ascribe the worst of motives to everyone else but ourselves.

    Taking pleasure in the foibles and failures of others is a perverse game that will only backfire. The Proverb says, "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them." (Proverbs 24:17-18) "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matthew 7:2) The standard you apply to others will be applied to you. If you are merciless, people will be merciless to you. You can count on it. If you are charitable, people will be charitable to you. We must realize that we all have blind spots, things we cannot see in ourselves that others can pick up on rather easily. The wise person is wise enough to know the weaknesses of human nature and that he or she shares in the same infirmities as a member of humanity.

    Eye surgery is delicate business. It is precise and careful. Jesus said, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:3-5) The person who offers to assist another with their small problem is often blind to the bigger and more obvious problems of their own. A hypocritical helper's fault-finding with others makes him feel better about himself as he ignores and overlooks his own sin.

    It is much easier to be concerned with the sin “out there” than with the sin in your own life. The healthy Christian must engage in self-examination. True self-examination is God’s examination. The psalmist prayed “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24). We are frequently self-deceived, so pure “self-examination” is not a trustworthy diagnostic. You may have false negatives and, perhaps less likely, false positives. Sin is deceitful. The psalmist asked the Lord to show him the true state of his heart. The word of God is a discerner of the thought and intents of the heart.

    We must confess that this is a most important matter. Eternal matters are at stake. Often times, we are so caught up in the temporal that the spiritual is neglected. The seed falls on soil

    where the weeds choke out its growth. Do we not fear living a life where the cares and anxieties of this life stunt spiritual growth, particularly in the “tyranny of the urgent” culture in which we now live? Jesus warns, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 22:34-36). “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23).

    Jonathan Edwards observed, “We ought to be much concerned to know whether we do not live in some particular way which is offensive and displeasing to God.” It is not easy to live rightly when you live and work in a hostile, unbelieving world that continually pressures you to compromise the Christian values you hold dear. And we must beware of spiritual pride. Jonathan Edwards addressed this issue head-on. He first explains, "Pride is much more difficult to discern than any other corruption because, by nature, pride is a person having too high a thought of himself. Is it any surprise, then, that a person who has too high a thought of himself is unaware of it? He thinks the opinion he has of himself has just grounds and therefore is not too high. As a result, there is no other matter in which the heart is more deceitful and unsearchable. The very nature of it is to work self-confidence and drive away any suspicion of evil respecting itself. " Edwards continues, "The spiritually proud person is full of light already and feels that he does not need instruction, so he is ready to despise the offer of it. On the other hand, the humble person is like a little child who easily receives instruction. He is cautious in his estimate of himself, sensitive as to how liable he is to go astray. If it is suggested to him that he does go astray, he is most ready to inquire into the matter. ... The spiritually proud person finds fault with other saints for their lack of progress in grace, while the humble Christian sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts." Jerry Bridges points out that Christians may become so preoccupied with the obvious sins of our culture so as to neglect dealing with our own more subtle sins. We readily admit that the acknowledgment of sin is rapidly disappearing from our post-modern culture. Urge an unbelieving person that he needs to be saved and he may ask you or think to himself: "Saved from what?" The preaching of sin is also disappearing from many so-called evangelical churches. Some of the largest have espoused a redefinition of sin and are thus able to draw some

    of the largest crowds. Bridges identifies a dozen such “respectable sins”: ungodliness; anxiety, worry and frustration; discontentment; unthankfulness; pride; selfishness; lack of self-control; impatience and irritability; anger; judgmentalism; envy, jealousy and competitiveness; sins of the tongue; and worldliness. You may disagree, or be surprised that all of these are identified as sins. God's word is the final authority on that. But if you think about it, these common, “respectable sins” kill relationships. They estrange us from each other and, even more tragically, they estrange us from God.

    Let us be discerning yes, but not prideful finger pointers. May we be "quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." (James 1:19) May God help us to live rightly where He has sovereignly placed each one of us at this hour, and may He restore our broken relationships. Spurgeon said, "Beware of no man more than yourself; we carry our own worst enemies within us."

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