My eye was caught by the title of a book in a bookshop the other day: "Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil". What a profound statement!
Deception is a normal, well-accepted, part of our lives. It is taken for granted – in fact we don't even think about it. Consider advertisements for a moment, which try to portray the product at its best or even better. Let's not talk about politicians' promises.
Then we have the Safe Schools Hub (endorsed by government) which, in Victoria, still encourages children to cover their on-line tracks from their parents and teachers!
So perhaps we shouldn't be so incensed when we discover that some athletes, even at the Olympic level, have used drugs to try and enhance their performance and covered it up.
What are we teaching our children?
Deception is actually ingrained in our lives from very early on. Think about Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy, to name a few childhood deceits. Of course, not everybody subscribes to these, and part of growing up is to realise that these things aren't true, but why not tell the stories truthfully in the first place?
In persisting with these myths couched as truth, at least until they have grown a bit, we reinforce the fact with our children that it's quite all right to tell porkies, for a good reason of course. At the same time we chastise our children for telling lies!
In other words we have learnt to live our lives looking at everything with a built in filter through which we somehow recognise that what we're looking at isn't really so, but it's ok because we understand what's happening.
The biggest issue with all this is not so much the fact of its happening, but how we can distinguish what is truth and what is not. After all, we are told that satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians Chapter 11 verse 14), so we need to be able to tell the difference between him and a true angel of light.
Jesus' words in Matthew Chapter 7 verses 15 to 20 talk about false prophets - wolves pretending to be sheep. Evil often pretends to be good to suck us in while its purpose is to seek, kill and destroy.
Our job, then, is to recognise what is a lie and what is truth. The passage in Matthew talks about fruit – the consequences of wolves pretending to be sheep – and that we will recognise the wolf by the fruit of his actions. But often by that time it is too late – the damage has been done and we are suffering.
We need to be awake and aware. Part of spiritual maturity is gaining the ability to discern between good and evil (Hebrews Chapter 5, verse 14). We have access to the spiritual gift of discernment of spirits, as well as gifts of knowledge and wisdom, (1 Corinthians Chapter 12) but we really don't exercise those spiritual muscles very much.
Wolves and Sheep
Jesus had an interesting take on all this.
The wolf is a master of deception. He is a natural predator – stealthy, cunning, quiet, fast, deadly but beautiful to look at. He is at the top of the food chain, master of his environment, master of survival.
By contrast, sheep are cute and fluffy, but pretty stupid. (Did someone say blonde?) What you see is what you get – there is no stealthy bone in their bodies. They will mindlessly follow another sheep for no apparent reason. They need a master to take care of them – to protect, lead and rescue them. You could not find two animals so diametrically opposed in their nature and temperament.
When Jesus sent the disciples out, he sent them as "sheep among the wolves" – effectively as the predators in a kind of role reversal (see Matthew Chapter 10 verse 18).
Yes they are still sheep, but they are armed with the shrewdness of serpents and the innocence of doves as their survival skills. A shepherd is supposed to protect his sheep, yet here Jesus is sending them out into the danger zone, only equipped with two survival skills! They all returned with joy (Luke Chapter 10 verse 17), mission accomplished.
The shrewdness of serpents is, among other things, the discernment I mentioned earlier. We have God-given intelligence, and we should know how to use it! But how often do we take things at face value or take for granted what we think to be true.
The innocence of doves does not mean that we are allowed to be gullible. It instead speaks for purity, a lack of deceit, not pulling the wool over our eyes (sorry). It speaks of recognising the deceit in the world, but not taking part in it.
We do not have to take the deceit of our society for granted. We have divine survival skills. And we have the Shepherd to protect us and the Holy Spirit to guide us! In fact we need to "tell the truth, shame the devil"!
Aira Chilcott B.Sc (Hons), M. Contemp Sci, Cert IV in Christian Ministry and Theology, Cert IV in Training and Evaluation, Grad Dip Ed., began her working life at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, investigating characteristics of cancer cells. Turning to teaching in the Christian school system provided opportunities to learn theology, more science, mission trips and explore the outdoors through bushwalking and other exploits. Now retired, Aira is a panelist for Young Writers and volunteers at a nature park. Aira is married to Bill and they have three adult sons.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html