We’re all getting catfished.
In our digital world, many people fall prey to people pretending to be something other than what they are. The perfect online boyfriend or girlfriend turns out to be a scam artist or a student prankster. The perfect investment opportunity turns out to be a con. But this isn’t a modern phenomenon at all. In fact, it’s centuries old, so old in fact that the author of Proverbs exposes one of the oldest catfishing schemes in the book: the promise of guilt-free, consequence-free, no-strings-attached sexual pleasure.
The reality is that there’s a reason catfish artists use romance and relationships and sexuality. When those things are involved we’re even more liable to believe lies, and when do we’re not just liable to get hurt, but we’re liable to get dead. That’s what the Bible says. That’s the danger the father in Proverbs sees, so he lays out this danger for his son.
The book of Proverbs is filled with characters who represent something about the world–Lady Wisdom, the “fool”, etc., so he describes this catfishing scheme as being run by the “adulterous woman.” But really she’s just a character representing any illicit sexual temptation outside of God’s plan for sexuality–meaning you can apply it to men or women, adultery or pornography. The Father in Proverbs wants his son to see through the scheme, and God wants us to see through it too because it’s alive and well today.
In a few posts, we’re going to explore in brutal honesty how this catfishing scheme works. First, one of the oldest lies in the world.
The Lie: You can sin and not suffer* (Proverbs 6:20-35)
“Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.” (Proverbs 6:27-29)
In our world today, we think we can separate sin from suffering–that we can get the pleasure of sin without its consequences. But that’s a lie. The son sees a woman he thinks is “hot” but the reality is you can’t get close to that kind of “heat” without getting ugly second and third-degree burns.
Bruce Waltke points out that this section is meant to show the severe, inevitable, and unending penalty of adultery.
The punishment is severe–it won’t be a slap on the wrist it’ll be ugly and brutal. The Father says that when you pay a prostitute you get the pricing up front but many of these “free” sexual encounters cost far more than you’d ever imagine.
The punishment is inevitable–there’s no such thing as a risk-free, consequence-free sexual hookup.
The punishment is unending–we may escape it for a day or two, or even a month or two, but it has a way of lingering for a lifetime. Verse 33 says that the one committing adultery “will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away.” Even in the best case where there are repentance and restoration, there are still long, lingering effects in your relationships with God and others. And in the worst case you will be relationally, economically, personally, socially, destroyed.
Think of it this way: I have pretty severe environmental allergies. The doctor encouraged me to, if possible, live in a house that had a filtered heating/cooling system, good windows and seals, and to minimize trees and grasses outside that set off my allergies.
But I didn’t listen. We moved into an old house with really old 1961 era windows that let everything into the house, that had four giant trees I was allergic to, in a whole neighborhood of those trees. And the bonus was that it had an “evaporative” cooling system which requires you to keep the windows open to work efficiently.
But we moved in and I woke the next day and thought, “Hey I’m not sick! The doctor had no idea what he was talking about.” A week went by. A month went by. Then I got another allergy attack and sinus infection. No big deal. Then another. After 3 years of living there, I realized I was getting sick more and more frequently and my immune system was weaker, leading to other illnesses than it had been before. Essentially the doctor told me “You can’t live in a house like that and not suffer” and I didn’t listen. But he was right. We moved from there a few months ago.
Whatever sexual temptation is in front of you, it’s lying about this reality. It’s saying the pain won’t be severe, that it probably won’t even happen, and even if it does it’ll blow over quickly.
This is true especially for my generation in the area of sexuality. A 2011 Survey in Relevant Magazine records that 80% of those who self-identify as “evangelical” have had sex, only 8% down from the larger national average. In our world, we have done everything we possibly can to convince ourselves that we can sleep with whoever we want whenever we want without consequences. No time in history has this been more possible with the availability of birth control and abortion and the normalization of hookup culture and pro-adultery websites like Ashley Madison.
And the problem is that we sin or see others sin and go “Hey no bolt of lightning right?!” But we’re being catfished. You can’t have sex with someone without it hurting you, hurting them, hurting others, and being seen by God.
Here’s what people don’t see, that pastors see all too often: You see the shame and hurt and hopelessness of someone who went from free sex to a string of prostitutes; you see the shock and pain of an engaged couple who have just talked through their sexual history, trying to extend forgiveness and love; you see the utter devastation of adultery written on the face of a spouse who wants to cry and explode in anger and never get out of bed; you see the hardness of someone who has kept secret life for years and who shrugs when confronted by sin they would have wept at 10 years ago. This is what’s hidden when sexual sin is propositioning us.
This is also especially true in the area of pornography. One of the greatest lies in our world today is that you can sin with pornography and not suffer. It’s not hurting anyone or anything to look, right? But this is the reality: Your relationship with God will suffer. The very thing you were made for, the thing meant to give you true joy and life, will fade.
Your relationship with your spouse or future spouse will suffer. You cannot look at porn and it not affect your relationship with your spouse, period. You cannot look at porn and it not affect your future relationship with a spouse, period.
Your relationship with others will suffer. Porn turns you inward, it turns you to using people instead of loving people. It will corrode relationships and isolate you further and further.
You will cause the suffering of others. I challenge you and dare you to get online and read the statistics about how the porn industry covers up and even promotes abuse and exploitation. And add to that the truth that the girl or guy you are looking at is giving himself to something that will crush their soul through sin. You are paying them to sin; you are promoting and propagating that.
If all this is true, then where can we find hope and help? We find it in Jesus. Jesus is the opposite of a catfishing scheme. Seen against the backdrop of a lifetime and eternity, Jesus always delivers better than you expected (and isn’t that the perspective that actually matters?). No one gets Jesus and thinks they’ve been shortchanged. 1 Corinthians 6:11 holds out hope for sexually broken people that you can be washed from sin’s stain and sanctified and justified.
Jesus can remake and restore the devastation sin brings. Jesus can forgive sins. Jesus can wipe shame away. Jesus can restore broken relationships and marriages. Even as Christians our sins have real and lasting consequences, but there’s also hope that Christ can even now begin the work of restoration.
Jesus’ cure is unending. In eternity, when every tear is wiped away, we will finally be at a place where sin’s consequences can’t reach us, punishment can’t touch us. If we are in Christ our future is no longer defined by the inevitable consequences of sin but the inevitable eternal consequences of what Jesus has done.
So don’t believe the lie. Believe Jesus instead.
*Note: I had this idea of the tie between sin and suffering crystallized by Ray Ortlund’s commentary on Proverbs (Preaching the Word series). In it, he quotes a preacher named Ted Wise as saying, “You cannot sin and not suffer for it. It just cannot be done.” If you’re looking for a good devotional overview of Proverbs you’ll benefit greatly from Dr. Ortlund’s Proverbs commentary.