Manti Te'o is the outstanding Notre Dame football player who was caught up in the touching tale of a girlfriend, her devastating illness, and her tragic death - on the same day his grandmother died. There had been notes and phone calls. The press took it to heart and made it public. It was also a hoax. Lennay Kekua and Manti Te'o had never met. She never existed. (Authorities are trying to determine if Te'o was victim or participant in the extended deception.)
It reminds me of a story by the skeptical and irreverent H.G. Wells about a clergyman. The good bishop was the kind of man who always said pious things to people. When troubled folks came, he found that a particularly helpful thing to say - if said in the right tone of voice - was, "Have you prayed about it?" Said gently, it always seemed to help.
The bishop, however, didn't pray much himself. His life was wrapped up in ritual and kind words. But a time came when life tumbled in on him, and he found himself overwhelmed. It occurred to the bishop that maybe he should take some of his own advice. So, one Saturday afternoon he entered the cathedral, went to the front, and knelt on the crimson rug. He folded his hands before the altar and could not help but think how childlike he looked - and felt - at that moment.
Then he began to pray. "O God . . . " - and suddenly there was a voice in reply. It was crisp, businesslike. The voice said, "Well, what is it?"
Next day, when the worshipers came to Sunday services, they found the bishop sprawled face down on the crimson carpet. When they turned him over, they discovered he was dead. Lines of horror were etched upon his face. What Wells was saying in that story is simply this: There are folks who talk a lot about God who would be scared to death if they saw him face to face.
The danger for Wells' priest, you, or me is that - unless we are careful - it is easy to put church buildings, religious music, rituals, formulas, and the like in the place of God. So we trust our ceremonies and confessions to mean that we have a relationship with God. But knowing about God is not the same as knowing God.
With God or girlfriends, quoted words and lovely narratives don't mean a relationship exists. A choir member who can't deal with trouble differently than her unbelieving neighbor may have confused membership with relationship. A deacon who doesn't handle prosperity any less selfishly than the person who mocks faith may have confused his position in the organization for knowing God.
Claims and confessions are not the same as a relationship. So don't be fooled, and never try to fool others. Let your relationship with Christ be real.
Dr. Rubel Shelly is Pastor of Woodmont Hills Church of Christ, Nashville and authors Fax of Life a weekly service. He is the author of more than 20 books, including several which have been translated into languages such as Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Russian. To subscribe to Fax of Life, send email to faxOfLife@woodmont.org