catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 4 :: 2006.02.24 — 2006.03.10


Masked identity

I used to think that a hypocrite was defined as someone whose actions and words didn?t match. Hypocrites were people who told others how to behave, but refused to live by their own standards. The result of this definition was the liberal use of the title for anyone who had ever lived in a way that differed from his or her professed moral standards. By this definition, someone who once used illegal drugs would be labeled a hypocrite if he ever told someone else that drugs were bad. Defining a hypocrite as someone whose words and actions don?t match can be taken to an extreme that does not allow the possibility that people may learn from the sins of their past. By that definition, every Christian can be defined as a hypocrite, because Christians confess that they have sinned, and they also call others to live by God?s standards.

The word “hypocrite” means “actor”. In ancient Greece, a hypocrite was someone who wore a mask on a stage. Today, most of us see actors on television or in a movie theater. When we see actors, we know that they are playing a role, or wearing a mask. Most of us do not really believe that Antonio Banderas is a skilled swordfighter (as he portrayed in The Mask of Zoro) nor that Sandra Bullock was ever a police officer who was asked to enter a beauty competition (as was portrayed in Miss Congeniality). They were trying to entertain us, and in no way did they intend to make people believe that they had actually done in reality that which was portrayed on the screen.

However, we will often run into people who are ?playing a role? in order to be deceptive. Have you ever met someone who showed interest in you, complimented you, and even asked you to meet with them because you seemed to have a special characteristic that they were looking for? After talking with them for a while, you began to realize that this person was not interested in you, as much as he was interested in your help with a business proposition. It is probable that his initial interest was an ?act,? that was intended to hide his true intent of asking you for assistance in some way. Acting in order to deceive is the true nature of hypocrisy.

A hypocrite is someone who calculates the way she presents herself in order to make the desired impression. She will wear masks that are designed to present a face that will hide a vice or flaw that she does not want to be revealed. In Nathaniel Hawthorne?s book The Scarlet Letter, Reverend Dimmesdale preaches inspiring sermons and boldly proclaims the condemnation of sin, all the while, hiding deep within his heart the reality of his own sin of adultery. He fears letting anyone see the depth of his sin, and so he puts on a mask of piety. Reverend Dimmesdale?s hypocrisy was not the result of speaking about sin, nor was it evident merely because he called his congregation to repentance. His hypocrisy was the result of hiding behind a mask of pious righteousness while the corruption of sin corroded his heart.

It is important to understand the true nature of hypocrisy. It is possible to speak with integrity against a sin that you have committed. Jon Kregel?s autobiography Dealer tells the story of a man who became deeply entrenched in the world of dealing cocaine. While he was in prison, Jon gave his life to Christ, and turned away from that life. When I first met Jon in 1993, he was speaking to high school students about the dangers of drugs. Was Jon a hypocrite? After all, he warned kids to stay away from drugs even though he had fallen into that dark underworld.

I would argue that Jon was not a hypocrite, because he was not wearing a mask. He was not parading around as though he had never touched cocaine. He spoke frankly about the dangers and heartbreak that he experienced in his life, in order to keep others from making the same mistakes he had made. Jon was speaking with integrity, even though he had lived the corrupt life of dealing drugs.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will all admit to wearing different masks, or playing different roles depending on the situations we are in. If you are at work, you will not treat your co-worker in the same manner you would treat your spouse, because it would not be fitting. We are not guilty of hypocrisy simply because we wear different masks. Whenever we are skillful, however, at playing different roles, we run the risk of managing our masks to create an impression, and hide a character flaw, instead of doing the hard work of leading a disciplined life to experience character transformation.

The sad reality is that once we start managing our masks, we can even fool ourselves into believing that we are better than we actually are. We can believe that our masks our real, and buy into the lie that we do not possess the flaws that we work so hard to cover.

Instead of working to appear better than we actually are, let me recommend that we become people who actually strive to be better than we actually are. God is not finished working on us yet, and even though we will struggle with flaws today, we can take comfort that God will not settle for putting a mask on us in order to hide our sin, but will work to remake us perfect and holy, as we are intended to be.

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