While working for an IT company some years ago, I had a rather devious role as a cybersecurity tester. To educate our clients about the risks of network attacks, I would create authentic-looking emails asking users to click on fake links or to arrange for urgent corporate wire transfers. After a round of testing, I would identify which employees had fallen for the controlled scam, and then alert their supervisors so that staff could be trained to avoid a real hack.
Of course, I performed these tests only with the consent of our clients’ executives, and I used an internationally recognized software platform developed by a leading cybersecurity expert, so I was essentially conducting a technological fire drill, with appropriate consents and for a greater good. But I must admit I took a certain pleasure in crafting the bait emails: I would study our clients’ business models and supply chains, using plausible language and logos to entrap staff. I’d also throw in a few discreet spelling errors (a real penance for an English major) to give users a merciful clue that what they were reading might not be legitimate.
Ironically, and for all his tech-savvy, one of my bosses often proved to have a greater blind spot than our clients’ staff — not in matters of cybersecurity, but of faith. Highly intelligent, quick-witted, hardworking and generous to his employees, Caleb would routinely (and without any prompting on my part, I might add) engage me in theological debates, challenging my belief in God or any kind of transcendent being. He’d been raised as a Southern Baptist, but had left the church in his teens; as a young father, he was “too busy for God” and instead logged hundreds of hours of overtime to provide for his little family.
But even with his son was nearing adulthood, Caleb still couldn’t bring himself to fully return to an issue that, given how many times we sparred, clearly haunted him from within.
In many ways, Caleb wanted to believe in God, but cynicism had soured his spirit, and his default retort in many conversations, regardless of topic, was a single word, phrased as a question he himself had already answered: “Really?”
That droll, world-weary quip, the vocal meme of our time, has several translations, few of them encouraging: “You can’t be serious; I’m more sophisticated than that,” “I know better, and I have the experience to prove it,” “I’ve read several blog posts confirming my existing bias, and I’m not interested in any information that might contradict my position.”
Some renderings of “really?” are more visceral: “I don’t want to see this from another perspective, because I might have to humble myself and change,” “My heart is too broken to hope that things could be different and perhaps better.”
The worst utterance of “really?” is found in the Bible itself, where the word (Hebrew aph) falls from the bitter lips of Satan himself: “He asked the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?’” (Gen 3:1)
Untold heartache and devastation would have been avoided had Eve simply ignored him and went about sunning herself or checking on the tomato plants. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The beginning of sin and of man’s fall was due to a lie of the tempter who induced doubt of God’s word, kindness and faithfulness” (Catechism, 215).
The question itself wasn’t even a fair one, since Satan had — like the fake cybersecurity test emails I created — twisted the truth. On settling the first couple in Eden, “the Lord God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die” (Gen 2:16-17).
The consequences of not questioning the enemy’s own question have been catastrophic: “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (Catechism, 397).
It’s not as if Adam and Eve lacked evidence of the Lord’s love; they were the first human beneficiaries of divine affection and abundance. What our first parents essentially did was receive their very being, along with creation itself, from the hand of the Lord — and then, prompted by the evil one, they looked askance and said, “Really?”
That little word quickly spawned other questions: “Is this it? Isn’t there something more to which we’re entitled? Why is God holding out on us? How can we get everything we want, everything we feel we deserve?”
And so unraveled the world: “In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good” (Catechism, 398).
What we sundered, Christ has restored through his death and resurrection — and still we cock our heads, as the Gospels attest. Returning to his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus entered and taught in the synagogue, where the congregation responded with “really?”: “‘Where did this man get all this?’ And they took offense at him” (Mt 13:56,57).
Whenever we do the same, we dam the flow of God’s grace into our lives: “And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith” (Mt 13:58).
Small wonder, then, that one of the devotions to providentially emerge during the war-torn, genocidal twentieth century — perhaps the bloodiest period in human history — has been that of the Divine Mercy, with a simple prayer to counter the “really?” that ruined the world: “Jesus, I trust in you.”
May those four words be our constant response to the enemy’s attempts to sow disbelief in our hearts, and may we replace every worn-out “really?” with a cry of “yes, Lord, I believe.”
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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