Recently I had an interesting experience. I was looking online for some car parts for my dad; when I found what I needed, because the seller’s information was hidden, I texted him that I was interested in those things, letting him know all the necessary information to be able to contact me back. And when he called, he addressed me like this: “Pastor Serban?” to which I replied, “I am not a pastor, but how did you know I am working in this field?” “Very simple,” he said, “I’ve googled your name, and in a moment I saw all the posts about you, your sermons, your Facebook profile—and you’re there, and the people are able to get to know you.”
This is not a tragic situation, but there are more critical things that may happen that may endanger your safety. A human resource manager seeking to interview applicants to employ at a company was really surprised when, at a certain moment within a two-week interval, two persons came into his office asking for a job with nearly the exact same resumé (CV). The only thing different was the personal information, but all the contents regarding the specialization details, studies, and competency were the same—identical. Something was clearly suspect.
Today, in the virtual world, you can be theoretically everything you’d like to be and capable of anything. There are people that imitate other people, and you’ll see often that their own real pictures are not posted but the pictures of those whom they are imitating. This imitation may become damaging. Every one of us tends to imitate someone up to a certain age—and some maybe throughout the lifetime, as we learn through imitation. But the question comes when someone is trying to be someone else and his or her own identity is suppressed, and thereby the identity is cleaved again.
This next point is like a challenge for you. Please ask yourself if that Gabriel Serban from YouTube or from other site of the virtual world is the same person, even in the real world. Ask yourself this question! If not (if he is a different person), that may be a problem of identity. On the surface it looks as if this would be a problem of identity—but in reality it may actually be a problem of integrity. What does “integrity” mean? Integrity is a personal trait of character that determines the balance and unity of a person. To be a person of integrity means to be honest, upright, correct, and incorruptible. People of integrity are the same wherever they are, in any life circumstance they find themselves.
There is a principle I have seen some people using when they are dealing with the virtual world: “If I want to go online, before I go, let me ask myself: Why do I want to go online? What do I actually want to do there? Why do I need to go online?” Get used to asking yourself these questions and answer them! If you are online, then go straight ahead and do the things you purpose to do. Otherwise you’re in danger of being distracted by other websites, navigating all over and nowhere, spending an hour, two hours, precious hours that you’re losing forever—and ultimately, what did you achieve from it? And time is a talent that God will require an account from us. He will ask us about the way we have used it.
There’s another danger that can be a threat to integrity: Many people go online when they are tired, thinking that it may relax them. But the problem when you are tired has your guard down already, the human psyche is exhausted, and at the very moment when the reason filter does not naturally work well, the dangers are doubled, and the level of peril becomes unknown. It’s like that wise advice which says: “You should not go shopping when you’re hungry!” Why not? The risk is high that you will place more in the shopping cart than what you actually need because your hunger impelled you to do it. We can transpose this idea to the virtual world as well.
Another factor about integrity at risk is that many are tempted to indulge in plagiarism. There’s often a tendency to assimilate things (published works) that do not belong to you and to pretend that they are yours. The Internet is full of resources that you can use in a rational manner—as information, as an argument, or as a justification to a personal idea that you’d like to sustain. But by taking partial or entire works that you hesitate to put between quotation marks ( “ “), you give the impression that all that work is yours, but that’s an untruth.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of immorality on the Internet is pornography. Everywhere we meet all kinds of pop-up “windows” that may take you there. It seems that nearly everywhere, directly or subliminally, the immorality message is transmitted through all kinds of advertisements and video clips. Not everyone is affected to the same extent by seeing such scenes. But certainly, all are affected somewhat. Without realizing it, these obscene images mar our souls; and we come to the point when we think life is too disgusting for us. Nothing can satisfy us anymore; everything seems pointless. The message of the seventh commandment of the Decalogue warns us not only of the actual sin itself (like carrying it out in reality), but includes even the staining of our souls with immoral thoughts, thoughts that contribute to the degradation of the human being as being equal to the act itself.
Let us pray to God that we may overcome this tendency and work with Him to reinforce the “fence” that can keep us safe. Let us pray for those entrapped in the chains of this sin that is practiced so much in these last days, especially online. The psalmist prayed, “O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.”
The One that knows the human’s paths, knows exactly what you’re doing in the moment when you’re in the front of your computer. Even when you think there is no one to see you, God is right there and knows everything. Nothing can be hidden from His sight. The same is happening in the virtual world as well. Nothing is deleted. Anytime, someone can check just through a click, everything you’ve visited, everything you did on the virtual world. Let’s think of this as something that is to our advantage. There is Someone that, for our good, jealously wants us to be His own. He knows that when we choose to walk away from Him, through our attitude, through our inappropriate paths, we’ll inevitably become slaves to evil. It’s like in our natural life, a child does not understand why the loving parent would deprive him or her from such desired things at that time. But when we grow, with the passing of time we come to understand that those restrictions were for our own good. God’s children will likewise thank their heavenly Father for all the “restrictions” He places before them.
In the light of these words, I’d like to reflect on some points:
May I get a “Like,” please? If I want a “Like” from God, this has to determine my behavior, not only in real life, but in the virtual one as well. “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person” ().
The Internet is a tool through which we can get to know God better, or evil. If it is used in a good way, there are a lot of blessings; if it is used in a wrong way, it becomes a problem that may sever us from our Creator, and it will get harder and harder for us to return. David said: “I will not know a wicked person.”
May the Holy Spirit give us the necessary wisdom and strength to keep our consciousness alert, to be able to stay aside, far away from the evil temptations!