I’ve been scammed.
It was my own fault, of course. I lacked vigilance.
Our E111 cards for health care while abroad in Europe needed renewing. So I googled “renew E111.” Straight-forward enough.
Without thinking anything of it, I selected the first site Google offered me. It looked official. In fact, the form I filled in was official.
But www.ehic.org was simply offering to forward my application to the NHS, no more. As such, totally unnecessary but technically legal.
I should have become suspicious as soon as I was asked to pay £35. But I was in a hurry and I thought “Well, the government is now charging for everything.” And I used my debit card.
£35! That’s watching Everton play from the Gwladys Street stand for 68 minutes – and usually that’s as much as I can take.
I like to think that I can look after myself when online. But the point is that I was deceived, a blow to my pride as much as my bank account.
As Francois de La Rochefoucauld (his château is worth visiting, incidentally), pointed out “The surest way to be deceived is to consider oneself cleverer than others.”
But deception is part of part of life, of being human. For as one German theologian observed: “Nothing is more common on earth than to deceive and be deceived.”
So the Bible has hardly got going before the serpent deceives Eve. Then Abraham deceives the Pharaoh (twice), Jacob deceives his father while then Laban deceives Jacob. And that’s just the first 28 chapters. There’s another 1,161 chapters to go.
So Jesus warns his disciples, he warns us. ‘Watch out that you are not deceived.” He understands that we can be so easily misled. “For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.” (Luke 21:8)
As Christians we are to be believing but not credulous. The difference is that we are to check out those who would speak in God’s name, to examine their credentials, to test out their claims against what the Bible actually teaches.
Only recently I was talking with a former member of our church who had attended a residential teaching conference where he was told that questioning was not allowed. Neither were those attending this conference allowed to discuss what they had been taught among themselves. It was seen as a sign of disloyalty.
But nothing could be further from the Biblical tradition of testing prophets, those who would speak for God. The stakes are simply too high.
John for one was under no illusion that we are easily led astray. “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.” (1 John 4:1).
Jesus expects us not to take people at face value, to be taken in by superficial appearance. ‘Watch out for false prophets,” he warns. “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15).
The Message translation goes somewhat over the top but makes the point very vividly:
“Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character.
“Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.”
So whether online or in the real world, we care called to be vigilant. To check out is to obey Jesus. There’s always someone there trying to rip you off. At £35 I got off lightly.