Willfully Preferring the Deception

As I slide into my mid-50s and spend progressively more of my time seeking to be confronted with the Person and work of Jesus Christ, it becomes abundantly clear that much of my heart, soul, mind and strength has not been committed to God, as commanded (Matthew 22:36-39), but instead to some preferred version of God that I have made up in the darker corners of my soul. You’d think a guy my age would have a better grip on things, but I just can’t stop asking myself, “Is this long-held idea actually true? Just how far have I gone down the road of pretense and self-serving delusion?”

July 10-17, 2013, edition
of The New Yorker.

In the June 10-17 edition of The New Yorker, Walter Kirn has written a fascinating account of willful self-deception entitled Pedigree. Filed under the “Personal History” category, Kirn – very much to his credit – exposes himself as having been a complete fool, someone who willfully chose to believe a preposterous fabrication, even in the face of multiple warning signs that the person who was presenting himself to Kirn as “Clark Rockefeller” was actually Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, “a German immigrant of many aliases.” Worse, Kirn’s persistent preference for the East Coast establishment icon who wore monogrammed shirts and filled his days with tea and toast may have unintentionally helped in some small way to conceal a fugitive who was responsible for the 1985 murder of John Sohus in San Marino, Calif.

We should all give Kirn tremendously-high marks for the level of transparency that he has woven into this piece; he makes no bones about the fact that he (Kirn) had been completely taken in by this outrageous imposter. Kirn even goes so far as to acknowledge that his own mother had pegged “Clark” as a phony long before he finally had to accept the ever-increasing weight of evidence that he had been duped. Though I commend Kirn for his willingness to embarrass himself by a straightforward presentation of the facts, I had hoped that he would also provide a bit more in the way of self-analysis, if only in response to the question he posed in his subtitle: “My Rockefeller friend was neither a Rockefeller nor a friend. Why was I taken in?”

“Clark Rockefeller” was ultimately revealed to be German
immigrant Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, convicted and
imprisoned on a kidnapping charge and later found guilty
of first-degree murder in the 1985 death of John Sohus.

Indeed, why? While acknowledging his obvious self-interest in becoming chummy with a Rockefeller – along with the many social benefits that might accrue to his life as a result – Kirn offers up several vignettes that serve to demonstrate that his “internal radar” was in fact operating quite well; he simply chose to ignore multiple alarm bells. At “Clark’s” rather-unimpressive apartment one day, the two struck up a casual conversation about modern art, specifically the work of Mark Rothko:

“How much do you know about Rothko’s death?” he asked me after the restorer (probably, I now think, an accomplice) left. He invited me to look closely at the canvas, which was standing, unframed, against a wall. He turned it around and said something like “Rothko slit his wrists. He killed himself inside his studio. On the back of this here, do you see these spots, these dribbles?”

I couldn’t, but to please him I said I could. I’d travelled a ridiculously long way on a humiliating errand, and I hoped we would be friends.

“It’s blood,” Clark said. “The artist’s blood.”

Down on the street, after I left his place, I opened the envelope. The check was drawn on his wife’s account. Five hundred dollars. It didn’t cover half of what I’d spent. Naturally, I never said a word.

As of yet, I do not know all that much about author Walter Kirn, but I can say that I greatly appreciate the slice of humanity and social-climbing-gone-wrong that he has served up for all of us to inspect. After all, who wouldn’t want to be able to say that he or she had a Rockefeller as a close, personal friend? Which of us has not at some point deliberately endured what appears to be misleading or confusing information just so that we could move closer toward a desired goal? We are all prone to join in the game of deception whenever the outcome makes nice with our inner, unholy desires. Even God’s chosen people, the Israelites, did not bother to bring strangers before God in prayer, so why should we? Particularly when we think our own thoughts and ideas can be considered trustworthy?

One of my less-optimistic “life verses” comes from Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” At first reading, this may seem like “a real downer” Word from the Lord, but as I have returned time and again to what God says about us frail, fallen human beings – glorious wrecks crafted with an infinite level of care and love – I have come to appreciate this as a clear, unequivocal warning that God has given us in His great mercy. We need to remind ourselves that not only can we be deceived, but we often prefer to be taken in.

How about a more modern-day example? As far as personal application goes, I’d like to humbly suggest that the various distortions (and outright lies) that our culture feeds us with regard to God’s good plan for human sexuality might well be personified in the fictitious posturings of “Clark Rockefeller.” At first glance, a lifestyle of sexual “freedom” 1) looks pretty good on the outside, 2) enjoys widespread acceptance at the highest levels of our society, 3) promises much, 4) constantly manages its appearance so as to defuse our misgivings and 5) has no discernible connection to the Bible or to the Person of Christ.

A later-in-life conversion has left me with dozens of duplicitous, freeloading “Clarks” that have been given free reign in the unguarded and unsanctified rooms of my heart. Whenever I am tempted to despair that there is so much garbage deeply programmed into my soul, it greatly helps me to remember Romans 8:1 and trust Jesus to continue the good work that He has begun (Philippians 1:6). One of the greater tasks of accepting Christ is to sort through the legion of “Clarks” living in our souls and see them for the “Christian Karl Gerhartsreiters” they truly are.

John 16:12-15 (ESV)
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

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