A story that appeared recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution set me to thinking about the ethics of attending church as a “seeker.”

It seems that a couple was involved in an automobile accident in Henry County, Ga., which is just south of Atlanta. When the other party’s insurance did not cover all the damages sustained by the couple, they sought further payment from their own insurance company.

According to a lawsuit that has been filed, the insurance company hired private investigators to spy on the couple to determine if their injuries were as serious as they maintained.

I suspect that there’s nothing unusual about that. But some of the investigators allegedly went to the couple’s church and posed as prospective members in order to spy on them. Furthermore, they allegedly attended what was described as a “private confessional meeting” at a church member’s home hoping to get evidence against the couple.

Telling the truth is still a basic and primary virtue. Unfortunately, people do not always tell the truth. That seems to be the case especially when money is involved.

Now, I do not know the merits of the case described in the newspaper article. The story did note that the insurance company had settled with the couple on the claim, so they must have decided that the claim had merit. But I’ve watched enough investigative reports on insurance scams to know that people are not above claiming to have injuries that they in fact don’t have or injuries that are not as severe as they claim in order to get money out of their insurance company. It is understandable that an insurance company would thoroughly investigate such claims.

Did this company go too far in using the couple’s church as a venue for spying? I believe so. Surely there were plenty of opportunities to spy on the couple without going to their church to do so. There is no doubt that in posing as prospective members and in attending a “confessional meeting”–something of which I’ve never heard but which sounds like it may be an accountability group–those investigators engaged in improper behavior. Whether they engaged in behavior that creates some legal liability, I of course have no idea.

In going to church seeking something other than God, they went to church under false pretenses.

But how unusual is that, really? I mean, does everybody who comes to church come seeking the Lord?

Don’t some of us come seeking validation of our prejudices and biases?

Don’t some of us come seeking forgiveness with no real sense of repentance?

Don’t some of us come seeking standing in the community?

Don’t some of us come seeking some return on the dollars we put in the plate?

Don’t some of us come seeking affirmation of our particular social or political allegiances?

Don’t some of us come seeking entertainment rather than an experience of worship?

Don’t some of us come seeking what we’ve always done when God may want us to do something of which we’ve never even dreamed?

Don’t some of us come seeking the keys to triumphalistic living rather than the Cross of Jesus Christ?

Don’t some of us come seeking a god that fits our own ways of thinking rather than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

Don’t some of us come seeking a blessing on our consumerist lifestyle rather than the prophetic challenges of the Bible?

Don’t we?

Here’s the thing, though: it is truly amazing what God can do. While we’ll never know, isn’t it possible that one of those investigators who went to that church under false pretenses and with faulty motives and seeking for the wrong things actually heard something in the worship of God and in the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ and in the fellowship of Christians that planted a seed that will eventually bear good fruit in his or her life?

And isn’t it just possible that, even when we come seeking the wrong things, the Spirit of God and the grace of God will nonetheless break through into our lives? Doesn’t it have to be that way since it is impossible for us ever to have purity of motive in our hearts?

“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found,” says the Book.

I’m glad that sometimes we find the Lord even when we’re seeking something else.

Michael Ruffin is pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga. This column appeared on his blog, “On the Jericho Road.”

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