Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Truth About Lying

“And the woman [Rahab] took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were.” (Josh.2:4)

Rahab was lying. The question remains, however, was she a liar? Here is where the oft heard excerpt from messages on sin would be inserted: “How many murders do you have to commit to be a murderer? How many things do you have to steal to be a thief? How many lies do you have to tell to be a liar? How many times does a man have to lust after a woman to be an adulterer?” (Actually, I just made that last one up. Somehow, that one never came up!). Of course, this was usually leading up to the point the preacher was really trying to be make: “How many beers do you have to drink to be a drunkard?” However questionable (even sinful) some of these things may be, this is a poor argument, a false analogy, to be exact. For instance, does a single hole-in-one make someone a golf pro?

But to get back to Rahab, if she was a liar, then according to Revelation 21:8, she will spend eternity in hell, a theory that Hebrews 11:31 would refute. Are we then left to relegate lying to the murky waters of “situational ethics?” Acknowledging that although the Word of God is infallible, we are not, perhaps we can find an answer to this conundrum that will reflect both the character of God and the reality of life.

Many Bible characters withheld the truth from interested parties, including the Lord himself, who chose not to acknowledge His Kingship to the vacillating Pilate, saying, in effect, “You’re the one doing the talking” (Matt.27:11). Then there was David’s wife, Michal, who provided a false alibi for her husband, who was on the run, in order to save his life (1Sam.19). And in today’s society, without those who are willing to lie to terrorists, our security as a nation would be even less fragile than it is. It is evident from these, and other illustrations I could just as easily have mentioned, there is a relation between the speaker and the hearer. As one author has suggested, “Responsible speaking is extending the truth to those who have the right to know.”1

The other truth that is obvious to me from the Bible is that lying is only tolerated by God in extreme cases. For instance, you remember that when Ananias and Sapphira decided to lie about money to the Holy Ghost and the apostles, it cost them their lives (Acts 5). For you and I to say we have never lied is to provide a built in refutation of our claim; but to allow it to become our modus operandi is to cross over from telling a lie to becoming a liar, if we assume there is a difference. As one woman boasted to me once, “If it takes a lie to cover my _____, I’m lyin’ every time!”

The prophet Jeremiah speaks of people who have “taught their tongues to speak lies” (Jer.9:5). But for you and me, as children of Him whose name is Truth, a lie should stick in our throats like a bone. Instead of covering ourselves, we should be like the man commended in Psalm 15:4, who it says, “sweareth to his own hurt.” As wives, lying can become justifiable in our eyes as a means of keeping peace. But I agree with Matthew Henry, who wrote, “Peace is such a priceless jewel that I would give anything for it, but truth.”

If this is a recurring theme with me, it is because I see it as a chronic blight in the lives of people who call themselves Christians. We should take it seriously. God does.

"A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape.” (Prov.19:5)

1. Davis, Richard. Wycliffe Dictionary of Christian Ethics. Ed. Carl F.H. Henry. Peabody, MS. Henrickson Publications, Inc. 2000. p. 680

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