Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lies About Lying

Have you ever lied to spare someone's feelings? Have you omitted details to avoid causing someone unnecessary worry? Have you exaggerated a compliment to boost someone's self-esteem?

If you have, then you are guilty of lying.  Any alteration of the whole truth is, by definition, a lie.  But when God commands us to not lie, what does He really mean?  Is all lying bad, regardless of the circumstance?

Interestingly, the commandment "Thou shalt not lie" does not exist among the Ten Commandments.  The ninth commandment, which prohibits bearing false witness against one's neighbor, certainly prohibits lying, but in the specific context, against one's neighbor.

On several occasions, we read of God intentionally deceiving people in the Bible. Exodus 4:21, 1 Kings 22:23, Jeremiah 4:10, Ezekiel 14:9, Romans 11:7-10, and 2 Thessalonians 2:11 are a few good examples.  This is a surprising fact, considering that Satan - God's opposition - is labeled the "father of liars" (John 8:44).  How is God's deception different from Satan's?  We will examine the answer to this question shortly.

Of course, no believer would argue that lying is an honorable practice.  On the contrary, lying is generally anything but honorable.  Lies spoken in betrayal force a lack of trust, which, in turn, causes bitterness, resentment, and a slew of other problems that violate love and tear apart relationships.

Other times, however, lying seems to accomplish the opposite.  On a near daily basis, we may find ourselves confronted with instances where not telling the whole truth would actually prevent the destructive effects lies often cause.  

For example, wives frequently ask their husbands how they look in an outfit.  They tend to be specific in their questioning, asking something like, "Honey, do you think this dress makes me look more chubby?"  If her husband thinks the dress does, in fact, make her look bigger, he would be a fool to answer her honestly.  By saying, "Well dear, I'm sorry, but honestly I do think it makes you look chubby," he will be causing far more harm to her than he would by lying about his true thoughts.  In this case (which is extremely common among married couples), honesty is not "the best policy."  A completely honest response by the husband would not only hurt his wife's feelings; it could potentially make her feel unattractive and undesirable for the rest of her marriage.  In all likelihood, the husband wouldn't be less attracted to his wife, even if he does think the dress makes her look heavier, and by lying out of love he saves her feelings and encourages her.

Likewise, if a husband feels sexually inadequate and asks his wife if his fears are valid, the wife would be cruel to confirm her husband's fears, even if they are founded.  The honesty of the wife would effectively emasculate the husband and cause irreparable damage. 

If an intruder broke into my house, held me at gunpoint, and asked if there was anyone else home, would it be wrong to lie and say "no" if my wife and children were hiding?  By telling the truth I would risk their lives, but by lying I may save them.

Countless examples like these exist, but they should be sufficient to make the point that all lying is not evil.  With so many temptations to tell "little white lies" on a near daily basis, how can we discern when to bend the truth and when to be completely honest?

The answer to this question (and many more like it regarding God's commandments) is found in the reality that the entire law is fulfilled in the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself (Gal. 5:14). God is love (1 John 4:8) and love is the greatest virtue (1 Co. 13:13).  

By filtering everything through love, we can easily discern the best course of action in any circumstance.  As a general rule we should avoid lying, but when the whole truth will violate love by causing harm to another, we find an exception to the rule.  If following the letter of the law violates love, we must do the opposite.  Ironically, in such cases, breaking the law actually upholds what's righteous.  Whether it's lying or any other issue, the right answer is always found in the law of love, not the written letter.

This is precisely how God managed deception in every historical instance.  Every time God deceived, it was for the purpose of fulfilling His plan and accomplishing the greater good.  God's deception was always done out of love.  On the contrary, Satan's many deceptions are all done in an effort to harm others and prevent God's plan.  

Recognizing the truth about lying is vital because if you hold to the philosophy that "honesty is always the best policy," you will likely violate the law of love on a fairly regular basis.  You may hurt someone's feelings, tear them down, or weaken their confidence all in the name of "truth," when withholding the complete truth would serve the greater purpose of upholding love and building them up.  When you understand that love fulfills the law and begin to filter everything through that standard, your motto will change to "honesty is the best policy except when it violates the greatest law of love."  

© 2012 by Stephen Hill

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