Sometimes a lie is a lot easier than the truth: when you have done something wrong, or when the truth will hurt somebody’s feelings. But we teach children to tell the truth and not lie, so why should adults be allowed to tell a ‘white lie’ every now and then? Jesus instructs us to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24), and this means that lying is never ok!
Way back in the Garden of Eden, the serpent told the first lie (Gen 3:4). And here, I think, the battle between truth and lie began. One of the 10 commandments is to ‘not give false testimony against your neighbour’ (Ex 20:17). Clearly, this is not an injunction against all lying - I could give false testimony about somebody who isn’t my neighbour, or commit a sin and lie about it, whilst staying inside the commandment. But this misses the point. When we come to the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had made a profession of making creative ways to get around the Law of Moses. And Jesus was having none of it (See Matt 5:33-37)! There is also some very direct teaching telling us not to lie. For example:
- ‘Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.’ (Prov 12:22).
- ‘Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.’ (Prov 19:1).
- ‘Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.’ (Col 3:9).
- ‘Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’ (Phil 4:8).
There are a couple of occasions where the purpose of God seems to have been furthered by dishonest means. For example, Rachel prompted Jacob to trick his father Isaac and steal his brother Esau’s blessing – and so the nation of Israel was born (Gen 27)! Or when Rahab hid the spies and pulled the old “they went thatta way” trick on the search party (Josh 2). On both occasions, the dishonest means were not highlighted as wrong in the scriptures. However, my interpretation is that God’s purpose was furthered despite these lies, not because of them.
It is unlikely that we will ever face a ‘truth and death vs. lie and life’ scenario, and if I did, I am certain that I would find it very hard to resist the latter! But we all face regular scenarios when it is easier to lie. In many ways, the old adage – “honesty is the best policy” – couldn’t be less right: dishonesty is often the least disruptive option. When we risk upsetting a loved one or even losing an important relationship, losing business or even a job, or having to face our own demons, dishonesty is easier, but honesty is right.
If we live a life of honesty and integrity, it will bring challenges that we could avoid if we were a little less honest. But God has called his followers to be faithful and honest, and to worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:24).