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LIES, DECEIT, GUILE

by Jacob Ninan

We would have noticed that even children of godly parents begin to tell lies very early in life when they get into embarrassing situations. They do it usually to save themselves from the consequence of some wrongdoing or to avoid some embarrassment. This shows us a glimpse of the fallen, sinful nature we are all born with (Psa.51:5). Jesus called people who had not entered the kingdom of God as children of the devil, and that lineage shows in our behaviour because the devil is the father of lies (Jn.8:44). It is sometimes a godly upbringing that teaches the children to later on curb this tendency, and most often it is only the experience of being born again that sensitises the conscience about the sin of speaking lies.

But the sad fact is that even born again believers speak lies, and so God has to warn us not to do it (Eph.4:25). If we speak one lie, we will end up having to speak several more in order to cover up for the original one! We are usually tempted to tell lies either to escape some ‘painful’ consequences if the truth becomes known, as when someone has done some wrong and he does not want to be caught with it, or to gain some advantages for ourselves, as when someone embellishes his curriculum vitae with falsehood to make it attractive. One way people try to evade the issue of lies is by calling some of them white lies, implying that they are ‘harmless’ or ‘not serious’. When someone flatters his boss, praises a wicked man at his funeral, makes up a story to excuse being late for work, exaggerates the worth of a product to sell it, etc., hardly anyone seems to notice there are lies involved there. Words become lies when there is an intention to deceive. We may ‘lie’ with our actions too if we try to convey an impression that is not true. John Ruskin once said, “The essence of lying is in deception, not in words; a lie may be told by silence, by equivocation, by the accent on a syllable, by a glance of the eye attaching a peculiar significance to a sentence.”

God is truth, and there is no lie, deceit or guile in Him (1Jn.1:6). If we say we are His children and yet lead a lifestyle of lies, we may be actually fooling ourselves when we think we belong to Him (1Jn.3:8,9). Or it may be that we have not taken our life with Him seriously and we are stunted in our growth.

If we speak lies or talk glibly without wondering about the truth of what we say, we will lose our credibility, and people will find it difficult to have any confidence in us. Honesty is an integral part of trustworthiness and dependability. It happens many times in marriages when one finds that the spouse has been bluffing about something that trust gets broken to such an extent that it becomes very difficult to restore. Other relationships also get affected when we find that someone cannot be trusted.

Not every ‘lie’ is really a lie! Sometimes it happens when someone says things as a joke that no one gets deceived because they can easily understand from the way it is spoken that it was only meant to be a joke. Another time, someone may state something which can be technically called false. But if it was due to poor memory, inability to express things with the right words or just a lack of precision, we cannot call them lies, because there was no intention to deceive. If someone says 50 people attended a meeting and there were only 40, it may be just a round value. But if he was trying to impress someone with the statement while he knew in his heart it was not true, it would be a lie.

One major issue that bothers many people from the points of view of spirituality, ethics and philosophy is whether lies are acceptable or at least tolerable under certain circumstances. There are several instances narrated in the Bible where people have spoken lies. Abraham told a king that Sarah was his wife, for fear that someone would kill him in order to have her as wife (Gen.20:2). Isaac did the same under similar circumstances (Gen.26:6,7). Jacob lied to his father in order to steal his blessings (Gen.27:24). No one questions the fact that these were really lies, or finds any excuse for them. But there are two cases where people wonder if God was happy with the people who spoke lies.

Pharaoh told the midwives of Israel to kill all baby boys after delivery and not to allow them to live. But these midwives disobeyed him because they feared God, and gave Pharaoh a false excuse (Exo.1:15-17). Verse 20 mentions that God was good to the midwives because of what they did. We should understand that God was happy with them for the stand they took not to kill the boys. But we cannot assume from here that God was happy with the lie itself.

The other instance is that of a prostitute called Rahab in Jericho who gave protection to the two spies whom Joshua had sent to find out about the condition of the city. When the king of Jericho asked her about the spies, she replied that she did not know who they were and where they had gone, even though she had hidden them on the roof. She did this because she had heard about what the God of Israel had done for them and she had put her trust in Him (Josh.2). Later this Rahab was rescued at the time of the conquest of Jericho and she is honoured in the New Testament as the wife of an Israelite who became an ancestor for Jesus (Matt.1:4) and as a hero of faith (Heb.11:31). Does this mean that God was happy with the lies Rahab had told the king?

We must not forget that when we come to God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, we do not come as those who have never sinned, including the sin of lying. God accepts us not on the basis of our good behaviour (which none of us can boast of) but our faith in Jesus as our Saviour. We can understand that what pleased God in the case of the midwives and Rahab was their faith. He overlooked their sins and accepted them because of their faith (Rom.4:5). We cannot get an excuse for the sin of lying from these examples nor assume that God does not take lies seriously.

But the question still remains about what a Christian must do in situations like what the midwives and Rahab faced. Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian whose family hid Jews from the Nazis during the Second World War, faced this question in a real way. The Jews were hidden in a room below their dining room, which could be entered by removing the dining table on top. The members of Corrie’s family were divided in their opinion about what they should do in case the German soldiers came and asked them about Jews. Some of them thought that they should speak the truth and leave it to God to save the Jews in a miraculous way. Others thought that they needed to bluff to the Germans in order to save the Jews. What really happened was that when the soldiers came and asked them where the Jews were, one of the family members said that they were under the table! This was true enough, but obviously not the entire truth. The soldiers thought that this was a ridiculous answer and left! Obviously God had done a miracle there. But this was a situation somewhat similar to what the midwives and Rahab faced.

There is a principle that we could consider for very exceptional situations like this. Just as a soldier has to kill an enemy in order to win the war and save his country, or a watchman may have to kill a terrorist who has come to blow up the building, there may be times when someone may resort to a normally unacceptable step in order to avoid a calamity. However, such cases are exceptionally rare, and we cannot presume to apply this principle left and right in our common situations for personal advantage.

We are accountable to God who knows the motives and intentions of our heart (Heb.4:12,13). He wants us to walk before Him and be without lies, deceit or guile. We ought to shine as lights in the midst of this dark world where more and more attempts are being made to diffuse the difference between right and wrong (Php.2:15).

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, March 2017

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