To Lie Or Not To Lie


Bryan Davis asked an interesting question on his Facebook page yesterday: when, if ever, is it OK to tell a lie? Actually, he was asking in relationship to a character in a story, and the specific instance was in regard to saving a life.

Back in April I explored a more broad form of this question in a post discussing Lost Mission by Athol Dickson. But from time to time I’ve thought specifically about the issue of lying, primarily because some of the heroes of the Bible told lies.

Here, then, is what I wrote about the issue yesterday (with just a little editing 😉 ). In part I was responding to earlier comments that pointed to the idea that if God blessed the person, it was verification that their lying was justified.

    Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife—twice, and it is clear in the second incident that the king who suffered for it thought it was wrong.

    [Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” Gen. 20:9]

    Yet God blessed Abraham.

    Jacob deceived Isaac, yet God still gave him His covenant promise. Clearly, Esau thought Jacob was wrong, and even Jacob thought he was wrong—first when he was afraid he’d be caught, then twenty years later when he went home and anticipated facing his brother.

    My point is, I don’t think blessing from God is evidence that the lies were OK. I think they were sinful and God forgave them.

    But what about in the instance of saving a life? Abraham thought his lie was justified because he believed he was saving a life—his own. But what about saving someone else’s life?

    When David went on the run from Saul, he lied to the priest about being on a mission for the king (see I Sam. 21:1-10; I Sam 22:11-19). The consequence was that the priest and all those serving with him were killed—over seventy of them, if I remember correctly [actually eighty-five]. Yet Jesus used the incident as an example of “law breaking” that was OK—a layman eating the Bread of the Presence which was against the Mosaic Law (Matt. 12:1-5). Jesus gave no commentary about the lie David told.

    Yet Jesus says that Satan is a liar and the father of lies.

    I’m leaning toward this idea: My heart is the issue.

    If I don’t want to lie because I want to preserve my own righteousness, I think I’m like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’s parable who wanted to keep themselves clean, so avoided the man who’d been mugged. [Or like the Pharisees who wanted to remain clean so they could celebrate the Passover and therefore wouldn’t go into the Praetorium to speak with Pilate when they wanted to ask him to crucify Jesus (John 18:28).]

    If, on the other hand, I don’t want to lie because I want to please God, I think He can work no matter what.

    I guess that sounds quite relativistic. Let me be clear. I think lying is sin. Period. I think God can forgive it and work in the same way He worked when Joseph’s brothers meant him evil—God meant their actions for good.

    A person may lie for a good cause, rather than trusting
    God to work in the situation. The lie is still a sin, but God can use it for His purpose. The story of David mentioned above illustrates this. [Even as it illustrates that lies have consequences.]

So what do you think? My comments came at the end of the discussion. Because Bryan had to get back to work, he brought the responses to an end, so I never got much feedback and would love to hear how others view lying for a good cause (especially to preserve life).

Published in: on September 23, 2010 at 4:53 pm  Comments (16)  
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