Is lying okay?
I guess there are a number of ways you can ask the same question.
Is it ever right to lie? Is lying always wrong? Are there situations or circumstances where lying, although not necessarily encouraged or commended, is acceptable?
But it all comes back to the same thing. How do you answer that question? How do your young people answer that question?
Let me tell you what some of the young people I work with thought and we will take it from there.
At our youth house group (15-18 year old) we were playing ‘question jenga’ (I’ll blog about that at some point) and one of the young people got the question, ‘is lying ok?’ and they answered, “in certain circumstances”. This answer started a short discussion on the subject, where young people threw different answers and bible verses around. In the end the majority agreed that lying isn’t good but in certain circumstances it is permissible. Do you agree?
To be honest, before I started looking into things, that’s the view I held. But as someone who values good theological discussion, that answer really didn’t cut it. So, what follows is a brief look at lying and the bible.
Before the Bible
It’s easy to say, “I just do what the bible says” but that really isn’t true. We all read the bible through our own lenses, thoughts, prejudices etc. No one comes to the bible neutral. Someone who lives in Japan will understand a passage very different from someone who lives in the UK. Our background and our culture affect how we interpret what the biblical writers were trying to say and I feel it’s important to start with that and explain a little about where I come from. When it comes to ethics, in most cases I hold the teleological view. Ok let me explain. There are two ways of understanding ethics:
Deontological– Law. A Rule is a rule and you don’t break it. For example, the commandment ‘Do not murder‘ would mean just that. You never murder. Under any circumstance. Check out Kant‘s categorical imperative if you’re interested in it further.
Teleological– The simple way of understanding this would be, ‘the end justifies the means’. The commandment, “Do not murder’ would be a little more loose in this view. In general, it is right not to murder but if by murdering someone, it would save the life of many more, then it would be right to break that rule.
I hold the teleological view in most cases. Not all. But in most.
With that little preface out of the way, let’s explore a few verses that are often used when discussing what the bible has to say about lying.
The 9th commandment is frequently quoted around this subject but the fact is, it’s a very specific aspect of lying that God commands us not to do.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
The words used are words that would be said in a court. Don’t lie about what someone has said or done. This verse is not against all forms of lying. It is not saying, do not lie to ‘your neighbour’. It is saying you should not lie against or about ‘your neighbour’.There is a big difference between the words to and against. That aside, there are verses that are much clearer on this issue.
“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family.” (Proverbs 6:16–19)
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
Here are just two that I have picked. Both, appear, to condemn lying in a more general view. So quoting those two verses (and there are many more) it is clear then that the bible commands us not to lie.
Well…yes and no. In Exodus, Pharaoh commands that all the newborn Jewish boys should be killed. But the midwives disobey this and let them live. When Pharaoh asks them why they are allowing them to live they reply, the Hebrew women … are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them” (Exodus 1:19). They lied to Pharaoh. The passage goes on to say that “God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.” God blesses the women for what they have done. Lying.
A similar idea is found in Joshua 2 when two men are sent out to spy on Jericho. The king finds out and the two men hide in the house of Rahab. The king’s messengers come to the door and asked Rahab if she has seen them. She replies, “The men came to me, but I did not know where they came from. And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out. Where the men went I do not know. Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them” (Joshua 2:4–5).
The story goes to on to say that she is spared when the Israelites attack Jericho because she lied to the king about the whereabouts of the men. Her lying is commended.
So, in certain circumstances, it is permissible to lie. I use the term permissible rather than justifiable as I do not think the bible should be used to justify any action.
We are back to the conclusion the young people at the house group came up with. But is that enough? And in what situations is it permissible to lie? Let’s look at that briefly.
I do not think it is right to lie. But, I think there are situations when we can do it. When asked what is the greatest commandment of the law, Jesus replied “love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind [and] love your neighbour as yourself”. (Matthew 22:37-39)
Every other commandment is superseded by these two. Ever other commandment must be seen through the lens of these two commandments. We cannot talk about whether murder, lying or any other thing is right or wrong until we have discussed the first two.
So, I believe in situations where these two commandments are being broken, then lying may be permissible. I’m reminded of the stories of the people who hid the Jews from the Nazis and when they came searching for Jews, told them that they weren’t hiding any. These people lied but only because the Nazis were not ‘loving their neighbour’.
What this reveals to me is that there cannot be a hard and fast rule about lying. Rather than simply creating a rule for our young people, we have to help guide their values. We should remind them of the words of Jesus and how that should impact all our actions, not just lying.
What do you guys think?
- What Does the Bible Say About Honesty ? (lnger.wordpress.com)
- Doctrine, Education and Discipleship (smoorns.com)