Have you noticed how easily we stretch the truth? Exaggerate a little here, embellish a bit there, liven our story with some additions peppered throughout? We are intentionally vague, evasive, and even aim to deceive our hearers. We fib. We tell little-white overstatements or understatements–all too frequently. Certainly not maliciously, but we engage in these practices nevertheless.
Okay, let's be honest: we lie!
It is at this point where the objections come in. Our hearts begin to say, "yes, but". Surely as believers there are circumstances where lying is permissible. After all, look at Rahab, the midwives in Egypt, or Elisha. And then there are the ethical dilemmas we are all too familiar with: what would you do if the Nazi officers were at your door, seeking the hidden Jews within?
Does not this knee-jerk response alert us that something is amiss? Perhaps by raising these situational objections we reveal that our starting point is all wrong. By beginning at these specifics and working backward, especially the astoundingly rare ones conjured up in ethical dilemmas, we find ourselves in the position of the pragmatist. Instead, ought we not begin with the character of our God and proceed from there? After all, he who is holy, calls us to be holy, as he has graciously provided us with a law which reflects his character. As opposed to pragmatism, what if we began by looking to how our heavenly Father speaks?
If our gaze is rightly upon he who is truth himself (John 14:6), in whom there is no variation (James 1:17), who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19), and never does (Titus 1:2); and we as his people are in the process of being conformed to his image, then does it not stand to reason we are to be a people of truthfulness? Further, after looking to the very character of our thrice-holy God as it pertains to speaking truth, what if we asked the situational question of: “did Christ ever lie?”. In asking that question, we are not talking about hyperbole for the sake of proving a point, nor are we considering the place of humor in the Christian life. Instead we are getting at Jesus navigating this life free from any hint of sin when we ask: “did circumstances in Christ’s experience ever require that he lie?” (c.f. Hebrews 4:15).
On the other hand, the scriptures reveal the opposite perspective, a character of one standing opposed to he who is truth. The evil one is explicitly said to be “the father of lies” (John 8:44), and “there is no truth in him”, and when he speaks, he speaks lies “out of his own character, for he is a liar”. The Devil’s native tongue is lying. Ought we as God’s children, who are being recreated after the image of truth, appropriate the methods of our enemy? One could almost hear the words of the Apostle ringing in our minds: “may it never be so!”
During a recent seminar on Christian Ethics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, my professor said about Christians speaking the truth: "we are actually nearer to pathological liars” than we are to those who speak truth in all circumstances. Perhaps we might consider this day, whose tongue we are diligently seeking to emulate, the tongue of our heavenly Father; or are we content with our similarities to the father of lies.
Let us put away falsehood, friends, for he who can tame his tongue is a perfect person (James 3:2,8). But at the very least, may we question our quick tendency to defend the “Christian’s right to lie in certain (obscure) circumstances” and instead, purpose after speaking with the tongue of our holy Father: who is unwilling to lie.