Summary: Matthew 5:33-37 WYSIWIG - What You See Is What You Get
I remember when I was a little kid at school. Who remembers when they were at school? Now when you were talking with the other kids and you said something to them and you really needed to convince them that you meant it, or you promised to do something, and you really had to convince the other kids that you were really going to keep your promise, did you say something special so the other kids would know you were telling the truth? When I was a kid, we used to say, “cross my heart, hope to die, if I tell a lie,” and if you were really serious you’d add to that, “stick a needle in my eye.” But there was a way out of it. Provided you had your fingers crossed when you were talking, then that would mean your oath didn’t count and you could tell a lie without having to die or get a needle stuck in your eye. Of course, the other kids might see you crossing your fingers, so you’d cross them behind your back, or under the table or somewhere they couldn’t be seen. The whole thing was that even for us kids, there were two standards of truth. The normal one, which was pretty low, and then if you said something after saying this “cross my heart” business, then you really had to tell the truth. And the implication is that if you didn’t say “cross my heart” and so on, then it didn’t really matter if you told a lie - or well, didn’t tell a bad lie anyway, maybe just a little white lie, then it was okay.
And it’s not just kids who do that. We adults do it too. We don’t say “cross my heart” and so on, but we say other things like “honest to God.” We know that if someone says “honest to God,” they must really be telling the truth. And it somehow means that if you don’t say “honest to God,” well perhaps you don’t have to quite as truthful. A little exageration, a little white lie, that’s okay. But you only have to tell the whole truth if you say “honest to God” or something like that.
It’s even legalised. If you are in court giving evidence, they make you swear on the Bible, as though swearing on the Bible is a truth machine and will make you tell the truth more than if you didn’t swear on the Bible. And if you do witness in court and lie, then that’s called perjury and that’s much worse than lying outside of court. You can go to jail for perjory. You can say a lie out of court in normal everyday life and nothing will happen to you, but the same lie in court in the witness box - and it’s jail for you.
And it’s not just in courts, but it can apply to written statements too. Sometimes we are required to make affidavits, or statutary delcarations, and for some reason, if what I have written is in an affidavit or a stat dec, then it is going to be more truthful than if I just write it on a normal bit of paper. I remember once years ago, a former employer of mine had gone bankrupt and was unable to give me a group certificate for my tax (what payment summaries used to be called), and I was advised that I needed to make a statutary declaration about my income and the tax withheld because the employer no longer existed and couldn’t give me a group certificate. Somehow that was more believable than if I just wrote it on an ordinary piece of paper.