Summary: WHY: Lying harms individuals and society, and us even more. HOW: It is a spiritual issue, and we need the help of the Holy Spirit.
***In Boston, a minister noticed a group of boys standing around a small stray dog. “What are you doing, boys? “Telling lies,” said one of the boys. “The one who tells the biggest lie gets the dog.” “Well, when I was your age,” the shocked minister said, “I never thought of telling a lie.” The boys looked at each other, crestfallen. Finally, one of them shrugged and said, “I guess he wins the dog.”**
What exactly is a lie? Was telling that story just now a lie? I’ve got another one. ***Yesterday I was buying two bags of dog food at Petco, and a lady behind me asked whether I had a dog. What did she think I had—an elephant? Since I wasn’t busy, I told her no, I didn’t have a dog, but I was starting back in on the Purina Diet, although I shouldn’t, because I ended up in the hospital the last time I tried it. On the bright side, I lost 30 pounds. I told her it was a perfect diet: It is nutritionally balanced, so you just load your pockets with Dog Chow, and eat one or two nuggets whenever you get hungry. She asked why I ended up in the hospital. Was it because dog food is not meant for humans? I told her, “No, I stopped in the middle of the parking lot to scratch my fleas, and a car hit me.” Petco won’t let me shop there anymore.**
Of course, those stories are not lies, because I am not intending to mislead you. (You do know the stories are not true, don’t you?) Lying involves intention. A statement that is technically true but misleading might be a lie. False impressions that are not corrected might be lies. Half-truths that distort the whole truth are lies.
What is the big deal about lying? God says not to—and there is a hint to WHY lying is wrong in the ninth commandment: “Do not give false testimony AGAINST YOUR NEIGHBOR.”
WHAT IS THE HARM IN LYING?
-LYING HARMS SOCIETY. Exodus 23:1-2 applies this commandment to the legal system: “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.”
Lying is pervasive in politics, influencing policies. Much of popular culture is based on lies, about beauty, morality, fame, or happiness. Even the economy is affected by lying: Dishonest business practices, exaggerating income, or misrepresenting risk undermine a healthy economy.
Lying weakens communities, in the workplace, schools, and even church. False rumors, jumping to conclusions, hidden motives, and dancing around the truth lead to distrust and discord.
Lying harms families. When children lie, they cannot be trusted. When parents lie, children are insecure. When spouses lie, marriage suffer and home become unstable.
-LYING HARMS INDIVIDUALS (“against your neighbor”).
It is a powerful weapon against people we despise.
In Psalm 31:10-18, David says, “My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors…For I hear the slander of many…Let me not be put to shame, O LORD, for I have cried out to you; but let the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in the grave. Let THEIR LYING LIPS be silenced, for with pride and contempt they speak arrogantly against the righteous.”
Rumor and innuendo, half-truths, or spinning the truth in a way that makes others look bad—those can destroy. Why might we do this? Maybe we feel they deserve to be hurt, and this is payback. Maybe we don’t like them, or even consider them as our enemies. However, Jesus said, “Love your enemies and do good…”
Lying harms enemies, but lying can also harm friends! People talk about a “white lie,” and convince themselves that sometimes lying is the loving thing to do. But let’s be honest: Most “white lies” are cowardly or lazy. We lie because we don’t want to make the effort or investment to deal with the truth in a loving way. If we really said, “Yes, I was hurt,” or “No, I don’t like your meatloaf recipe,” we would have to deal with the repercussions of the truth.
If we avoid truth, everyone loses. Our friend doesn’t get helpful feedback. As Proverbs 26:28 says, “A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”
Maybe our friend doesn’t really want a direct answer, and we can be sensitive to that. (If a wife says, “Does this make me look fat?” one might wonder why she sets him up like that.) Yet lies told in the name of sensitivity may cause truth to be doubted and devalued.