Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Is Lying Always Wrong?

"You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16).

The ninth commandment forbids perjury before a law court and by implication forbids gossip, talebearing, and all other forms of destructive lying. Some theologians have held that it forbids all lying, in all circumstances. We notice, however, that the commandment does not stop with the word “testimony,” but proceeds to qualify the false testimony as that which harms our neighbor.

Thus, most Christian ethicists have maintained that the ninth commandment does not forbid all lying. It is important to deceive the enemy in wartime. Leaking false information to the enemy is necessary in order to protect the life of our neighbor, whom we are sworn to defend in wartime (including “cold war” or the "war on terror" time). Spying is legitimate in war (Joshua 2), and one must be an expert liar in order to be a spy. Both Rahab and Jael used deception in wartime in order to protect God’s people and destroy His enemies, and both received praise (Joshua 2; Judges 4–5; James 2:25).

Sometimes it is necessary to lie in order to protect the life of our neighbor, as when the Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh in order to preserve the lives of the Hebrew children and God blessed them for it (Exodus 1:15–21). Similarly, Dutch Christians lied to German soldiers in order to protect their Jewish neighbors.

Another area of life where it is okay to “lie” and deceive is in play. We don’t expect football players to communicate their moves to the opposing side; rather, it is part of the game to feint and fool the other team. We allow actors to “lie” on stage by saying words that are not their own and by playing roles that do not reflect their own character. Such innocent deceptions in games and theater are permissible because they are not “against our neighbor.”

When it comes to our neighbor, however, we are never to lie. We are not to tear him down by gossip and talebearing, even if the gossip is true. We are always to tell both the Truth of the Gospel and the ordinary truths about everyday events.

Are there any areas of your life where you have been lying or cheating? Ask God in prayer today to provide the wisdom and strength for you to stop and change.