Sunday, April 18, 2010

To Lie Or Not To Lie.....That Is The Question

Socrates exposes very well the conflicting moral issues with telling the truth or not. For the sake of argument, we will claim that lying is evil and therefore immoral.

At this point, suppose a sane man lends a gun to a friend. Over time, the sane man becomes mad, ever impulsive and violent. He then inquires his friend as to the whereabouts of his gun. The friend has a choice to make. He can produce the gun and give it back knowing full well the likelihood something terrible will happen as a result. Or he can simply lie to him and say the gun is lost.

We might say by giving the gun back, he promotes morality by not lying. On the other hand, if he lies, he promotes peace insofar as the mad man not being able to do anything violent with the gun. Which choice is “right”?

If he gives the gun back knowing full well the likelihood that harm will be done, how will he sleep at night? On the other hand, if he lies to avoid complicity in a future crime, then it is not imperative to tell the truth. In other words, immorality seems to be called for. But then how must we distinguish “right” lying from “wrong” lying?

How can it be anything but arbitrary based on a single perspective which can not in itself point to anything absolutely true? At this point, we have established that it is not wrong to lie. Or we could just as well say it is not imperative to promote peace if one feels compelled to avoid lying at any cost. What do you think? What might God think?

Must God always be honest or are there reasonable exceptions for Him? If one declares God to be free from these kinds of dilemmas more commonly associated with us mere mortals, how then does one discern God would want him to respond?

The following example clearly illustrates where right and wrong/good and bad seem to conflict with honesty:

Assume the following unattractive girl will not suspect being patronized in the least. Telling this ugly girl she is pretty when she clearly is not might seem to be wrong (because it is a lie) but good, as it will likely make her feel good or at least better about herself. Conversely, not telling this ugly girl she is pretty might seem to be right (because at least it is not a lie) but bad, as she will not be made to feel good or at least better about herself. Does not either response seem fraught with dilemma?

Why should she be made to feel good or better about her appearance if she really is ugly? On the other hand, perhaps we should inspire her with confidence by lying or at least exaggerating about her appearance? In any case, there is something unsettling about this to me.

Maybe we should not lie to her by telling her she is pretty when she is not but rather find a compliment that is true, perhaps her superlative loyalty, something or other? Which response is right? Once again, what would God do or at least what would God want you to do in this situation?

There does not seem to be an absolutely “right” answer! For that matter, neither does there appear to be an absolutely “wrong” answer! Might any answer be right? Or perhaps wrong? To lie or not to lie.....that is the question.


  1. There are situations where lying seems right, but it is never the best resolution. It sometimes seems right because in terms of quick solutions it may seem the least destructive. In the case of the violent man neither simply giving him the gun nor just lying to him are a responsible approach, because if you know that he is a threat to himself and others especially if he is your friend you have a responsibility in taking an active pert in helping to fix the problems that are stirring in him. You are responsible because you have knowledge of it that others don't. The answer would be to tell him the truth; that you have the gun but here's why you aren't going to give it to him and encourage him to get help. As for the unattractive girl there needs to be a distinction made between body image and self image. Complimenting someone's appearance is not the only way to make someone feel good about themselves. In fact encouraging someone to base their self worth on their appearance will most likely be very destructive to their self esteem. if you want to encourage someone it is better to look for the real good in them anything else will not come across as sincere and will not show a real interest in them.

  2. When it comes to God, the one presented in the Bible, he is always just even if he uses evil, which is not His essence, to good purpose and value. Lying comes under that category, as well as war [who God is against in scripture as an abomination of man's freewill choices toward bloodshed which he abhors but he uses to allow his chosen to bring him glory or protect His people].

    What ever God does is right and only a rebellious aspect of His creation would disagree with that. Consequently, we have the predestination-freewill debate becasue people cannot stand the idea that no matter what happens, God wins and those who oppose Him, lose [if not today, then tomorrow, or on judgment day].

    God does not justify Rahab the harlot's lie to her own people to hide the Israeli spies in her house. He rewards her for it by allowing her to enter into the bloodline of the promised Messiah in spite of being a hooker who lied. Her faith in God's chosen people and plan through them was greater than any sins she had committed to the contrary. God like faith.

    And even in heaven, there are "lying spirits" whose job is to mold things the way God wants them to be for His judgment's sake. Therefore, though it may be evil to lie, a lying spirit can accomplish by its deception God good purpose.

    1Ki 22:19 And he said, Hear thou therefore the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.
    1Ki 22:20 And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner.
    1Ki 22:21 And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him.
    1Ki 22:22 And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.

    Ahab was an evil king. So God allows an evil lying spirit to thwart him for His good purposes. "All the host of heaven" includes good angels and bad angels apparently, doing God's bidding for God's willed purposes.

    Therefore, the general rule we have in the 10 commandments is "Thou shalt not lie." And telling the truth is honorable thing presented throughout scripture. But there are times and circumstances which demand a "higher good" alternative which may include lying.

  3. When Germans lied to Nazis in order to hide Jews in the underground during World War II we understand this to be a higher good in light of the evil perpetrated by the Nazis.

    In fact, this is an imperfect world full of both truth and lies which are used for good and evil purposes. If we created a Johari Window to divide the imperfection of this world it would include the following divisions

    I. Perfect truth told perfectly
    II. Imperfect Truths told to Support a Greater Lie
    II. Perfect lies told perfectly.
    III. Imperfect Lies told to Achieve a more Perfect Good

    In a "living Color" universe there are "shades of truth" and "shades of lies" that are the smaller pictures of bigger pictures in a certain context.

    The lie of the Serpent in the garden that Eve would not die [when she would] was couched in a half truth that she would become like God knowing good and evil [Gen. 3:22]. And the Serpent was right in his lying deception. They did become like God knowing good and evil, and yet the loss of their innocence and the gaining of an experiential knowledge of evil [eating the fruit they knew was wrong to eat], brought death on humanity in his lack of innocence but knowledge of good and evil gained.

    God was protecting ADam and Eve in the Garden by Grace and Mercy, not holding their sins against them. But when they chose against the Word of God through the embellishment of the Serpent, they came under the damning condemnation of guilt and obligation in the knowledge of doing wrong and knowing it deserve some just consequence.

    Doing what they pleased led to the loss of Grace and Mercy for wrongs honestly admitted and self-justifications to cover their tail, to the point of putting on fig leaves to cover their nakedness.

    So in an imperfect world, you have the ideal of perfect Truth, the ideal of a perfect Lie, the real of the imperfect Truth leading to a greater Lie, and the real of an imperfect lie that may protect a greater Truth.