Friday, March 21, 2014

Is Lying Always A Sin?

Imagine this: it is World War II in Germany, the Nazis are searching persistently for Jews. You know all they find will be surely tortured and then killed, as a part of "ethnic cleansing."

Your friend, David, a Jew, is looking for a place to hide. You let him come in; surely, no German would look for a Jew here. Yet this does nothing to calm anyone's nerves. You don't truly believe that this house will really save your friend and know the risk you are taking in harboring a Jew. 

Then comes the knock on the door. You know what this means. You are all doomed. You tell David to hide under a bed. Maybe we'll be lucky and they won't look there. As you open the door, your heart shivers all the more. 

On the other side is a German officer. "Are there any Jews here?" He steps aside pushing you out of the way. As he does this, you exclaim, "Yes, indeed, there is one just upstairs under the bed in the second bedroom on the right!" 

But wait, why would you do such a thing and betray your friend? Surely, you don't believe in the ethnic cleansing of the Germans. Surely, you are not so concerned with your own safety that you would see nothing wrong with subjecting David to torture! 

No, you are concerned with a little question of morality. You see, you had always been taught that lying was a sin, and could not bring yourself to break the commandment of the Lord, even to save one of his people. 

Remember morals are absolute. If God says, "Thou shalt not lie," then "Thou shalt not lie." Period. Regardless of the circumstances that come in our lives, lying would not be permissible. 

But is this really what the commandment of the Lord is? Does the Lord forbid all types of lying, regardless of the benefits thereof in a specific circumstance? 

No, the Lord see lying as permissible in certain situations. Indeed, he has even commanded people to lie to support his will. Thus, clearly, there is no commandment, of "Thou shalt not lie." 

The closest we come to such a commandment is in Exodus 20:16,
"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."

At first glance, this verse does seem to indicate that lying is forbidden on all accounts, yet a closer examination reveals an essential three-word phrase, "Against thy neighbour."

The Ninth Commandment exhorts us to not lie about everyone around us, to not falsely accuse others of wrongdoing. But it would be a stretch to say that this forbids lying regardless of the circumstance.

Now, I will not be going into when these circumstances exist which make lying permissible. Suffice it to say that they are extremely rare. What I would like to prove is simply that these rare situations occur.

Also note that this idea that the morality of lying is nothing new and does not indicate relative morals. Everyone of us would admit that murder is immoral; however, killing someone in self-defense is justified. The action is the same, but the morality of that action has changed by the situation. Yet no one would argue that this makes morals relative.

Surely, you think my interpretation is a bit too convenient. Lying is not inherently evil, just evil in most situations. Seems like an attempt to justify a position. But it's not.

Not that long ago, I would have fought tooth and nail that lying for any purpose was forbidden. I would have been the friend of the Jew during the Holocaust who told the Germans where they could find my friend.

But I have found that position in stark contrast to what the Lord commands. In I Samuel 16, God tells Samuel to anoint a new king over Israel, but Samuel feared Saul would kill him for these actions. The Lord commands in verses 2-3,
"And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the Lord said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will shew thee what thou shalt do: and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee."

The Lord here commands Samuel to lie to cover the actions of what he is doing. If you believe that the Lord forbids lying in every circumstance, then how can you justify this action in light of that position? If lying is always a sin, then the Lord is a sinner. And that just won't do.

One may nit-pick and say that it was only a deception, as Samuel really did call a sacrifice. But this excuse holds no water. Regardless, you cannot make any such claims in regards to our next example.

It is Egypt. The Lord's people are sitting in slavery, but the Lord plans to use a man named Moses to rescue them from it and bring them to the Promised Land, never to return to Egypt again.

But that is not what the Lord wants Moses to tell Pharaoh. No, in Exodus 3:18, the Lord instructs Moses to lie,
"Thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God."

 Oh, so that means the Israelites are to come back, right? That seems to be what I was reading. Maybe I'm daft, but this seems to be a promise of a return that the Lord has no intention keeping.

The idea that any and all lying is a sin makes the Lord a sinner. Indeed, this philosophy tears apart all basis of Christianity. Lying in almost every situation is wrong. Spreading false accusations is wrong. Making lies a rule, rather than the exception is wrong.

But lying to save a Jew during the Holocaust, or delivering God's people from tyrannical rule, is not a sin.

On further thought:
Since publishing this post, the Lord has reminded me of Colossians 3:9,
"Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds."

The argument could still be made that this verse is telling Christians not to lie to other Christians. It could be sad that lying to non-Christians in order to protect God's people, which describes all my examples in my original post, is permissible, but I'm not quite sure about that. Thus, I am unsure of what implications this should have on situations like the Holocaust, which is why I still ask you to pray for me as I prayerfully find answers to these questions. And maybe you would feel compelled to discuss what you have learned in your similar mulling in this topics. I'm not against changing my mind based on sound logic, even when the logic is not mine.

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