Enemies of Honesty: Lies
In the first of a three-part series on the enemies of honesty, we begin looking at outright lies. Why do such blatant falsehoods pass our lips so often?
Can you go 10 minutes without lying? If so, you are doing better than 60 percent of people according to a 2002 Massachusetts study. In the study, those 60 percent told an average of three lies during a 10-minute conversation. What has happened to the value of honesty?
Honesty has been attacked vigorously by a series of relentless enemies, the first and foremost being blatant lying. A simple definition of lying is saying something that isn’t the truth or that is not the full truth. Whether it is the little white lie (“Of course those oddly-colored, skin-tight pants don’t make you look fat, darling”), applying situational ethics (“Mr. Bad Guy, the person you are trying to hurt actually went that way”) or just gaining advantage for ourselves (“Yes, everyone is impressed when I tell them I went to Harvard and spent a semester in Somalia feeding orphans, even though it’s not at all true”).
God takes honesty very seriously and therefore condemns any form of lying. The Bible mentions lying as an abomination (Proverbs 12:22), and lying shows up twice in a list of things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19).
Why does God hate lying so much? Let’s go back to the beginning.
The first lie ever told
One of God’s high-ranking angels, called Lucifer in the King James Version (from the Hebrew Haylel), became increasingly disturbed in his mind, leading to a foiled attempt to usurp God’s throne. This angel, now known as Satan the devil, originated lying. His first use of lies was probably in filling the ears of a third of the angels with utter falsehoods about God, which led them to back his attempted coup. You can read the story in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28.
Christ mentioned the origin of lying when he said that Satan “does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).
The first human duped by a lie was Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan used this total lie on Eve: “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). God had told Adam and Eve that if they took from the forbidden tree, they would die (verse 3). Satan lied right to her face and said basically, “Nope. God’s wrong.” In fact, this is the origin of the common religious doctrine of the immortal soul—the idea that the human soul never really dies.
Eve listened to the serpent and that led not only to her death, but to thousands of years of human suffering from listening to Satan’s lies rather than God’s truth. The lies continue to flow today.
The plain truth can often be painful, embarrassing and completely uncomfortable—but it is what God expects.Lies throughout history
From that moment, cascades of lies have overwhelmed humanity, like when Cain tried to lie to God about the whereabouts of his murdered brother (Genesis 4:9). Even God’s servants were not immune to lying, like when Jacob lied to his father about being his brother Esau in order to receive the birthright blessing (Genesis 27).
Outright lying has invaded every level of society in our modern age. Lies are so common that it seems somewhat pointless to even list prominent examples, but here are a few:
- U.S. presidents:
- “I’m not a crook.” Tapes revealed that, yes, President Richard Nixon did commit a crime.
- “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Then new taxes were introduced by President George H.W. Bush.
- “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” But President Bill Clinton did, repeatedly.
- Business leaders: Investors lost around $50 billion in Bernie Madoff’s scheme that turned out to be, in his own words, “just one big lie.”
- Sports stars: Pete Rose denied betting on baseball games for years, until he later admitted that he did.
- Scientists: Charles Dawson’s “find” of the Piltdown skull turned out to be a complete hoax, not a proof of evolution.
- Ordinary people: Statistics reveal people might tell an average of 100 lies a day.
What can we do to make sure we aren’t duped by others’ lies?
1. Research anything that sounds suspicious. Unfortunately, much of what we hear (especially from advertisements, salespeople, religious teachers and politicians) must be held to a critical standard. We need to “test all things” to determine if they are true (1 Thessalonians 5:21). In this technological age, we have many resources at our disposal for checking.
2. Consider patterns in people. Everyone makes mistakes, and we all need help to improve our lives. However, if there is someone or some source in our lives that continues to tell outright falsehoods, that pattern cannot be ignored. Try to gravitate toward people who demonstrate a “pattern of good works” (Titus 2:7).
But it’s also important to make sure we are not part of this problem. Here are a couple of things we can do to avoid lying:
1. Remember that Christians are expected to always tell the truth. The naked truth can often be painful, embarrassing and completely uncomfortable—but it is what God expects. Through tact, timing, wisdom and gentleness, we can always tell the truth. In fact, the truth can set us free (John 8:32). Truth can free us from a lot of problems we create when we lie.
2. Examine when we do lie and how God disagrees with our reasoning. Why do we lie? Is it to escape a situation? Is it a misguided attempt to help someone or spare his or her feelings? Next time we catch ourselves in a lie, we need to think about why we did it and why and how God would do it differently. There is a reason God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). It is because lying is totally opposite to His character. If we are trying to develop His character, that should give us a lot to think about! Just as God hates lies, we should hate lies.
The first enemy of honesty—lying—is not invincible. It can be overcome with God’s help and a proper respect for the truth.
For more insight into the sin of lying, read “Ninth Commandment: You Shall Not Bear False Witness,” “Lying vs. Telling the Truth” and “Speak the Truth in Love.”