Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lying (Honest August)

The way my mind is wired, I am always searching for exceptions to the rule. So I have a hard time with absolutes. I think this is why I am attracted to ethical dilemmas, questioning cultural or timeless principles, and dealing with supposed absolutes. 

(Pictured above is Corrie ten Boom's home, The Hiding Place)

To be sure, lying is wrong and hurtful. 

God hates a lying tongue. Proverbs 16:19

Lying lips are an abomination. Proverbs 12:22

Put away your falsehood. Ephesians 4:25 

But is this absolute? Is lying always wrong? 

I think of the book of Joshua and the prostitute Rahab. Joshua's spies were scouting Jericho. They found themselves lodged in the prostitute's home, hiding from the authorities. When Rahab was questioned about their presence, she replied, 
"True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went." 
She lied.

They hadn't escaped. She hid them in her roof. She spoke to them about how the wonders of how God saved Israel at the Red Sea, about how God was with their armies. She confessed that the Lord God is the God of the heavens above and the earth beneath. 

Profound words from anyone. More so from a lying prostitute. 

James later said of Rahab, "And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?" (James 2:25)

So to save a life, is it right to lie? 

Two contradictory examples come to mind. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an expert in ethics, was also a pastor in Nazi Germany. He was faced his own ethical theories when he lied about the locations of hiding Jews. His truth would be their execution. His lies would be their escape. He chose to lie, eventually bringing Bonhoeffer's own execution. 

Corrie and Betsie ten Boom likewise hid Nazi resisters. On one occasion, while hiding refugees under the floor beneath the table, soldiers barged in and demanded to know their location. Without missing a beat, they replied, "They're under the table." The soldiers moved the table clothe, saw nothing, and sent the sisters laughing hysterically at the misunderstanding. Angry and embarrassed, the soldiers stormed off. 

Unlike Rahab and Bonhoeffer, the sisters chose not to lie. 

The question then becomes, who is right? Are all three examples justified? Or only the sisters? 

And to be honest, I think we are far too critical of Rahab and Bonhoeffer, when we ourselves have lied or deceived for our own self gain. Rahab and Bonhoeffer lied to save lives. We lie to save face. 

Lastly, Jesus makes the following statement about following the Law word for word leading to acts of evil. 

"One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, 'Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?' But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away. 

Then he asked them, 'If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out? And they had nothing to say." (Luke 14:1-5)

Does this apply only to the law of the Sabbath? Or does it apply to all laws when a human life is on the line? 

So your turn to be honest.
Are all three examples justified? Or only the sisters?

I found this moving postcard on that adds to this discussion.

This girl doesn't make a claim to faith, or try to justify herself. This is just a simple, powerful confession of a lie. Is she right or wrong?