Archive for November 30th, 2008

The Problem with Lying

November 30, 2008


Anyone familiar with Scripture will be aware of the commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” Lying is treated as a problem from the earliest moments of Scripture. Adam and Eve fail to speak the truth in a direct manner when questioned about their breaking of the commandment and eating of the forbidden fruit.

The New Testament shows at least as much concern with the subject. St. Paul states in very simple fashion:

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds (Colossians 3:9)

In Titus, St. Paul raises our understanding of lies, by noting that “God never lies.”

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised ages ago (Titus 1:1-2)

Christ not only establishes what is truth, but notes as well the source of lies:

[Speaking to the Pharisees] Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it (John 8:44)

St. John also reminds us of this:

If we say that we have communion with God, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth (1John 1:6).

The Scriptures give us an understanding about the character of lying which makes it a much larger issue than the mere misleading of another individual. Lying is not a moral issue, but an issue that goes to the very heart of our existence.

There is a very simple way of stating this: Existence can only truly exist in the truth.

Thus lying, more than being a moral problem, states something which, in fact, has no true existence. It is a fiction and a fantasy. Of course, in the normal run of things, people lie for a wide variety of reasons: to avoid embarassment; to avoid pain or punishment; to make someone think better of themselves or worse of someone else; the reasons could easily be multiplied.

There is a deeper level of lying, however, far more difficult to discern: lying to yourself. At first blush it would seem a strange thing that we would ever lie to ourselves. Surely if we are “lying” to ourselves we must also know the truth. This is a matter that is rooted deep in the human heart, which Scripture says is “deceitful above all things.” It is an odd perversity that we are not only capable of lying to others – but also to ourselves – and in such a manner that we come to believe our own lies.

Such actions do tremendous damage to our heart – making it a place of darkness and unable to discern the truth. For where the truth is acknowledged, darkness and lies are swept away.

When Christians say that Christ is the Truth – it is a profound statement – but it is not to say that Christ is a rational syllogism. He is the Truth in that He is the ground of all reality. “In Him there is no darkness at all.” In order to truly see Christ as the Truth (no tautology intended), we ourselves have to be able to see Truth – which says something primarily about the state of our heart.

Of course the truth does not wait on the state of our heart. The lies we speak, even the ones we tell ourselves, have a way of being brought into the light by the mercy and kindness of God. It almost always entails pain – even great pain. But to speak the truth and to know the truth is the only path to true existence. Everything else is a route to an existence of shadows and non-being.

I write as a sinner and not as an expert on righteousness. Like anyone who reads my posts, I tell lies and sometimes I tell them to myself. Of course these are matters for my confessor and not for my readers. But I know the struggle that we all must endure in order to be freed from darkness. In many ways that struggle is itself one of the primary battles in our effort to find the place of the heart and have communion there with God.

The communion into which we are invited is and only can be a communion in the Truth. I cannot bring anything other than the reality of my true self into that communion. But we have reassuring words:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have communion with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have communion with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:5-9).

And that is the truth.