The Problem with Lying

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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.

12 Responses to “The Problem with Lying”

  1. Bruce Says:

    Thank you, Father…I think there is a powerful connection between your last post which raised the question of where are we centered…in ourselves or Christ….and our ability to express ourselves honestly. Many of my deceptions are based upon my desire to manufacture ‘outcomes’ in my life, when in my selfishness, I find myself centered on what I want from my life rather than truly trusting, relying and depending upon God. It raises the question, ‘can we really be honest without God’…is honesty something we can self generate or like so many of His virtues only possible when I get ‘right sized’ in humbly accepting my limitations and in faithful, repentent, gratitude recognize that even honesty is only possible with God. Isn’t there a great risk that if we truly believe we are being honest but are still centered in self not God, that this belief will further darken our souls in a self righteous assertion of our virtues as stand alone man….and further enrich, perhaps our most deeply held deception, that we each can be our own God. Let me know if this makes sense to you…thank you for all you do….In Christ…Bruce

  2. Barnabas Says:

    Again Father, how very true.

    All lies can be traced to the father of lies Lucifer, who upon being cast out of heaven attempts to convince both angels and saints that eternal life is other than what it really is, i.e. knowing the one true God.

    And he may well have succeeded had we not seen and received the Glory.

  3. Margaret Says:

    It has taken me a couple of days to set aside time to sit down and thoughtfully read this and I am so glad that I did! I can tell that this posting is something that I will return to as a reminder and as an encouragement. You have placed into words so much that I have “mental” knowledge of and even some “heart” knowledge of and you have used the word of God to clarify this issue of lying and desception; which clarification I have known need of in heart and mind. Thank you!

  4. Karen C Says:

    Bruce, what you have to say here really resonates with me–especially the part that even honesty is only possible with God. I think you have made an insightful connection here.

  5. Evan Says:

    Father, I find it interesting this important topic has not generated the volume of comments as other recent posts.

  6. fatherstephen Says:

    How often do you see posts on lying? I think it sets us all back and into the heart – which is not always easy to express. Margaret’s comment struck me quite deeply. Bruce’s thoughts as well. Since God alone is the Truth, there can be no Truth apart from Him.

  7. Barbara Says:

    Since my conversion to Orthodoxy, I have found that I am becoming a person of fewer and fewer words because I am so aware of how limited my words are in actually expressing truth and goodness. I can’t separate the two because the truth can be brutal. My desire is to be brutal with myself and not with others, but it’s usually the other way around.

    Fr. Stephen, can you write more about words and confession? Is it always necessary to confess with specificity? Can confession just be an overwhelming awareness of our need for God? Can our pain just be given to God in tears without trying to find the right words?

  8. fatherstephen Says:

    Barbara,

    It is good in confession to follow the directions of your priest. But with that in mind I’ll say this much:

    Specificity is good, particularly if it helps us pierce the tough hide of our heart, but is not always required.

    It is good to struggle with the words – but very good as well to offer the tears of repentance. Sometimes there are no words. At least we say, “Forgive me, I am a sinner.”

  9. Danny boy Says:

    “Never give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs. Otherwise, they will trample them with their feet and then turn around and attack you.” Matthew 7:6

    It’s pretty harsh sounding I know, but there’s much divine wisdom in this.

  10. Evan Says:

    Father, my apologies if my comment sounded harsh, I didn’t intend it to. I enjoy reading your insightful Blog and also the many comments. I find the comments in many instances help me gain a better understanding of what you have posted and no I have not seen much at all written on this topic.

    Regards, Evan

  11. fatherstephen Says:

    Evan,

    May God bless us all. Didn’t seem harsh to me at all. It is interesting what draws comments and what does not.

    I find it fascinating that the most viewed post on my blog, by a mile, is on the children’s prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” We’re talking about something like 15,000 views, complete with a comment from a direct descendant of Mother Goose (I’m not kidding). Go figure.

  12. Danny Says:

    Our one-storey universe says so much about the God who created it🙂

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