And everyone deceives his neighbor, And does not speak the truth, They have taught their tongue to speak lies; They weary themselves committing iniquity (Jer. 9:5).
St. Paul frequently admonishes early Christians to “speak the truth.” It seems somewhat strange at first – surely telling the truth is so obvious that it would not need mention. That telling the truth appears obvious is true – but people engage in lying all the time. Why is telling the truth so important?
If we think of telling the truth in purely moral terms, as a simple matter of right and wrong, its importance may easily be obscured. “White lies,” the small deviations in the truth that we use for politeness and to avoid embarrassment, seem harmless, even morally neutral. Morality, when understood as “breaking the rules,” fails to give a sufficient account of “telling the truth.” We judge truth-telling as a matter of concern only in so far as it has larger consequences. The truth becomes a question of utility (is it useful). The delusion that is the common human life finds lying to be very useful and telling the truth to be problematic. But there is another way to think about truth – a way that is more consistent with Biblical understanding – one which explains the paramount place it holds within the Christian Tradition.
In the opening chapter of Genesis we hear the story of Creation. God speaks the worlds into existence. With each day of Creation, we hear God’s judgment, “It is good.” The goodness of the created order is a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith. What God has brought into existence is good: He is not the author of evil. Existence is declared to be good. Thus God sustains all things in their existence, for He does not remove us from the goodness He has given. We may wonder why God allows somethings to continue in existence, but He does so because He Himself is good and does not begrudge us the gift of goodness.
Evil has no existence. Indeed, evil, at its root, is a rebellion against God-given existence and its inherent goodness. Thus the Scripture describes Satan as a “murderer” and “the father of lies.” (Jn. 8:44). The two epithets are related. Satan’s rebellion against God and His goodness is also a rebellion against the gift of true existence. Evil has no creative power, no root in true existence. It’s only power is to seek destruction and to distort goodness.
It is in this light that the importance of telling the truth is revealed. The truth is more than a moral commandment: it is a necessity for true existence. Lies have no existence – they are efforts of destruction and distortion. There can be no salvation within a lie for there is nothing to save.
Telling the truth is difficult. There are things we know either about ourselves or others that are appropriately left unsaid – not all knowledge is public knowledge. To speak the truth when to do so will cause harm is not a time to lie, but a time to remain silent. Discernment and discretion are required of those who wield the truth.
The greater struggle with telling the truth is not the situation that requires discretion – it is the life-struggle that prefers to lie. Our enmeshment in the ersatz existence of lying reveals our estrangement from God. It is even the case that within the lie that we sometimes live, we serve a God who is a delusion, a creation of our own distortions. The discipline of telling the truth is thus at the same time the discipline of knowing the true God.
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col 3:1-3 NKJ)
May God grant us to live in the truth.