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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Lying for Jesus

Lying for Jesus
 The chorus of a 1930’s song – revived by John Denver, and others - goes:
Be sure it's true when you say I love you
It’s a sin to tell a lie
Millions of hearts have been broken
Just because these words were spoken
Lying isn’t just for lovers: it has become commonplace in contemporary culture. We have gotten used to expecting that advertisers and salespeople will “stretch” the truth in order to make sales. We know that it is now commonplace for job applicants to pad their resumes. Likewise, we kind of expect political candidates to make sometimes “stetchy”claims about their backgrounds and job performance. Generally, as a culture we have become complacent about lying. The Christian writer, Dallas Willard, once posed the interesting question, “What would happen to us as a nation if, for one day, people stopped lying and only told the truth?” It is a stimulating exercise to ponder this question.

How do Christian people respond to our cultural acceptance of lying?  Are some lies acceptable to us?  What determines what a lie is anyway?  Is it acceptable to use lies to defame a person’s character or heritage in order to bring about a greater good?  The 9th Commandment says that “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).  Does this really matter to today’s Christian people?

Let’s look at some present-day examples of lying. Just recently a candidate for high office claimed that he had run a marathon race, finishing in the “high two’s.” A reporter from Runner’s World thought his time was unusually impressive and checked the long forgotten records. It turned out that his actual time to completion was over an hour more than he claimed. While some have made a big deal about this, most folks dismiss it as simple braggadocio.  Many people have gotten so used to exaggerations they don’t think of them as lies.

On the other hand some people have claimed that another candidate for high office was not born in the United States and that this particular person is a Muslim and not a Christian.  These claims have been consistently refuted by factual data and by the candidates own testimony regarding his faith: nevertheless they persist and are widely accepted by so-called Christian people. Although we may dismiss bragging regarding ones athletic prowess as a benign exaggeration, it does appear that this defamation of character is truly a case of “giving false testimony.”

Why do people continue “bearing false witness?” In certain cases it may be because they don’t know any better, since they never bother to investigate such claims.  Many of these folks are too lazy or fearful to check, since repudiating these false ideas may take them out of their comfort zone.  Believers in Christ have an obligation to investigate and reject lies. To not do so is slothful.  Sloth implies laziness and apathy. In Christian tradition, sloth is listed as one of the seven deadly sins.

Other people know such claims are lies, but continue to repeat them because in doing so, they can bring about a good outcome.  This might be for their political party or for Jesus.  The philosophical term for this is “consequentialism.” Basically it means that “the end justifies the means.” In essence it is OK to lie and bear false witness (or whatever else) if you are seeking a “good” end. This was the rationale that Hitler’s Nazis used in murdering the European Jews.  To the Nazi’s, eliminating the Jews was their contribution toward bringing about a better world. Many horrible crimes are committed for “altruistic” reasons.

Apparently this strategy of defaming others for the greater good may make sense to a lot of Christian folks, but is this what God wants in terms of the way we treat other people?  Is it OK to ignore the 9th Commandment in the interest of achieving political and economic victories? It is exquisitely ironic that many of the same “Christian” people who ignore the 9th Commandment comprise the same sub-set that wants to post the 10 Commandments on courthouse walls. Why is the 9th Commandment important?

First of all God gave us the 10 Commandments to teach us how we should behave toward Him (Commandments 1 to 4) and how we should behave toward each other (Commandments 5 to 10). These are important and specific orders from the almighty Yahweh. As the former Nightline commentator Ted Koppel once said, these are the Ten Commandments, not the “ten suggestions.”  Secondly, Jesus said “if you love Me you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). To be sure, the 10 Commandments were only part of the commands that Jesus is referring to; but they are a very important part.

Scripture is full of the idea of “truth telling.”  For instance, in Proverbs 6:16-19, we are told:  There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:  haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,  a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil,  a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”  Likewise, we are warned in Proverbs 19:9 that “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will perish.”

Finally, God makes a scary statement regarding specific sinners in the Book of Revelation; “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (21:8).  From the above, it sounds like the Almighty does not approve of bearing false witness.  Goodness, gracious if only Christians could be Christ-like!

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