There’s more than one way to tell a lie. Certainly, we know an outright lie when we hear one. A plain, in-your-face, simple untruth. That’s a lie.
There are other lies we tell as well. The kind that aren’t really lies. You know, the ones that we tell by not telling quite the entire truth. The ones we tell that are embellished or twisted just by the words we choose. The ones we tell by merely implying something that isn’t true. We’ve never said the words, but we simply imply an untruth in the way we phrase our words.
Sometimes we deflect blame on others without really blaming them, but with the intention of putting the focus on them instead of us. That’s still a lie.
You know where we get that? From our sin nature that came through Adam and Eve. Their son had a problem with anger and jealousy, but he wasn’t eager to admit his crime. He never denied what happened to his brother. He never said he didn’t kill his brother. He just answered a question with a question.
God asked him where Abel was, and Cain replied, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” He was basically saying, “How would I know? Is it my responsibility to keep up with him?” He was also implying that he had no idea where his brother was.
Cain said he didn’t know when he did. That’s a lie. He also deflected the question and implied something that wasn’t true. He was dishonest in not answering the question, and he was intentional about doing so. I sometimes wonder if God doled out consequences today like He did with Cain if there would be less lying.
I did that one time. ‘Came home from school and found my mother cleaning out the bathroom closet. I knew I’d been had, but I wasn’t about to tell the truth. I was probably in 5th or 6th grade. Certainly old enough to know better, and young enough not to care.
That bathroom closet was chock full of towels, sheets, and other contraptions and paraphernalia that my mother kept stocked in there. Once a year, she cleaned it out. I knew, that day, she’d find the pills I’d stuffed under the towels. You see, I didn’t like taking medicine, so once I started feeling better, I’d stuff those pills in the closet. For the life of me, I don’t know why I didn’t just flush each pill down the toilet one at a time. No, I just acted like I took it and then hid it in the closet. No guilt, no shame that my mother had spent money on medication that I simply threw away.
When she found the medicine and asked me if I knew anything about it, I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Did you ask Rhoda? She’s the last one of us who had to take that medicine.”
What I said was true. Rhoda was the last one on an antibiotic. For all my mother knew, it could have been Rhoda. But I knew it wasn’t my sister.
I didn’t tell a lie. Yet I still lied. Deliberately, I chose to imply something that wasn’t true. I might as well have said it wasn’t me, but that would have been considered a lie. So that later I could deny lying about this deed, I simply didn’t tell the entire truth. You know what? That was still a lie.
I don’t know what Mama did about those pills. I don’t know if she figured out that it was me after talking to everyone else, or if she thought more than one of us were the culprit. I only know that I waited all day to be confronted again, and wasn’t. The guilt on my conscience that day was heavy. I never hid pills again because I always finished the course. Yet that day, I knew I lied.
I will grant you that there are times when we should not tell an entire truth. Sometimes a child can’t handle the entire truth, so we share with him what he is emotionally or intellectually able to comprehend or understand. Our withholding of the entire truth is for his protection and benefit, and not for deceit. Sometimes with elderly folks, we can only share a little bit of detail, because to share everything would be too much for them to handle. Our withholding of the entire truth is for their emotional well-being and not for deceit. I do not consider that a lie.
If we are honest, we will recognize that many of us are guilty of not being truthful. That makes us liars. As Christians, we are called to walk a different path every day of the week. Being truthful should be a way of life. Sadly, for many of us, it isn’t. We go to church on Sunday and then live the way we want to during the week.
Scripture has much to say about being truthful. We can’t expect our children to be truthful if we don’t model that for them. Children hear adults tell things that they know are lies. Why do the adults wonder why their kids lie to them? I could tell you a few stories about what I’ve observed in just the past few weeks – adults telling lies in the presence of kids. The same kids turn around and lie with a straight face. Why should we be surprised?
If we want to truly follow Jesus, we need to follow His example and His commandments. We need to reckon with the fact that there is more than one way to tell a lie. Often we are more guilty of not telling an outright lie than just telling a blatant untruth.
A lie is still a lie when we:
- deliberately choose to phrase words so as to not tell the entire truth
- deliberately choose to phrase words to reflect on someone else or an event that takes the focus off of me and puts it on another
- deliberately choose to act as if I know nothing when in actuality, I do
- deliberately choose to act as if I know something when I really don’t
- deliberately choose to embellish facts so that my side looks better than hers
- deliberately choose to leave out facts so that my side doesn’t look as bad as his
What is it that makes it so easy to tell lies? Is it our pride? Our fear of repercussions? Our not wanting to admit we can do wrong? Our sin nature? I suppose it is all of the above.
When we’re tempted to tell a lie – whether it’s an outright lie or a lie by default, we need to consider what God says about lying.
- Proverbs 19:9 “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish.”
- John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
- Exodus 20:16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
- Proverbs 6:16-20 “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
If God hates lying, so should we. The only way to show Him that we hate lying, too, is to tell the truth without the trace of a lie.