Nearly four decades ago I met with staff members from our Christian school to discuss a student that had cheated on an exam, who when confronted had blatantly lied about the matter. Several excuses for her behaviour were brought forward; “she is new to our school…from a different culture…is struggling with insecurity” and “is it really such a big deal?” My response was simply, “Where I come from it’s called lying and should not be ignored or normalized.” The incident reminded me of Austin O’Malley’s aphorism on honesty. He wrote, “Those who believe it is all right to tell little white lies soon grow colour blind.”
Dishonesty is serious and injurious. Proverbs 12:24 says, “The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in people who are trustworthy” and the ninth commandment demands “You must not lie.” (Exodus 20:16)
To overcome dishonesty in our lives we must begin by admitting that we are not only capable but culpable – we have all lied and to deny such is simply to add another falsehood to the list. This is not to suggest that we are all chronic or pathological liars. It is to propose that first, we have all struggled in this area and second, we probably lie more than we think we do. This is so, because in principle a lie is not just blatantly stated untruths, but may be a partial or half-truth, the omission of truth, the deliberate clouding or veiling of truth, or simply disseminating information from our personal perspective, which will always lack objectivity and be geared to making us look good.
Lying is not only insidious and harmful but it is also, by nature, addictive and habit-forming. Lies are counterproductive in terms of what they accomplish, but they are very productive in terms of giving birth to new lies. One lie tends to precipitate another, often beginning with denial of the first, and then adding new lies to cover previous falsehoods. Not only is this endless, but it is also futile. As Abraham Lincoln said, “No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar”.
Every liar will ultimately be caught. The moment of being found a liar is hurtful and embarrassing; relationships are injured and trust erodes. These alone should provide powerful motivation for not lying. However, the fact that God knows of our lies before they are uttered should, especially for believers, be the paramount motive for being honest.
Since lying begins internally and manifests externally, it is the internal that needs help. David’s prayer in Psalm 51:10 is quite applicable. He prayed, “God, create a pure heart in me and renew a right attitude within me.”
Ephesians 4:25 tells us how we can know that we’ve been cured of lying. It says, “…put away lying and speak the truth…” It is not enough to stop lying; the cessation of lies is required, but the inception and practice of speaking the truth is indispensable.