Lying

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jolly_good_blogger

This is really a day late. Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation, and I decided to do my month-delayed post on lying. Well, I didn't get to it yesterday, so it's today, the 30th anniversary of Gerald Ford's first full day as president in the aftermath of Watergate.

Is lying always wrong? I say no. Immanuel Kant argued that lying is always wrong, but what would you do if you were holding Jews in your basement and the SS troops showed up to ask if you were holding Jews in your basement? If you turn them in, you're doing something wrong. It would therefore be wrong not to lie in this case. Most philosophers are convinced by this sort of case. Kant dug in his heels and said that you just need to tell the truth. He went so far as to say that if we tell the truth in such circumstances then we're allowing the Jews in the basement to escape, while lying means if the Jews try to escape then they'd get caught because the soldiers wouldn't be in the basement where they should be if you tell the truth. If it takes that kind of denial of what's really likely to happen, the view doesn't have a lot going for it. I understand that some would say God will reward truth if only we're trusting enough to speak it, even when it seems we'd be condemning someone to death, but usually people who say such things believe the Bible, and I think lying in some cases is biblically defensible for a Christian.

I'll look at the relevant texts given on both sides, and then I'll come back to the issue of presidential lying in the cases of Nixon and Clinton and also the purported cases of Reagan and George W. Bush. I was originally planning to use the title "What if Bush Really Did Lie?", but there are so many other issues I'm discussing here that using a counterfactual title would have been misleading about the main content of the post, so I've just gone with a generic title.

One thing people often say in defense of the view that it's always wrong to lie is that you can always simply not say anything. This is correct. One can always choose silence. There are, however, some cases when being silent is just as deceptive as lying or when saying something literally true is just as deceptive as lying. Is it the fact that one is saying words that aren't true that makes lying wrong, or is it that one is trying to deceive? I don't want to get into virtue ethics vs. action ethics here, but in this case I think it's pretty clear that the intent to deceive is the problem and not that one's explicit words are false.

Let's consider a couple cases of deception. When Athanasius, great defender of orthodox beliefs during a time when heresy was gaining force, was being hunted by those who would kill him, he was approached by some people looking for him. They asked if he knew where the traitor Athanasius was, and he replied "not far". They continued on their way, not knowing that he was Athanasius. He told the truth, but he deceived them. Only a Pharisee would see what he did as any different in motivation from telling them that he didn't know. It's just as deceptive, and if lying would be wrong in that case then so should what he did.

What if the Nazis come to the door and ask if the Jews are in the basement? Can you simply stare at them and not answer or change the subject? You could say that you aren't 100% sure their exact position at the moment, but there isn't really anything you can do that won't raise their suspicions without simply lying. If this case allows some way out, it would be easy to construct one that doesn't, e.g. if someone asks a yes-or-no question and won't accept any other answer than yes or no.

On the other hand, we do deceptive things all along without using any language, never mind actually stating an untruth. Whether this is wrong, I believe, usually depends on who is being deceived and why. The Gnu gave me an example that strikes me as dead right. We leave the light on when we go out sometimes, in order to deceive those who might commit a crime. This is the same motivation as lying to prevent someone from committing a crime and to protect one's property. It's like lying to the murderer. It's just that you didn't actually say any words to do it. There's nothing wrong with it, yet it's deceitful.

That's important to say first, because it affects how one might interpret some of the biblical passages about lying. Some passages don't tell us much. There are plenty of examples of lying that are spun in a bad way by the text. One important example is Abraham's deceit in calling Sarah his sister (Genesis 12) when she technically was his half-sister, but he was hiding the fact that she was his wife. The text clearly spins this in a negative light, as it also does the second time he does it and when Isaac does it (though he didn't even have the right to claim Rebekah as his sister to begin with). So here's even some biblical support for the view that any deceit is wrong.

Jeremiah lies in Jer 38:24-27, but it's at the command of his king. It may have been just an omission and not a lie, but deception is deception, as I've just argued, and he does seem to tell them something deliberate here that's false, as I read the passagfe. Maybe it's to protect his own life, maybe the king's, maybe something greater. The passage doesn't explain Jeremiah's motives. More importantly, it doesn't say whether his lie was wrong or the right thing to do in the circumstances. I can't even detect a contextual sense as in other passages, e.g. that he did this and it went well for him or that he did this and had negative consequences. The point of the passage seems to be about Zedekiah and what led to this situation, not about whether what Jeremiah did in the situation caused by it was the right thing to do in that situation.

Exodus 1, however, does seem to say something about a particular instance of lying. When Pharaoh commanded the midwives of the Hebrews to kill all their sons upon birth, some children were spared, and the midwives told Pharaoh that he had come out so quickly that they couldn't stop it. The text says that God dealt favorably with these midwives. The implied reason is that they had done right. There are conflicting views here. Calvin thought the midwives were wrong to lie but were rewarded simply for sparing the children, while Luther justified it. Lightfoot claimed there wasn't even a lie here. I think Luther has the easiest position to defend, textually speaking. They said that all the Hebrew women were so vigorous that they were delivering faster than the midwives could get to them. This sounds to anyone who knows anything about childbirth to be a clear lie. Pharaoh may have been fooled in his ignorance, and perhaps so too was Lightfoot, but I know enough about childbirth to think Lightfoot's interpretation is stretching. As for Calvin, there's a clear implication that the midwives did right and God was favorable to them. It even says they acted this way out of their fear of God, though those holding Calvin's view might say that their saving of the children was out of fear of God but not their lying. Even so, if their action had been colored with some impropriety amidst goodness, shouldn't we expect to see something about that in the text? Judges has signs of that all through it. There's none here. So I think Luther is right, and though I admit it's not an airtight argument I still think it's the best reading of the text.

Joshua 2 recounts Rahab's lie that she didn't know where the Hebrew spies were. A couple things she says contradict what she knows, actually. There's no question that she lied. The text doesn't necessarily endorse her action, as Exodus 1 seems to endorse the lie of the midwives. Still, Heb 11:31 gives her actons in this instance as an example of her faith. Some have insisted that all the author of Hebrews lauds is her friendly welcome of the spies, and it's consistent with that that she was also wrong in deceiving her people. That may be so. This strikes me as having a presupposition affecting your interpretation, though. If you're already committed to all lying being wrong no matter what, then you can avail yourself of this to show that the passage doesn't contradict that. Yet it seems to me that a plain reading of the passage not colored by that will give the impression that Rahab's actions in this situation were all noble. When you include James 2:25, which says that when "she received the messengers and sent them out another way" it was a good work, it's pretty hard to argue against seeing her whole action as good. Her sending them out another way was part of the deceit.

I Samuel 16:2 is a strange case, but I think it's even clearer than the previous two. It seems as if God tells Samuel to deceive Saul by saying his purpose of going somewhere is to perform a sacrifice, when his real purpose is a divine mission Saul would not have approved of. There is potential risk of life in this case, and it's Samuel's own life. Some use the "tell the truth deceptively but don't lie" defense here, claiming that Samuel doesn't say anything false, but I've already explained why that approach has no moral weight. What Samuel does here is clearly deceptive, and God commands it of him. The one response I could find in the commentaries is by H.W. Hertzberg, who claims that it's not a subterfuge sacrfice but one of Samuel's duties that he would do anyway. That may be so. The sacrifice doesn't have to be a subterfuge for Samuel's statement to be a subterfuge if he deliberately leaves out information in order to deceive. So it seems pretty clear here that God is commanding his prophet to deceive Saul.

Some verses are held up against the sort of interpretation I've been taking. Some cite the 10 commandments, one of which says not to bear false witness against your neighbor (Ex 20:16). That's no absolute prohibition on lying, though, just a command not to lie against your neighbor with false testimony in a court of law. Prov 12:17 is in the same category. Lev 19:11-12 says not to steal, deal falsely with each other, lie to each other, or swear by God's name falsely. Is it an absolute prohibition against lying? It clearly values truth. It does restrict it to "each other". That means it's a command within the camp of Israel to be honest with each other among the community of God's people. It doesn't say anything about they should relate to outsiders or to people of the camp who are "cut off" for high-handed sins or how people not in Israel should act (though Eph 4:25 gives a parallel principle for those within God's new covenant people). Four proverbs discuss the virtue of honest (16:28, 30; 17:20; 24:26). This is talking about an overarching character trait, not whether any given lie is wrong no matter the circumstances. Proverbs are by nature not case law but general principles. People who tend to do X tend to be like Y. These are no different. Honesty is definitely a good character trait. That doesn't mean there aren't occasional circumstances when it's not wrong to lie.

In II Cor 4:2, Paul says that in preaching the gospel to the Corinthians he didn't practice cunning or deceit. Well, of course, in preaching the gospel we wouldn't want to mislead anyone. The truth is a major theme in John. John 3:21 talks about doing what is true, i.e. doing what is truly of God. It begs the question to assume that that requires never deceiving evildoers. John 8:32 speaks of those who know the truth about Jesus and its setting them free. That's fairly irrelevant. John 8:44 says the devil always lies and is the father of lies. It doesn't say that leaving your light on when you're not home is wrong. Nor does it say that misleading someone doing the devil's work is wrong.

Are there other passages? There probably are, but they probably don't go much beyond what's already here. Honesty is a virtuous character trait, one worth pursuing. In ordinary circumstances, one should always be truthful. Being transformed into the image of Christ with a new nature will lead to being truthful. That all seems consistent with there being some moral dilemmas when moral principles or virtues conflict. Perhaps one is more important than the other and simply trumps it. Perhaps there's just a sense of a lesser of two evils, and you have to do something wrong either way. Perhaps it's just that these principles are context-dependent. In most contexts, being honest is the best policy. In a few, it's not. However you choose to resolve moral dilemmas, I think it's obvious that they're there.

A parallel example is the case of just war. In a fallen world, there is sometimes a need for war or violence. Self-defense, protection of others, and correcting injustice are all viewed by most people as good reasons to use limited violence, with certain restrictions and caveats. It's not ideal, but it's sometimes the best response to evil in the world. All I'm saying here is that telling the truth is something like not doing violence to other people. In rare and dire circumstances, it might be ok to deceive people, particularly when the people being deceived are trying to do pretty evil things and especially when they're trying to get you to do evil things.

Let's consider a couple examples to test out how this might go. A World Magazine post discusses a man who set up a fake abortion clinic to mislead women into thinking they could have an abortion and then keep putting them off until it was too late to have an abortion. Isn't this strangely like the Hebrew midwives? The difference is that the midwives were ordered to do the killing themselves and were lying about why it didn't happen so that they could keep doing it. This guy is lying to the people seeking to have help in doing something bad. He hadn't been asked to do it himself, so he's inserted himself in the situation. It's not clear that he has the place to step in here and cause others to do what's right by deceiving them.

Compare with the case of lying to Nazis to save Jews or lying to a murderer to save a life. In both cases, one is asked for information that will aid in killing someone. In other words, if you're asked to be complicit in a murder through your words, you have no obligation to comply. In some cases, being silent would lead to complicity, so you have to say something. Deceiving through saying true but misleading things is still deceiving and is morally equivalent to lying anyway. So motivation and context seem to make a difference in whether lying is absolutely forbidden or whether it has some other moral status (lesser of two evils, excused, justified, etc.).

I wouldn't necessarily condone lying to protect oneself against those hwo persecute Christians, because Jesus said to expect persecution and not to resist persecutors. Still, some of the things people will do in missionary settings in closed countries is at best misleading, e.g. going as an engineer to a country where missionaries aren't allowed for the express purpose of being a missionary. Is that always wrong?

Clearly lying is wrong if it's to protect one's reputation, to hide some wrong one has done, or to get ahead in life, particularly when it smears someone else. Bill Clinton's lying under oath falls under this category, as does Nixon's. If Reagan did lie about Iran-Contra, that would have been here. Standard politics in an election year can easily fall under this category also, and people who work for both major candidates have done this, though I'm not sure the candidates themselves always realize that it's misleading.

What about exaggerating a threat when one believes it to be serious enough to be worth military action but not serious enough that a corrupt U.N. or partisan citizens of one's own country would accept an argument based purely on no exaggeration? I don't think Bush has deliberately misled anyone. I haven't seen any evidence of that. That may not be so of everyone in the administration, but I think he's innocent of that sort of charge. But what if it were true? I've heard many people compare Bill Clinton's little indiscretion about a private matter that's no one's business with Bush's leading our nation to war. If both had to do with lies, they say, then Bush's was clearly worse because it had worse consequences.

I just don't see this. Once you see the real motivations in each case, it makes little sense to compare them in that light. Saddam Hussein did have WMD programs and actual WMD that he could have given to terrorists, he did have contact with consideration of cooperation with terrorists, intelligence on these matters wasn't always good and thus falsehoods in his speeches may well have been from false information given to him, and he had moral concerns with allowing Saddam to continue all along, not just after the WMD argument failed. So if he was exaggerating anything to make the case a little stronger, it may well have been to overcome obstacles in those who don't receive what already is a good argument, perhaps because they are unwilling to due to corruption, as Tony Blair suspected all along and has now been shown true. So any exaggeration wasn't on a grand scale, and it was to heighten a case that already had a moral imperative.

If you disagree with me on that, you at least need to grant that it was that way in his mind. Lying in such circumstances may not be the most honorable policy, but it's certainly not as bad as lying to cover your posterior when you've betrayed your wife's trust and taken advantage of a young woman under your employ while serving in the highest position of power that can be abused in the United States. I believe there are clear degrees of how bad lying can be, and I think this is a fairly strong argument that Clinton's acknowledged lie was one of the worst sorts in terms of the character it shows, while the kind attributed to Bush (which I still doubt) is perhaps bad but in comparison much better due to what are likely much better motives, not at all selfish or even self-interested but for the sake of the Iraqi people and the safety of the entire nation he has a responsibility to protect. Only a true conspiracy theorist would assume the worst motives, but that's exactly what the anti-Bush crowd has done. If Bush really did lie, it's certainly not one of the worst kinds of lies. I don't think he did anyway. Those who had no problem with Clinton's lie have no business complaining about Bush and deceit, though.

I should say that Joe Missionary's post on this last month was some of my inspiration for thinking of this, and the World Magazine post was just a catalyst to getting it done given that yesterday was the 30th anniversary of Nixon's resignation. I'd wanted to do this a month ago, and Joe deserves credit for prompting this. Also, Keith Burgess Jackson raises some of the same questions here with slightly more detail on the philosophical views involved, no emphasis on the biblical arguments, and a more pointed application of these issues to the relevance of lying to whether the war was justified.

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19 Comments


Mr. Mendacious,
I have not finished reading the full article yet, but wanted to add the following for now, and will finish reading this later on.

I pulled the Jews in the basement line at InterVarsity once, and someone came back to me with a "Ah ... but there other christians who when confronted by the Nazis, felt that they could not lie, and so turned in the Jews, and prayed like hell. Later on mysterious things happened, like the trains that were carrying the Jews, having problems, and those very same jews escaping and such..."

I have not been able to verify this story as yet however.

Ok. Nuff said for now,
Raj

Wow, great post! You took my little scrawny post on lying and gave it a lot of good brawn and substance. Very thorough, and well-balanced.

(and I agree with you wholeheartedly!)

Yes, great post, Jeremy. I would only add to what you yourself said, that it may be that certain moral principles trump others. Perhaps lying to protect someone from harm is an example of loving others more than ourselves -- I'm willing to take the rap for the lie (if any) so as to save the life of the Jew in the basement. And, so as not to be a party in the death of another person, I may lie to my captors (as a prisoner of war) to protect my brother soldiers. If loving our neighbor is the second-greatest of the commandments, lies to protect others may be justified, and the Hebrew mid-wives exemplify that principle.

Lies to protect our reputations and for other self-serving reasons are always a sin (or at least, I'm not able to think of a situation to justify such lies). Unfortunately, these are the lies we are most often tempted towards. Thanks for the good writing.

On a related note, I just wrote my history of philosophy comprehensive exam today. One of the question I had to study was "How does Kant derive the universal law from the concept of the CI itself"? I still don't know the right answer, despite having read several commentaries. I know the CI is supposed to be synthetic a priori (it connects the concept of a rational being with the concept of obligation, the latter of which is not implied by the former) and that being autonomous is supposed to be the synthesis, but beyond that I'm lost. I don't see how you can derive content from form.

Ok. Here is something I cooked up over dinner last night. I have some notes on this, back home in Syracuse ... but I'm now in Atlanta, so I cant refer to them. This is just a rough sketch.

Also, I've gone a little further in reading your article, but have not finished as yet.

Here goes ... scratchwork ...

(A1) God and chance cannot coexist.
(A2) God exists.
(A3) Therefore, chance does not exist.

[Background: i.e. ... no such thing as chance. What we experience as chance in our lives is just something on a phenemonological level ... kinda like putting a stick in the water and it appears broken.]

Types of dilemma's":
1. True dilemmas - A dilemma where we have to choose between two equal goods or two equal evils.
2. Near Dilemmas - A dilemma wherein we have to choose between a good(or evil) and another good(or evil), one of which is only very slightly better than the other. (It may be very very difficult to distinguish between the two).

True dilemma are idealized dilemmas - just something to help in our discussions. Think of the frictionless planes in Physics 101.

Contention: True dilemmas dont exist. Near dilemma's do. But are near dilemmas really dilemmas ?

Remember ... this is just scratchwork, so dont kill me for my errors.

Begin... Consider the perfect christian Joe Buridan. Buridan is faced with a choice where he has to choose between, two equal evils. He is in a truly in a dilemma.

(1) If a true dilemma exists, then Buridan would not be able to choose one way or the other.

(2) The only way that a choice on Buridan could come about, would be by way of chance.

(3) But we know that chance does not exist.

(4) Therefore true dilemmas do not exist.

Now ... I would work from here backwards to say that dilemmas do not exist. That there was a right thing to do with regards to Jews in the basement. Perhaps tell the truth. Also would reanalyze Rahab, and others ... etc...

Just some nascent thoughts.

God Bless,
Raj

This is basically the same problem Leibniz raises about God deciding between possible worlds. If God has to have a sufficient reason to choose one world or other, and God is perfectly good, then God will choose the best possible world to actualize. The biggest objection to Leibniz's argument is also a problem with yours, I think. It doesn't allow for non-moral reasons to allow a choice between two equally good or equally bad situations. Suppose there are two worlds that are better than all others, and God has decide which to actualize. In terms of moral goodness, neither is superior. Does God need a moral reason to pick one rather than the other? Leibniz's critics say no. God could just pick one.

When you apply it your case, it could be similar and maybe even less contentious. If both choices would be equally moral, the ideal Christian wouldn't care in moral terms, but that doesn't mean some other factor would affect the choice. Perhaps one is more aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps having had hamburgers for lunch rather than a taco salad inclined Joe's preferences slightly one direction. If they're morally equal, there's no reason to think that would lead an ideal agent to inaction, because there are other considerations someone can use to act on.

This comes up in the God and time literature. Some people think God can't be in time because that means God existed all along with nothing else and had to decide upon a time to create. But no time is better than any other, so God seems to have no reason to have created when he did rather than at some other time. Why not wait another 100 or 1000 years? Why not have done it a half minute earlier? Those who resist Leibniz's thinking will say that God could just pick a moment. There's no moral reason to pick one moment over any other, but that shouldn't stop God from just picking one. We always used to have to kill someone when playing Mafia, and we never had good reasons to pick anyone in particular on the first round, so someone would always say "We have to kill someone. It might as well be so-and-so."

See the battle at Jericho in the Old Testament. A prostitute named Rahab lied to protect the two Israelite spies who were sent to gather information. At the end of the day (or week), hers was the only portion of the city wall that did NOT crumble when Joshua blew his trumpet. If lying had been completely unacceptable, then she would have perished too. Not only that, but the spies would have been culpable since they did not raise moral objections to her lying.

People who don't accept my conclusion think Rahab was wrong to lie but was rewarded for saving the spies anyway, since that took faith in the God of Israel. I think the NT discussions treat her whole behavior in this situation as good, though.

The spies didn't tell her to lie, but they did tell her to deceive, which I think amounts to the same thing, but most people who disagree with me on this want to draw a moral line between saying something false and merely communicating something false by saying something that's literally true but deliberately misleading.

Is it OK to lie so you can do a biblical worldview test??

See my blog for my true confession.....

Have you read 'Anatomy of a Lie' by Diane Komp? It addresses this issue. I found it thought-provoking...

I haven't read it. This is the first I've heard of it, actually. The title sounds somewhat familiar, but maybe it's just because it's reminiscent of other titles I've heard before. Is it a book that discusses the issue as an issue, or is it a novel that raises questions like this?

WWJD?

I find it hard to believe that Jesus lied. But then again, what do *I* know.

He definitely deceived people. He spoke in parables so some people wouldn't understand, lest they believe. At least that's what he said. Of course, if you don't think he was telling the truth when he said that...

I'm not sure why WWJD is supposed to be such a good motto to follow. There are many things Jesus had a right to do that we better not do. WWJD is therefore blasphemous. There are other things that Jesus couldn't do in his earthly ministry because of its very nature that he commands us to do. WWJD is therefore an excuse not to do things that Jesus specifically left for us.

Now if you can find a place in the gospels where Jesus is faced with a situation like the few where I said it would be right to lie, and it's not something his miraculous abilities would allow him to deal with differently, then maybe I'll concede that the example of Jesus is relevant. Since I don't see him encountering such situations in the gospels, we can't very well know what he would have done. As it stands, the only examples of righteous lies in the Bible are not Jesus' lies, because he wasn't faced with those situations. Rahab and the Hebrew midwives were, and they were rewarded for their righteous responses.

I realize I've entered into the discussion long after it is over, but...

In 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, Paul wrote:
11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Paul insists that God deludes people into believing what is false. To me that sounds a lot like lying. I have tried to look at all the passages in the Bible related to lying with this question in mind: "Does God universally condemn lying?" I have come to the conclusion that he has not, but I think it also pretty clear that lying is always wrong under certain conditions.

Lying is always wrong when it is a betrayal of trust, e.g. when Peter lied about whether he knew Jesus.

Lying is always wrong when the advantage to me is at the expense of someone else.

Lying is laways wrong when it is a mischaraterization of God or his message, e.g. false prophets.

Lying is always wrong when it is a characteristic of our life.

Lying is always wrong when there is a societal and moral expectation of truth, e.g. in a court of law.

Lying is always wrong when to do so would pervert justice.

Perhaps there are a few more, but a universal condemnation of lying, I don't see it. But then again, maybe I have been deceived.

Jeremy-dude,
A comment someone made up here has brought the issue back for me.

What I am trying to understand is if chance is sandwiched between a dilemma. I will think this through tonight. If you have any comments ...

Also, Buridan Ass - is it a counterarg to lib fw?

Sheesh, I miss not being in syr where I can ask these questions without having to type things out.

As regards God & Liebditz, suppose we deliberately do not allow for non-moral reasons then what ? Does this make the situation unrealistic ? Is God then stuck such that He cannot choose ?

Here is how the issue came back to me?

This missionary girl was mentioning to me the fact that in a 3rd world country where she worked, when some X came to the faith, the missions team would have to make a call as of how far they could go in order to support the person financially. Funds were very strained and limited.

The thing is when people come to Christ, it is not unusual for them to get kicked out of home by their family, and for all of their other support to be taken away.

However how far can the missions team go in funding a person who comes to a knowledge of Christ? The missions team themselves might be under financial stress. So what do they do?

Do they support the person and be further strapped themselves or do they say "we can fund you x amount and that is it." - knowing that x is not enough for the person.

Again, my idealistic situation is that such situations cannot happen. God provides. There must be something being overlooked or something amiss in the situation, etc. Am I being too idealistic ?

- Raj

2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 does not say that God lies, but only deludes those who love unrighteousness, so they will believe the lie.... and be damned. In other words, God is saying "Have it your way and now enjoy the fruits of your iniquity."

In the same way God also hardened Pharoah's heart. Early Christians asked Paul why, if God loves all men, would He harden Pharoah's heart and condemn him? Paul said that God, as the Creator could break whatever He creates. That I agree with, but the truth is probably that God saw Pharoah's unwillingness to obey..... so God broke him.

As a police officer I definitely see the benefit of some lying. Undercover cops lie to catch all kinds of criminals including drug dealers, murderers, and child molesters. On patrol we routinely lie to deescalate a situation to prevent a violent incident all the time also. I've never took that as sinning or feel remotely guilty about this.

I stumbled upon this site researching to read others opinions on missionary lying.... and have found my intellect stretched with philosophical ideas that have never once crossed my mind.
If God is truth, and in him there is found no falsehood, and we are called to be like him, we are called to be truth. Therefore we must strive for truth.
Should we lie to bring people the gospel? (ie China and other closed boders) if the greater good is the gospel of christ, than the lie would be justified, but the gospel of truth was compromised by a lie, destroying the integrity of our Gospel.
the standards of the Bible far outweigh the communists, but what is our moral obligation to the word of God?

re: Rahab: she was unregenerate until after joining the israelites (after her room was spared at the destruction of jericho). Her lie was justified under her current moral code: would not the same argument be put forth that its ok to be a prostitute as Rahab was a prostitute? of course not! Were the spies right in asking her to lie? i do not know, their fear in the situation may have swayed them, we do not know that God had asked them to lie, we just see that they do. But her fear of God rooted her faith, which is praised later on in the NT. the lie was not righteous, but God's sovereignty worked no matter what (and note that i think things would have turned out the way they did even if the spies had asked her not to lie concerning her hiding them)

re: is deception a lie?
i read an article that suggested men taking Websters definition to replace Gods definition of what a lie really is. If our goal is to deceive another, than i would argue that it is wrong. I cannot in clear consious deceive another and pretend like i haven't, that would be a lie. what about not telling the whole truth? are we seeking the confrontation or defending it? if a killer asks which way someone went we are not called to give an answer, but we are called to trust the soverignty of God. Our silence may give the runner a chance to escape! Should we lie/deceive? would the murderer kill us if he found out that we did? at which point is the moral descision ours to make? lie and send him the wrong way and than wonder why he comes back angry at me for lying to him?

re: Jews in the basement
are we preserving life, fighting injustice, or lying to the Nazi's? I respect many jewish people, but i believe that in that situation i would house Jews under the pretense that they know i am Christian, the gospel will be presented loud and clear. They will have as much time as they are under my care to wrestle and repent, at which point i will prepare them that i am not willing to lie should they be discovered, but would be willing to tell the truth that i am not housing Jews, b/c those who are my guests are in fact born again believers for accepting Christ as their savior. On judgement day those who have not accepted Christ will be eternally seperated from God, no second chances, and the Jews (post crucifixion) are held in that same camp as the muslims and atheists and agnostics who refuse Christ as their savior. the nazi's have no right to kill, but i have moral obligation to preach the gospel and not to lie, and must follow through with both in re: to the Jews seeking refuge.

if any are still watching this site, these are the two questions plaguing my mind:
1. Is it wrong to lie given a greater good? (chinese guard 'are there bibles in that suitcase' undercover missionary 1. deception/half truth 2. 'no, there aren't')
2. What about declaring on visa's? Stretching of the truth (pastor declaring 'teacher' as proffession) or lie (Missionary declaring 'nurse' or 'architect' when true aim is Gospel)
I believe that legitimate business overseas and exemplifying christ to 'natives' to be sound practice, but i cannot justify short selling a service (the locals charge $10 for a fee, you as a missionary charge $3.50 so as to gain more people and ruin the economy [however small the scale] because you are supported by american churches and not by your business) or flat out lying.
do we need to be more of the practice of stepping out in faith? (re: the jews escaping on the train afterwards due to miraculous circumstances) Or should we deliberatly deceive and repent later? (should we go on sinning that grace may increase?)

What about the clearer case of Samuel lying to Jesse to protect David and Jesse from Saul's anger? Since God commanded Samuel to lie, it's kind of hard to dismiss it as Samuel acting out of a character contrary to God's. It's a direct command.

So something must be wrong with the claim that lying must always be wrong because God doesn't lie. God commands lies. It must be ok to command lies, then. The only time lying is ever condemned in the Bible is when the heart attitude behind most lying is condemned or when lying is prohibited in special circumstances (e.g. in court against someone who is innocent, to another member of the covenant community, etc.).

You can come up with cases where silence is a non-answer, but there are cases where silence is an answer, and you've already either lied or told the truth by being silent. Those are the ones that can't be gotten around. "Are you hiding Jews here?" is one such question. Not answering is tantamount to answering positively.

As to your questions:

1. It depends on the greater good. If someone's life is at stake, there's clearly biblical precedent. If it means losing an opportunity to get Bibles in, I'm not as sure that's the same kind of situation. My thesis is merely that lying is sometimes morally ok, not that any case people try to justify it for higher purposes is ok.

2. Profession is what you intend to do in the country to earn pay. I don't see that as a problem. They want to know what you're planning to do occupationally. Tell them what you will do. If that's teaching English, then that's what you get the visa for. Normally you'd be with a company that is indeed paying you to do that very thing. Your purpose for wanting to go there and the thing you'll be spending most of your time getting paid to do aren't necessarily the same thing.

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