Questions about “God’s Hatred of Lying”
I enjoyed Rev. Eriks’ recent article on lying (“God’s Hatred of Lying,” Standard Bearer, April 15, 2003). It is distressing that lying has become so prevalent in our society. I also especially appreciated the conclusion of the article on “speaking the truth in love.” Sometimes speaking the truth in a loving manner is actually more difficult than simply refraining from lying.
I do, however, have a few questions that I am hoping you can answer. Another passage of Scripture (in addition to the story of Rahab hiding the spies) that seems to suggest God approving of lying in certain cases is Exodus 1:19-21. Verse 19 details the lie that the midwives told Pharaoh, and verse 20 says, “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives.” How would you explain this passage?
Another instance with which I struggle to condemn lying would be with individuals who hid Jews during WWII and lied to the Nazi soldiers who came looking for them. Was it really a sin for these individuals to lie in order to save these Jews from almost certain death? I have also read about German soldiers who discovered Jews hiding in homes and yet lied to their commanding officers by telling them there were no Jews there (was that really wrong of them?).
Finally, it seems that certain occupations almost require lying. A spy would certainly have to lie or at least deceive in order to be successful. In fact, much of the intelligence the U.S. received in Iraq came from Iraqis who feigned loyalty to the regime of Saddam Hussein and yet funneled information to the United States. I also think about undercover police officers who assume false identities in order more effectively to fight crime.
The questions the correspondent raises focus on the question, “Does God really hate all lying? Or, are there any instances when we may lie?” In this connection, the reader asks about Exodus 1:19-21: does this passage provide an instance when God approves the lie? It is true that verse 19 records the lie of the midwives to Pharaoh, which is followed in verse 20 by “Therefore, God dealt well with the midwives….” But this does not necessarily mean that because the midwives lied God dealt well with the midwives. It is more likely that the Lord dealt well with the midwives because the midwives kept the children of Israel alive, which was disobedience to Pharaoh’s command. This meaning is supported by the last part of verse 20, “and the people multiplied and waxed very mighty.” God’s blessing upon Israel was that they grew numerically. This was not because the midwives lied, but because they saved the children alive. Therefore,Exodus 1:19-21 does not say that God approved the midwives’ lie. John Calvin, in his commentary on this passage, has this to say:
Some assert that this kind of lie, which they call “the lie officious, or serviceable,” is not reprehensible; because they think that there is no fault where no deceit for the purpose of injury is used. But I hold, that whatever is opposed to the nature of God is sinful; and on this ground all dissimulation, whether in word or deed, is condemned…. Wherefore both points must be admitted, that the two women lied, and, since lying is displeasing to God, that they sinned.
What John Calvin says applies to all lying, which brings us to the crux of the matter. Scripture teaches that God hates all lying. God hates lying because it is opposed to His nature.Deuteronomy 32:4 teaches that God is “a God of truth.” Satan is the father of the lie. Lying originates in Satan. Therefore God hates the lie, cannot lie, and only loves the truth. The clear testimony of Scripture is that God hates all lying. None of the passages speaking of God’s hatred of the lie provide any exception to the rule. Therefore, the problem that we face is not that Scripture is unclear. The difficulty we face is applying this truth to our lives.
This then must be applied to those individuals who lied to the Nazi soldiers to save Jews from almost certain death. It is easy for us, being removed from the situation, to look down on those who lied about hiding Jews and conclude that they sinned. Would I have done any differently? I don’t know. Maybe not. Our hearts go out to those who were so horribly imprisoned and killed in the Nazi concentration camps. To tell Nazi soldiers that Jews were hiding in my home, which would send them to a camp and maybe even death, would be extremely difficult to do. But we must apply God’s Word to the situations in which we find ourselves. God hates the lie. To lie is a sin. Therefore, to lie even for what may be a good motive is still sin. The ends do not justify the means. We must not look for exceptions to speaking the truth, but always we must speak the truth in love.
Finally, the occupation of being a spy was brought up in this connection. Being a spy would not necessarily require lying. Remember God commanded Israel to send out spies into the land of Canaan. To hide one’s identity to obtain information behind enemy lines would not necessarily require lying. Because of the lying to which spying might lead, it would be very difficult for a Christian to be a spy.
The struggle for us often is not whether or not we may lie, but what exactly is a lie? In some circumstances what or what is not a lie is not so easily determined. But we know that God sees and knows all things. He will judge the motives and the outward deeds of all men. So in regard to lying, we will let God judge and we will strive, in dependence on God’s grace and wisdom, to walk in His fear by speaking the truth in love always.