July 15, 2015

Is it ever okay to lie?

1 Samuel 26:1–27:12, 1 Peter 2:1–12, Psalm 128:1–129:8

In an episode of “Madam Secretary” the fictional Secretary of State was accused of sharing confidential information with her husband and thereby committing treason. The President gave her a waiver so she didn’t have to appear before her accusers and incriminate herself. However, they subpoenaed her husband. This put him between telling the truth and not violating his own standards, or lying to protect his wife.

The information she discussed with her husband linked to the success of life-saving political action. The Secretary determined truth was more important than her job, or even going to jail. She walked into the hearing without being called, and frankly told them what happened. The committee decided to take a charge of treason against her to the Department of Justice. The DOJ decided that sharing this information with her her spouse was a special circumstance and a justifiable action. They dropped the charges.

I am not an expert in American law. Also, truth is vital. This fiction television show has me thinking about justifiable lies. Are there such things? Israel’s David, before becoming king, lied about some things, yet he had an attitude toward God that most liars do not have.

In today’s reading, his attitude toward God comes out. Saul is still out to kill him and takes 3000 men and camps near David’s location. While Saul is asleep, David and one of his men creep into the camp. The soldier says to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.”

But David replied, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.” (1 Samuel 26:8–11)

When Saul wakes up, David is standing at a safe distance and calls to him, “Why does my lord pursue after his servant? For what have I done? What evil is on my hands? Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the Lord who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering, but if it is men, may they be cursed before the Lord, for they have driven me out this day that I should have no share in the heritage of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’” (1 Samuel 26:18–19)

David shows his respect for Saul’s authority because he respects the authority of God. He tells Saul, “The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.” (1 Samuel 26:23–24)

Then David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand.” (1 Samuel 27:1)

In this situation, David lied to the leader of the Philistines, pretending to be his supporter. He and his men began raiding the enemies of Israel, but he told the Philistine leader that he was attacking the people of Israel . . . “And Achish trusted David, thinking, ‘He has made himself an utter stench to his people Israel; therefore he shall always be my servant.’” (1 Samuel 27:10–12)

Was that a justifiable lie? Was he doing this because he trusted God to use this for good? The answer is not clear. During the Second World War, Christians lied to protect the Jews. Some refused to lie and because of it, people were captured and killed. What pleased God the most? These are hard questions.

The NT is much clearer. “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander . . .  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:1, 12)

Even the psalmist says, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!” (Psalm 128:1)

Actually, Satan is the liar. He does it to kill and destroy. David lied to protect himself and to advance the nation of Israel. The fictional Secretary of State told the truth and gained respect for it. Underlying their actions are their motives. Were they honorable? Justifable?

Motives are tough to discern, even my own. I also know how deceitful the human heart can be. My tentative conclusion is that it is better to tell the truth and trust God with the consequences than to deliberately lie and assume that He will make everything work out right, but then again, my life isn’t at stake in hypothetical situations.

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