Saturday, June 6, 2015

White Lies

There are a great many sins that keep us from God.  Some are easier than others to avoid.  It's relatively easy not to commit murder or adultery.  Those things usually don't happen without a great deal of planning and preparation, which gives one time to reflect and prevent it from happening.

But there are other sins that seem to come more easily, at least to me.  Lying is one of these. I think I'm a fairly honest person.  But I'm prone to "white lies" on a pretty regular basis.  It may be telling one of my children that something they did was impressive, when maybe I was not really impressed.  It could be using a fake name or email address on a web account so that I don't get hammered with marketing from that company.

I probably also tell worse and more self-serving lies from time to time.  I don't want readers to think a "white lie" is the worst thing I've ever done, far from it.  But white lies are what I want to focus on here since we sometimes consider them not a big deal, or even a good thing to spare the feelings of others.

Many times we might be condemned for being brutally honest.  If we tell someone that what they are doing is sinful, we are told not to be judgmental.  There is a point here.  A critical comment, especially to someone we do not know very well and with whom we do not already have a close relationship can often divide us from that person and prevent us from developing the loving interpersonal relationships that I believe God calls us to have with others.  It has taken me a long time, and probably still an ongoing process, for me to know when it is appropriate to offer my honest opinion and when to remain silent.  But what I try very hard not to do is to say something I don't believe just because it is what I know that person wants to hear.

White lies are convenient in the short term but can cause longer term problems.  I knew a person who went to have dinner at his girlfriend's family home for the first time.  The mother served lamb and he raved about how wonderful it was.  In later visits, the mother continued to serve lamb because of how much he enjoyed it.  The problem is, he hated lamb but was trying to be polite.  Eventually he had to break down and confess or be subject to continued lamb dinners.

Now in writing that last paragraph, I just told you a lie.  I did not intend to lie as I wrote it, but I did for convenience sake.  I almost deleted the paragraph, but decided to leave it as is and discuss what I had just done.  I didn't know any such person.  This is a story my stepfather once told me about someone he said he knew.  I \made it a person I knew myself just to save an extra few words in the sentence.  That is how easy it is to be dishonest.

Now why does that matter?  Who cares if I really knew this person or not?  The problem goes back to the initial point I was going to make with the lamb story.  At some point, when the truth comes out, it creates separation between people.  That mother will never know if that person ever really liked something she made at a later time, or whether he was just saying so to be polite again. If he ever complemented her on anything else, she could never be certain of his true feelings.  A point of division, perhaps a minor one, but still a division, has been created between these two people.

I recently read the book The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, a woman who participated in the Dutch resistance during WWII.  The story was impressive for many reasons, but the point at hand was how I was struck by her struggle to lie to the Nazis about her work hiding Jews.  Most of us would not even think twice about such lies.  Telling a lie versus letting innocent people be killed seems like a no-brainer.  But this something they had to struggle with.  Eventually they decided they would lie (and had to practice at it) but the fact that they even had to struggle with the idea of doing even a minor wrong in the face of such great evil impressed me.

The mere existence of lies increases division among people.  It creates distrust.  It sows division and doubt.  A lie, even to be kind or for noble reasons, makes the hearer unable to accept your word as an honest expression of your views.  It forces them to question whether you are expressing yourself honestly or just trying to be kind.  That division between people limits our ability to come together in true fellowship.

There are often good rationalizations about why it is right to lie.  Clearly the lies told by Ms. Ten Boom and others in the Dutch resistance to prevent murder and suffering make a good case.  It would have felt rather self indulgent for them to tell the Nazis the truth and allow other innocent victims to suffer the consequences.

I cannot say I would not lie in a similar situation.  I probably do lie for much more selfish or lazy reasons.  But that does not make it right.  It simply means that we who live in a sinful world "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23.  We don't always know the right thing to do in every situation.  I certainly don't have all the answers.  But I do see the danger in rationalizing such actions and not seeing that there is harm in them.

We should strive to be open and honest with each other, even if we do not always live up to that ideal It is why Jesus told us:  "Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil." Matthew 5:37.