By David Hegg
Here is an interesting ethical question that will tell you a lot about your own view of truth telling. Which bothers you more: being lied to? or telling a lie?
Have you noticed how lying has become almost an acceptable daily practice in our world? Recently, the news has been filled with stories about everyone from highly placed national leaders to local dignitaries and journalists having to admit they intentionally told what they knew was a lie.
Criminals lie about their crimes. Spouses lie about their unfaithfulness, and all the things that lead up to it. Pundits lie, politicians lie, clergymen lie, witnesses lie, reporters lie, teachers lie, salesmen lie, and even friends will lie. Apparently lying isn’t just for kids anymore. Now deceit is often seen as one more weapon in the arsenal used by those driven to win at all cost. Consequently, we’ve come to the place where a lie just doesn’t seem so bad.
Yet, there is a certain irony to all this. While we are becoming a nation of liars, we are incensed, shocked, angered and devastated when someone lies to us. How dare they! Just think back to the last time you were lied to, and then to the last time you lied. Which one hurt you more? It is a monumental shift in our societal ethic that, while we are so easily incensed when we learn we’ve been lied to, we are so quick to tell a lie if we feel the situation warrants it. We’re becoming ethical schizophrenics when it comes to the value of truth.
But the fact is, things really haven’t changed when it comes to right and wrong. The truth about truth hasn’t evolved to the place where the line between honesty and deceit no longer exists. The proof is the anger we feel when lied to. Intrinsically we understand that truth must be preserved. The desire for truth has come pre-installed on our human hard drive, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t jettison that app. The problem comes when our pride, greed and selfishness rise up to war against our innate preference for truth. At that point we may think lying is better. Maybe it’s time to recover the fact that valuing truth no matter the cost is essential to our health as individuals, as families, and as a society.
With only a few crazy exceptions, every society known to man has been built on the expectation that its people will tell the truth. Those who are given to lying are considered wicked and hurtful to society. Lies tear down while truth builds up.
The Bible confirms this. The Psalmist says, “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies” … “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight.”
In the biblical book of Proverbs we learn there are seven things God hates, and are an abomination to him. Two of them are “a lying tongue” and “a false witness who breathes out lies.”
If we asked why lying has always been considered wrong, even wicked, the answer is clear: Every human relationship and endeavor relies on the mutually held presupposed belief that truth will be told and lies forbidden.
Usually I’m not much of a pessimist, but it sure seems like society is rotting at its core. We hear more and more about love, peace, honesty and honor, yet see less and less of it. We hear more and more speeches, platitudes, promises and excuses while having to bear up under more and more scandals, violence, betrayal and fraud. And while there are myriad complex reasons for the fact that our society is stumbling toward Gomorrah, one core problem is our utter disdain for the absolute nature and necessity of truth.
It ought to hurt us deeply to fudge the truth. It ought to pain us greatly to deceive intentionally. It ought to heap piles of regret on our souls when we realize we have so easily lied. It ought to offend our consciences and set off ethical flares in our hearts when we consider distorting the truth to those who have a moral right to know it. That’s what ought to happen.
I greatly fear we are losing the ability to distinguish right from wrong because we long ago lost our desire to speak the truth in every situation. Our pragmatism has compromised our ethics. And while the situation is growing worse, the remedy is simple.
Love the truth. Live the truth. Tell the truth.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.