This past Sunday, we looked at Jesus’ moral teaching about taking oaths. The root of his teaching exposes our tendency to be dishonest. I used four categories to classify the reasons that we lie (Apathetic lies, Cowardly lies, Manipulative lies, and Malevolent lies). I also proposed that loving God and loving others is a formula that helps us determine when it is acceptable to lie (i.e. lying to protect Jews from Nazis). Using the categories and the formula from Sunday, I am going to raise specific, perhaps controversial, issues that will hopefully challenge us in areas where we simply assume our actions are justified.
First, let’s look at the Reflexive Lies: Apathetic and Cowardly. Have you ever been undercharged at the grocery store? What about receiving a ten-dollar bill instead of a one when receiving change? This type of lie is apathetic; the dishonesty is not in what you choose to do, but in what you choose not to do. By failing to correct the mistake, we violate the love formula by hurting a company (large or small—it doesn’t matter). If the error is great enough, the cashier (who likely gets paid minimum wage) will have to repay the deficit. This act reveals that our hearts are greedy for personal pleasure forsaking all who are injured in the process.
What if you accidentally broke something expensive while walking around a store? Would you pay for it, or would you move on like nothing happened? This type of lie is cowardly. We should be fully responsible for dealing with the damage, yet we slip away to leave the mess for someone else. This act reveals that our hearts’ first priority is the preservation of our image or resources
The second category consists of the Deliberate Lies: Manipulative and Malevolent. Some people will spin the truth and out right lie to trick people into behaving in a way that would not occur under the influence of the truth. Desperate parents will even do this as an attempt to corral their rowdy kids. Have you ever said, “If you don’t behave yourself, then Santa won’t bring you a present?” The mythological creature known as “Santa Claus” could also fit the previous category. We might be too worried about the consequences of having to confront other parents who are upset that their child’s fantasy as been exposed by our children. We could also just be too lazy to take the time to teach the truth and instead we just go with the cultural flow. I know not everyone will hold the same view that I do, but use this example to examine your own motivations for promoting the mythical Santa Claus.
Lastly, let us look at an example of a deliberate use of lies to hurt others. Most of us probably think that we are good and decent people. So we would naturally dismiss any connection with malevolence. However there are many ways we lie to intentionally hurt others. Do you gossip? Spread rumors? This simple action, that most of us commit, (even guys) can ruin relationships and destroy a person’s reputation. Clearly there is no love in this type of lying.
Hopefully this exercise has challenged you to think about lies in everyday life. Remember that the lines that I have drawn here are not universal or dogmatic. However, you should wrestle with these issues that were raised and examine your motivations, even for the disastrously devious deception of Santa Claus.