Why do People Lie?

Question from a Site Viewer
Why do people lie?

Tim’s Answer
You ask why people lie. From the perspective of people, they may provide many reasons for why they lie. Children often will lie because they do not want to get into trouble. Adults often will lie for the same reason. People sometimes lie in an effort to protect other people. People sometimes lie because they want to hurt other people. Ultimately, we lie because it is something that we choose to do. At the moment we lie, we generally think that the lie will somehow benefit us, or someone else. It may help us avoid difficulty, or so we think. It may do damage to someone we think is our enemy. Nations lie to nations to seek an advantage over the other. Business people lie to business people to make more money. Sellers lie to buyers to try to unload some merchandise. Wives lie to husbands and husbands to wives. Lies are ubiquitous among humans.

The source of lies derives from Satan. Jesus said in John 8:44 that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. He lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:4). Those who follow Satan will lie.

In contrast, God is truth (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 31:5; Isaiah 65:16). Jesus said that He is the truth (John 14:6). Those who are of God should speak truth (Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9). The Apostle John tells us that no lie is of the truth (1 John 2:21). When we seek to serve God and to follow His Son Jesus Christ, we will seek to speak truth. This does not mean that everything that is true should be spoken. Sometimes it may be appropriate simply not to say anything rather than speak the truth. For instance, Scripture tells us that love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). Thus, if we see someone sin, we should not be inclined to tell the world about that sin. Rather, love would compel us to pray to God for that person and treat that person as we would want to be treated if we were the one who sinned. Sometimes it takes wisdom to know when we should speak and when we should be silent. But I do not believe it is ever proper for a Christian to lie.

I know that some will disagree with me. They will use examples of those who hid the Jews during World War II from the Nazis. Did people do right in lying to the Nazis to protect the Jews? This is a question about which those motivated by love may have different answers. I do not write to condemn those who may disagree with my understanding of Scripture and the nature of God. And I respect the fact that sometimes people are faced with what seems to be a choice between truth and love. If that is the choice, I would always commend people to follow love, since love is the first and great command. But I suspect that there may be a third way in such situations that avoids lying and follows love. God is able to provide an escape in such situations if we seek His wisdom in these matters.

Having said that I believe we should always speak the truth, I want to clarify what I am saying. To speak the truth does not mean that it is our duty to correct people who misunderstand what we say. We may speak literal truth and understand that some will misinterpret what we have said. This happened to Jesus frequently. He spoke of tearing down the temple and it being raised in three days (John 2:19). Those around misunderstood what Jesus was saying and they thought he meant the physical building when Jesus was speaking of His own body (John 2:20-22). Jesus did not deem it the time to correct their misunderstanding. He spoke in parables so that some would not understand (Matthew 13:10-15). If we go through life thinking that we must always correct people’s misunderstanding of what we say, we will find that such is impossible. It is okay to speak sometimes in ways that those who are the intended recipients will understand and others will not. But I believe it is always our duty as Christians to speak truth.

Sometimes we may say things that we believe are true and later find out that they are not true. Though such statements are not true, I do not count them to be lies. Lies carry with them a moral turpitude, an intent to deceive or a deliberate disregard for truth. When we speak what we believe to be true and later find out that it is not true, we have erred but not necessarily lied. We as humans do not have the capacity to be certain about everything that we speak. And it would be an awkward conversation indeed if we included every possible contingency in our communication. Thus, if asked whether two plus two equals four, we do not say that if the theorems of mathematics are correct and if the necessary logical structure holds true, then yes, two plus two equals four. Rather, we will rightly answer “yes” to that question. Perhaps we may be wrong in some dimension or universe, but as far as we know here, two plus two always equals four. If we had to ensure that whatever we said was truth beyond any question, we probably could not say much to anyone. If someone asked us for the time of day, could we never reply because we could never be certain? Such is ridiculous. We can speak even though we do not have absolute certainty of a fact and not be guilty of lying.

Using another example, we often try to represent God. We do so with fear and trembling, knowing that the best we do will be in some sense inadequate, because we are people and God is God. We may make statements about God that we fully believe are true. Yet, they may or may not be true. Such statements are not lies. But someone else making the same statement may be lying because they do not intend to speak truth. Lying, at least as I understand the Biblical concept, requires an intent to deceive.

We, as God’s people, need to speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Our goal should be to say those things that build up one another, and that represent Christ well. We also need to pray to God for help to keep us from erring in that which we affirm. And we always need some humility to understand that we all see things somewhat darkly here on this earth. One day we will know things with more clarity. But, until that day, whether all of those around us lie or not, we want to be known as those who speak truth, with love, when we communicate with others.

I hope this helps. May the God of truth guide you into truth and into His Son, Jesus Christ.

a seeker of truth,

tim

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