Recently I witnessed an interaction that I found quite disturbing.
An adult caregiver was speaking to a young child. The caregiver had said something that was incorrect, and was acknowledging this to the child. But instead of simply saying “Sorry, honey, I was wrong”, the adult said “I lied”.
This is one of the sayings that has crept into contemporary speech from television. “I lied” is a truthful statement if you have actually intentionally deceived another person. But if you have simply made a mistake, saying you lied is actually confusing the issue. Mistakes are simply part of being human. Lies are something else entirely. When we lie to someone, we have intentionally deceived them. Telling a child that you lied to them when you only made a mistake is deeply confusing because young children innately want to be able to trust the adults in their lives.
Most people of my generation were taught by parents, school and church that it was important to tell the truth. This basic moral principle comes from the Ten Commandments, and although it is far less widely understood or accepted in contemporary society than it once was, it is still a foundation stone of our culture. Cheating on exams, lying in court, being unfaithful to a spouse – these are all still widely understood to be wrong. But God’s word tells us that it’s not just the outward action that matters. In fact, what matters even more than the outward action is the intent of the heart. So, you can unintentionally mislead someone (like the adult caregiver in my example above) and you haven’t lied. You simply made a mistake, which you may deeply regret, but your intent was not to harm. Lies are something else entirely. They are expressions of a deceptive intent, and they are incompatible with the character of God who cannot lie.
When I was growing up, I remember distinctly a day when my mother spoke to me about my father. I was probably about ten or eleven years old at the time. This incident stood out to me. What she told me – with considerable emotion – was that my father was a man who would always tell the truth. His word could be relied upon. Deception was simply not part of his character.
I don’t remember what prompted her to make this assertion, but I do remember that her words made a deep impression on me. It was clear to me that she was completely confident that my Dad would never lie to her, that he was a man of integrity who could always be relied upon to speak and act truthfully.
I am very grateful for this example. Although my parents weren’t especially devout, this core principle of Biblical values was imprinted in my heart and mind by the way they lived. I learned early on that being a truthful person is of great importance.
Despite this example, I can’t claim that I have never lied. I remember several occasions when fear of consequences prompted me to say something untruthful. But I knew immediately that my untruthfulness was wrong, I was deeply ashamed of it, and once I learned to take my sins to Jesus for cleansing, I knew what to do about it.
When King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then later confessed his sin after being confronted by the prophet Nathan, he uttered these memorable words, expressing his awareness of the character that is pleasing to a holy God:
He then went on to plead with the Lord for cleansing.
Like David, if we say we love God, one of the things that we need to fervently ask Him to impart to us is a truthful heart. This was the essence of David’s prayer in Psalm 51. He was asking God to change his heart and make him into a man of truth. He knew the character of God and he knew that his own heart had been exposed as unclean. He desired cleanness in his innermost being. David knew that truthful speech and truthful behaviour arise from a truthful heart. He knew that only God could transform his heart and make him into a man of truth.
What about you? What about me?