I’m a Liar
Coming from a conservative, Christian background, I can cite a number of places where we’re commanded not to lie. But I still prevaricate.
My defense is that sometimes lying is an act of kindness or wisdom. And I have biblical precedents. When David fled from King Saul, he asked the high priest for food, saying he was on an urgent journey for the king. (See 1 Samuel 21.) In that same chapter David pretended to go crazy to save his life and those of his men. Later he lied to Achish, claiming to be Israel’s enemy.
Recently, my friend David Morgan helped me by using the word motive. Why do I lie? To gain an advantage? If I want to sell my house and know there’s a serious problem but say everything is fine, I’m lying and taking advantage of someone else. Clearly wrong.
Sometimes we speak truthfully and injure sensitive individuals. Or we lie to encourage and comfort them. So what if my lie comes from not wanting to hurt a person’s feelings? Some would say, “He needs to hear the truth.”
But what if I want to encourage or support individuals? For instance, a friend gave her first public lecture. Afterward she asked, “How did I do?”
“You were barely tolerable,” I could have said. Instead my words were, “You did well.”
When my friend David spoke about motive, I thought of an incident near the end of my first year in Kenya. I wasn’t afraid of making mistakes, and I spoke the Luo language within three months. Shirley, being cautious, took nearly a year to become fluent.
One day, Rosalie said to her. “You speak excellent Luo.”
Later I confronted Rosalie. “My wife speaks bad Luo.”
“That is so.”
“You lied. Do you know what happens to people who tell lies?”
“Yes, sir,” she said. “They go to heaven because they make people happy.”
Simplistic theology, but her motive was right.