By Gary D. Robinson
In a comic book story titled, “Superman’s Day of Truth,” the Man of Steel spends the day telling the truth—no matter how rude and blunt. For example, he holds a child who’s cheerfully bonking him on the head with a toy. A matron gushes, “What do you think of our little darlings?” The annoyed Superman replies that these are the most misbehaved brats he’s ever seen. Meanwhile, Supergirl is sampling the cooking of her fan club. They’re eager to know how she likes it. She tells them it tastes awful. The girls cry, streaking their S-blouses with their tears.
There’s a reason for this startling candor. Long ago on distant Krypton, the people had been enslaved by a cruel race of conquerors. For years they endured the lash, even pretending to like serving their taskmasters so as not to incur greater wrath. Then, one fateful day, a youthful, truthful rebel named Val-Lor stood up in defiance.
“Who are you, stripling? Why do you not smile like the others? Are you not happy to serve us?”
“I will not lie! I hate and despise you! I wish you were all dead.”
Val-Lor was quickly martyred, but his courage inspired his people to fight back and win their freedom. Ever since then, we’re told, all Kryptonians commemorate this event by devoting a full day to telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
The Trouble with Lies
What if, for one day, each of us was required to speak nothing but the truth? My guess is, a lot of us would unplug our computers, shut off our cell phones, and head for the deepest woods—those of us who could get the day off, that is. The rest of us couldn’t simply call in sick at work because that would be a lie. I’ve no idea how this would be enforced, of course, which makes it a nice, safe fantasy to entertain. But what would happen if we had to tell the truth—the truth we twist, the truth we embellish, the truth we fail to speak?
For ancient Israel, lying carried serious consequences. The ninth of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:16) is a prohibition against giving false testimony. The scene is the law court, the drama a capital crime. In his commentary on Exodus, R. Alan Cole says that, in this simple desert society, nearly all crimes were capital charges. One who bore false testimony would be guilty of an innocent man’s blood. To guard against such an occurrence, therefore, the witness would also be the executioner—so he’d think twice about his testimony!
We might be tempted to think that, since “bearing false witness” is a particular type of lying and there’s only one such command in the Ten Commandments, other kinds of lying are okay. That’s a bit like thinking premarital sex is okay so long as it doesn’t lead to pregnancy. The root of the ninth commandment is falsehood itself. If we need more proof that God hates lying, the Bible is replete with prohibitions and warnings. Here are a few:
Leviticus 19:11: “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.”
Proverbs 6:16-19: “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”
Colossians 3:9: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.”
From flattery to perjury, hypocrisy to conspiracy, the Bible condemns all forms of dishonesty. Why? Here are two reasons:
Lying weakens relationships. I heard a story about a man who spread lies about his minister, ruining his reputation. Eventually, the liar was convicted of his sin. To show his repentance, he asked how he could make it right. The minister told him to get some feather pillows and rip them open. Then he must place one feather on every porch in their community. It seemed strange, but the man did what he was told. Then he went back to the preacher and said he was done. But the minister told him, “No, you’re not. You have to go pick up all the feathers.”
“But I can’t,” said the man. “The wind has taken them who knows where!”
The minister replied, “So it is with the words you have spoken about me.”
The bond that unites married couples, neighbors, citizens, and church members is as simple as it is fragile. It’s called trust. When trust is broken, relationships soon disintegrate. Examples, unfortunately, abound. When a minister’s secret sin is discovered, it may take years for a church to recover. When a man verbally grants free access to his property, then turns around and builds a fence without informing his neighbor, resentment festers. When politicians can’t open their mouths without lying, fewer and fewer citizens vote. Like feathers scattered in the wind, the effects of dishonesty are far reaching. It’s a truth as plain as it is profound: lies tear at the very fabric of society.
Lying injures the soul. It’s hard to say which is more terrible to contemplate—the crippling effect of falsehood on relationships or its corrosive effect on human personality. Because hypocrisy is so widespread, we invariably give it a pass. We never stop to consider what it does to the hypocrite.
In Robert Louis Stevenson’s bleak tale, Dr. Henry Jekyll turns himself into the savage Edward Hyde. Aided by a potion of his own making, he lives two lives, saintly doctor by day, depraved maniac by night. For a while, Jekyll has control over the transformation. Then, one awful morning, he awakes as Hyde. Frightened, Jekyll resolves to quit using the potion. But he no longer has control over the change; his double-life has caught up with him. He dies by his own hand under the fearful mask of Hyde.
One can hide beneath a mask only so long. The makeup becomes harder to wipe off; the mask begins to mold the face beneath. The real danger in lying isn’t that the liar will be found out. It’s that, with time, his soul will wither in the acid of deceit. If that terrible thing should happen, what is there left for this dried husk of a personality but to be burned up?
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8, italics added).
Honesty is the doorway to the house of virtues. If we can’t be honest, how can we go on to be wise or courageous? How can we be people of faith, hope, and love?
In the Superman story mentioned above, a young man led a resistance movement based on telling the truth. With society sinking in falsehood, it’s time to defy our captor. Who will lead the way if not those who follow the way, the truth, and the life?
Gary D. Robinson is a freelance writer in Xenia, Ohio.
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