Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Matthew 5:27-32; Acts 5:27-42; Psalm 11; Genesis 25-26
Sometimes it seems that a little ‘white’ lie is needed. ‘Look how much hassle it’ll avoid,’ we say to ourselves. ‘What harm could it cause?’ When asked if we can get something done, we say ‘Of course,’ knowing full well there is no way we can add anything else to our schedules. A white lie seems better than causing disappointment. When a friend asks us how we are doing, it may seem better to say we’re fine than to open up about how we are really feeling. A half-truth isn’t really a lie, or is it?
Isaac arrived in the land of the Philistines and became afraid for his life (Genesis 26). If the locals found out that the beautiful Rebekah was his wife, he was afraid they would kill him and take her. Better to tell a little lie, that she was his sister.
Once again, a pagan king is used to confront a follower of God with the error of his ways. The ‘little lie’ turns out to have much more serious consequences than Isaac first thought. The Philistine code of ethics prohibited taking a man’s wife, though not a single woman. They might have acted upon the lie, and brought guilt upon themselves. The point here is not how the Philistines viewed women, but how Isaac viewed the truth.
We see that the consequences of a ‘little lie’ might turn out to be much worse than we imagined. That is a general problem with utilitarian calculations. Our failure to acknowledge that our schedule is already overbooked may deny someone the time to find someone else to do the task. Our failure to be honest may deprive our friends of the opportunity to let God use them in our lives. The white lie may lead to a little bigger one and then a bigger one. We might even pass on the habit to our children. First Abraham (Genesis 12; 20), then Isaac, and we’ll see that Jacob, his son, becomes a master of deceit.
But there is another issue. Our God is a God of truth, and we are called to worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:23). Lying is not wrong just because it leads to bad consequences. It is wrong because it goes against the character of God and violates the trust required in relationships. Certainly, situations may arise where a lie is the lesser of two evils. The Hebrew midwives (Exodus 1:15-22) and Rahab (Joshua 2:1-6) lied to save people’s lives. Hard cases make bad laws. These are rare exceptions that reinforce the general importance of promoting truth throughout our lives.