Long, long ago I read Fair Sunshine: Martyrs in the Early Scottish Church, which chronicles the martyrdom of 17th century Scottish believers; among whom was John Nisbet. When authorities promised to spare John’s life if he would deny his faith, he offered this bold response: “I would rather die than lie”. And, because he refused to lie, he was soon hanged for telling the truth.
Mr. Nisbet’s six words inspired me to cultivate (though too feebly and fallibly) a conscience that would rather die than lie, that would rather not sin than win, that would rather lose everything in this life than compromise anything in God’s Law. Though I have fallen short, I still do pursue. And I pray there will be more who join that pursuit.
Where are they today who have Nisbet-grade steel in their moral spines; an unbending truthfulness produced by love for the One who is Truth itself (John 14:6)? Where are they today who realize that when they lie—being “false to the truth”—they reflect the old self and a devilish/demonic nature (Colossians 3:9; John 8:44; James 3:14-15) rather than a Divine one (Hebrews 6:17-18)? Where are they today who realize that whenever they lie, they do incalculable harm to their relationships and to the cause of God and truth? In short: where are they today who would rather die than lie?
Hamilton, Tom, and Alexandria Said What?!?
My last post cited examples of Christian-spread social media false witness that have done reputational harm to cultural/political enemies. This is why such lies persist: to do harm. Alexander Hamilton once bemoaned the politics of his day by saying “no character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false.” People will assume—if a bad report circulates frequently enough “that a person so often accused cannot be entirely innocent” (Cited by Ron Chernov, Alexander Hamilton, p. 457). In politics and relationships, the Pinocchio-syndrome is anything but child’s play. Lies repeated, and in our day sent viral will be believed, and harm will be done.
This week, Tom Brady—who some see as an ignorant right-ward inclined ally of President Trump—allegedly told his new team that he would quit if any of them knelt during the national anthem. But he never said any such thing. These fake comments were posted as satire, but they were reposted so many times as truth by integrity-deficient people with an anti-Trump (and Brady) ax to grind—that they were believed by many.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez allegedly tweeted: “It’s vital that governors maintain restrictions on businesses until after the November Elections because economic recovery will help Trump be re-elected. A few business closures or job losses is a small price to pay to be free from his presidency. #KeepUsClosed.” If true, such incendiary words would fuel the widespread already-ignited perception that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is an unscrupulous left-ward committed radical. But according to every fact-checking site I visited, she never said this. The truth is that somebody lied, and when this is done often enough, damage is done.
I’m not just encouraging more fact-checking. Fact-checking is for ethical minimalists. What we need is better and higher than that: a rejection of all dishonesty out of love for the truth. What we need is an integrity revolution; an uprising of truth-telling that will tear down all relational and spiritual strongholds of lies by godly means (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). We need the Church to make a commitment to stop all lying, from the living room to the bedroom to the board room to the courtroom to the newsroom. For the sake of all our relationships and responsibilities, we need Christians who delight in integrity and abhor all lies, simply because they love the God who never lies (Titus 1:2), and indeed, cannot lie (Hebrews 6:17-18).
Ends and Means
The world’s ethic says that the end justifies the means; that if the cause is righteous enough, dishonesty is justified. Hence, the young Republican event I heard about years ago, at which substantial time was spent training young up-and-comers how to shade, distort, and hide the truth to serve their allegedly righteous conservative agenda. Hence, too, why so many on the left justify lying and slander, supposedly in the cause of justice.
I will leave to the side the question of whether it is ever legitimate to lie to protect human life from immediate and otherwise inescapable danger. What I will say is that it is always wrong to lie about others, thereby causing them personal or reputational harm. No such lying is ever a justified means to an allegedly righteous end.
God Doesn’t Need Our Unethical Help
The world’s response to perceived wrongdoing is polar opposite to that to which we are called. The world tells us to do whatever it takes, however unethical the means. God tells us to answer wrongdoing with love; to respond to the attacks and evil machinations of man by not returning evil for evil, or lie for lie, or rage for rage—but good for evil, truth for lies, and love for hatred (Romans 12:17-21; 1 Peter 2:21-23; 1 Peter 3:9-12; Matthew 5:43-48). This is how Christians are to respond to persecution or injustice in any form, whether subtle or overt. Though difficult beyond all telling, this is absolutely and inflexibly right.
The ways of the Lord Jesus are counter-cultural, both as to ends and as to means. When we advocate for what we believe to be righteous ends, but do so through unrighteous means, we end up being unrighteous; forfeiting the moral high ground in the process. And when we do this, we imply that God needs our unethical help to accomplish his holy will. Brothers and sisters, we better serve the cause of truth when we remember that God doesn’t need us to do anything in order to get good things done. And he certainly doesn’t need us to do bad things that good things might result. God does not allow us to sin, even if we think that it will serve a good end (Romans 6:1-2).
In short: the cause of truth-filled neighbor love is never advanced when we tell lies about the very neighbors we are called to love. Instead, we need to so respect the image of God in others that we would rather die at their hand than lie to their harm.
This is the will of the Lord. O for grace to reach for the heights.
*Tim Shorey is the author of Respect the Image: Reflecting Human Worth in How We Listen and Talk. For more information about Tim, his books, and his ministry, please visit the rest of his website at www.timothyshorey.com