weekly word – 8/26/21

Heroic Lies

Is it ever ok for Christians to lie? As some governments reinstate lockdowns, mandate vaccinations, and overrule individual liberties through emergency powers, some Christians want to know: can we ever lie to evade an unjust law? I had to consider this when I watched a video where a Christian leader argued that it's ok to forge a vaccine passport.

Christians have debated white lies as long as there have been Christians. I don’t intend to end the debate. But whatever our conviction is, we should reach it through correctly understanding and applying God's word. It's not a matter of personal opinion.

The Bible is filled with stories of lies and the havoc they wreak. The serpent (Gen. 3), Cain (Gen. 4), Abraham (Gen. 12, 20), and Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39) all told lies that violated God’s will and hurt people.

But there are two famous Bible stories of lies that lack any condemnation. In fact, the Bible praises them. The lies to which I refer are those told by the midwives in Exodus 1 and of Rahab in Joshua 2.

In the first case, Pharaoh had commanded two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, “When you help the Hebrew women give birth, observe them as they deliver. If the child is a son, kill him, but if it’s a daughter, she may live” (Exodus 1:16). The reason for this was to control the population of the Hebrews from getting too great. Pharaoh believed his emergency action was warranted by an imminent danger to Egypt’s national security. But these two midwives didn’t agree or, consequently, comply.

When lots of male Hebrew babies continued to be born, Pharaoh required an explanation for their ineffectiveness. The midwives told him, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them” (Exodus 1:19). This was a lie.

After they had violated the command of a leader God had appointed (Pharaoh) and lied about their illegal action, God rewarded these midwives. “So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied and became very numerous. Since the midwives feared God, he gave them families” (Exodus 1:20-21). God blessed these midwives and “gave them families.” Neither their noncompliance nor its cover-up was sinful. They “feared God” and did the right thing. Case closed.

In the second case, Joshua sent spies to scout out the land of Jericho before they conquered their promised land. The spies took temporary residence in the house of Rahab. When soldiers of Jericho knocked on her door, asking if these men were around, Rahab replied, “Yes, the men did come to me, but I didn’t know where they were from. At nightfall, when the city gate was about to close, the men went out, and I don’t know where they were going. Chase after them quickly, and you can catch up with them!” (Joshua 2:4b-5).

That was a lie. They were presently on her roof (Joshua 2:6). Rahab had acted treacherously against her city, jeopardizing its security, and covered it up with lies.

But the Bible doesn’t condemn her for that. Hebrews 11:31 says, “By faith Rahab the prostitute welcomed the spies in peace and didn’t perish with those who disobeyed.” James 2:25 says, “And in the same way, wasn't Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by a different route?” Both passages commend her noncompliance and deception.

Why does God’s word praise these law-breaking liars?

First, they saved lives. Both stories present life and death situations. Babies and spies were facing death. These women interceded to save them.

Second, their actions were selfless. Unlike the sinful, self-preserving nature of most lies, these lies endangered the ones who told them for the sake of protecting others.

Third, these women disobeyed and lied because they feared God (Exodus 1:21; Joshua 2:9-13). This fear of God caused them to deceptively withhold compliance to human government.

Fourth, these lies didn’t renounce faith in Yahweh or Jesus Christ. Millions of Christians and their families have faced death for confessing unwavering allegiance to Christ. Jesus (Matthew 5:10) and the Spirit (Revelation 14:13) specifically bless those who face persecution and die for confessing Jesus as Lord. It’s wrong to lie to get out of dying for Jesus.

Fifth—and I think this is important—these lies were told well. State officials were effectively deceived in both cases. Lives were saved. We don’t get the sense that these women stuttered or twitched as they spoke.  Now, perhaps God orchestrated a Jedi mind-trick to cause these authorities not to question what they were told. Either way, I don’t see anything virtuous about lying badly to save life. If you’re going to lie out of fear of God, do it well.

To summarize: before you lie, either to someone else or the government, ask:

1) Is it a matter of life and death?

2) Are you selflessly protecting the lives of others?

3) Are you doing it in the fear of God?

4) Are you remaining faithful to Jesus as your Lord?

5) If all the other conditions have been met, will you do it effectively?

Currently, there are places (North Korea, China, Afghanistan, and any other Muslim country that follows Sharia law) where Christians must selflessly disobey and deceive state authorities who are directly and unjustly threatening other human lives. For these Christians, I believe the Holy Spirit clarifies the Bible’s teaching, helping them know when disobedience and deception of state authorities is necessary.

I don’t know that America is there yet; but I think it’s good for us to think through what God’s word says so that we honor Him if things get worse.

Pastor David