Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Should a Christian ever lie?

Key passages:

God hates lying. Proverbs 16:6.

Jesus suggested that it was appropriate to break the "rules" if it involved a greater good or need. Mark 2:23-28 (Jesus' disciples are eating grain on the Sabbath, and Jesus cites David eating the priests' consecrated bread when he and his men were hungry to justify the practice).

I've heard a pastor go so far as to say that if the Nazis came to your door, and you were hiding Jews, you would be obligated as a Christian not to lie about it. I've also read Bonhoeffer say that this thought is 'grotesque,' and that you should tell a 'robust lie.'


Jeff said...

There are only a few commandments that are acceptable to break when life is at stake. Those are: murdering, idolatry, profaning God's name. I think that's it. Obviously if one has to lie to protect one's own life or the lives of others, then do so. The pastor you mentioned is therefore full of it.

When life isn't at stake? Good question. It's for discussions like this that Jews have the Talmud. Here's one of my favorite passages about lying:

Rabbis Hillel and Shammai are arguing over whether a man should lie and tell an ugly bride that she is beautiful on her wedding day. Shammai argued no, citing the prohibition against lying. Hillel argued yes, because a bride is always beautiful on her wedding day.

Naturally, Hillel won the argument. Take from that little anecdote what you will.

Jeff said...

typo alert - I mean there are only a few commandments that are not acceptable to break when life is at stake.

Kenny said...

Jeff- thanks for the Talmud commentary. I also notice that you bring up the spectrum:

From 'life at stake' to 'feelings at stake.'

So, most people will probably say 'yes, lie to the Nazis about the Jews hiding in the attic,' but what about in less drastic circumstances.

Erin said...

Re: Jeff's story from the Talmud - it sounds like Rabbi Shammai wasn't lying, but instead actually seeing the situation in a different light. He could've said "all brides should be told that they are beautiful on their wedding day" as opposed to "all brides ARE beautiful on their wedding day". Which leads to the completely unrelated subject of what it means to be ugly and whether any of God's creations can be considered "ugly".

But back to lying. I think this is the perfect place to apply spirit of the law rather than letter of the law. If you lie to someone and it's entirely for the benefit of them or a third person (nothing in your motivation benefits you, lets you take the coward's way out, makes you look good, etc.), I think that certainly mitigates.

Also, when you're not backed into a corner, you can choose not to say anything at all rather than either lying or hurting someone's feelings. So with the story from the Talmud, rather than telling the bride that she is beautiful or ugly, you could compliment her on something other than her appearance (or you could head over to the punch bowl and avoid conversation entirely).

Having said all that, it's amazingly difficult to say, "yes, lying is okay under certain circumstances." Definitely leads to a big, steep slippery slope...

Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

Conceal the truth when life is at stake. No other loophole for this commandment, except for the weak.
Even charity used as a cover corrodes the commandments.

jose said...

Am I right to think that the Talmud is full of discussions about what to do when one command seems to violate another? For example, is it okay to save your donkey stuck in a ditch on the Sabbath?

I guess ideally we wouldn't have to lie whether the bride is beautiful or if dinner tasted good. We would speak all things in love; we would hear all things in love.

Incidentally, when someone asks me my opinion on something or someone they love and I want to spare their feellings, I say, "That is a [movie, woman, dinner, etc.]"