A few weeks back in religion class, I asked the 7th and 8th-grade students to tell me about the behaviors among friends that hurt them the most. Some said cliquish activities. Others said cruel words. Not sure how to define it, one student described self-absorbed and egotistical behavior. I told her the word she was looking for. It’s “narcissism.”
The kids asked me the same question. I told them I despise lying. You can mock me, belittle me, and curse the day I was born. Plenty have. Interestingly, some of those friendships have survived to this day. They’re testaments to God’s grace. However, from a human perspective, if a person lies to me, it’s only then that our relationship is likely to change in unrecoverable ways. It’s not that forgiveness won’t win between us. It will. It must. And, certainly, we can still be friends. It’s just that, from where I stand, we’ll have become distant friends.
Of course, the problem with this particular personality trait is that I’m just as guilty of deceit as the next person. In my mind’s eye, I sometimes imagine a singular door marked with a burnt placard bearing three letters—L, I, and E. In Eden, the devil unlocked this dreadful door, we turned its knob, and Sin stepped through, infecting humanity. Not just a few of us, but rather, all of us. If you doubt this, the 18th-century philosopher, Denise Diderot, offered an intuitive and very personal way to prove the premise, one relative to deception’s truest nature. He said rather precisely, “We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.”
Truth is bitter to Sin. It prefers to gulp from deceit.
Conversely, God despises untruth. He dislikes it so much that He wrote truth into the very fabric of mortal existence. In other words, His natural law is unbending. Its veracity is unbreachable. Even though it can be misunderstood, it will never lie to us. A man can lie to himself in every conceivable way. He can believe himself to be a woman. But he’ll never be a woman. Despite our misunderstanding, natural law won’t allow it. A man can believe himself to be a bird. But if he jumps from a building intending to soar without first applying the mechanics of natural law’s rules for flight, he won’t fly. He’ll die. Natural law will judge, convict, and sentence all its offenders.
Truths like this are all around us. The only real way to obscure them is to lie. Nevertheless, the truth will meet with the lie. It always does. From a human perspective, I’m guessing one of two things happens when this meeting occurs. Either the deceitful course is realigned with what’s true, and the course’s travelers are spared, or the travelers are foolhardy self-worshippers, choosing to steer straight into the lies and ultimately into destruction. I’d say this says something about the nature of lying. It hints at its sway.
I’ve probably shared with you why I always spell the word “Sin” with a capital “S.” I believe Sin is no small thing. I believe it’s a very real power at work in this world that deserves special attention. We wouldn’t have needed the divine Son of God to wage war toward its defeat if it didn’t. Perhaps I should start spelling “lie” with a capital “L.” Lying isn’t an insignificant vice. Mark Twain said, “The main difference between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives.” He’s right to say this. Lies are innumerably perpetual. If they’re not stopped, things only get worse. And when they’re believed, the trajectory of deceit’s worseness skyrockets. Take a look around. You’ll see. Horrible untruths are being perpetuated and believed. These untruths are washing across our globe like an oily tsunami, destroying countless lives in unimaginably dark ways. I read an article on Monday about how gender reassignment surgeries are being performed on two-year-olds. A pastor friend of mine in Canada, his son was arrested and fined $10,000 for reading the bible and praying across the street from an LGBTQ demonstration. A few weeks ago, I watched a video blog from a fellow Lutheran pastor who more or less accommodated the ever-growing “furry” movement, considering it harmlessly comparable to ComiCon costuming. I read a news story about an after-school Satanic club in an elementary school. I read another about an after-school drag club. They’ll have catwalks and everything.
I suppose I ought to ask if we should be surprised by these things. If you are, then that means you haven’t been paying attention. Although, I doubt too many Michiganders are surprised. Our own Attorney General, Dana Nessel, gave a speech in which she said she’d like to see drag queens in every Michigan school. Michigan is more than gulping from deceit. And by the way, if you’re a Michigander who voted for Nessel, you’re one of the foolhardy ones I described before. Like it or not, you’re rooting for the tsunami.
So, what do we do?
I have a two-step answer. But honestly, the answer might be too shocking to share. And why? Because employing it requires courage and commitment—the kind sorely lacking in our radically individualized, self-preserving world.
The first step is to admit that truth exists, can be known, and applies to all, not just a few. You do not have your own truth. No one does. The sooner you accept this, the better.
The second step—a daily activity—is the harder step. It’s harder because enacting it all but guarantees discomfort and the possibility of offensive division. In short, the second step involves living according to truth while being ready at every moment to invalidate untruth. I’ll give you a personal example of what I mean.
Earlier this past week, I took an online questionnaire. At its beginning, I was asked to share my gender. I was offered a multitude of choices. Thankfully one was “male,” and so I chose it. But in a small comment box meant for longer gender explanations, I took a moment to write, “There are only two genders, male and female.”
The comment will likely matter very little to the company taking my information. Nevertheless, the opportunity to invalidate deceit was before me. As inconsequential as it may have been, I acted.
Indeed, invalidating untruth becomes much more complicated and uncomfortable when dealing with real people. Still, it must be done. For example, when you get invited to your homosexual niece’s wedding, you must refuse the invitation. If you decide to go, convincing yourself it’s for keeping the family peace, understand that your presence will be considered a condoning one unless you make your position known publicly. Of course, even as you stay home, don’t lie and say you had other plans. Speak the truth and invalidate the lie of same-sex marriage.
Or when your son seeks a college degree in healthcare, one leading toward the abortionist trade, you must remove all material support. Don’t avoid the conversation, tiptoeing and saying, “Well, it’s finally time for you to make your own way.” Speak the truth and invalidate the lie that abortion could be anything other than murder.
Or, when your pastor actively perpetuates the ungodly doctrines of Critical Race Theory or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, you must admonish and refute him and say why you’ve done so.
In each of these examples, until our allegiance to Christ is stronger than our allegiance to people—until we take courage and act—the lies will continue to take ground, leaving countless corpses in their wake.
If you have time, look at Mark 15:43. You’ll meet Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph was a believer, or as the text reminds us, “a respected member of the ruling council.” In other words, his life was among the Pharisees, Jesus’ gravest enemies. John 19:38 tells us Joseph kept quiet about his faith “for fear of the Jews.” In other words, his concern for his colleagues outweighed his allegiance to his Lord.
But then the Lord died. Joseph witnessed it. Saint Mark records in 15:43 that Joseph “took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” Validating the lie that Jesus was a charlatan with his silence was no longer an option for Joseph. He took courage. This courage became action, forever changing Joseph’s public standing before friends and foes. It was Saint Chrysostom who wrote, “The courage of Joseph is greatly to be admired, in that, for the love of Christ, he exposed himself to the danger of death.”
Invalidating lies takes that kind of courage. The funny thing is, for as scary as the world tries to make these moments seem, Jesus said such courage would be available to his Christians. He said, “You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:18). And while standing in these terrifying situations, “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12).
Listen to Jesus. Trust Him. Take a hint from Joseph. Dig into the courage you already bear by virtue of faith in Christ. Meet with the lies whenever and wherever you can. Don’t be a jerk. Show the love of Christ. But remember, holding the line on truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, is an essential way of demonstrating the love of Christ to others. You love them by invalidating their dangerous course. It won’t be easy. But as the saying goes, few things worth doing are easy.