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God and Lying

In a recent, “Answers to Your Questions” section of the Time of Grace Magazine (Spring 2012, p6-7), Pastor Jeske of Time of Grace addresses the question, “Does God condone lies?”

Inclusive of Jeske’s response was a reference to the Israelite midwives who saved the baby boys he had ordered to be murdered (see Exodus 1:15-21).  Jeske states that the Jewish midwives had “lied about why they hadn’t been able to kill” the boys (Exodus 1:18-20).

However, the text doesn’t explicitly indicate that the women had lied at all.  Here’s what the text actually says, along with Pharaoh’s question following his command to kill the male born babies”

“So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?’  And the midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them’” (Exodus 1:18-19, NKJ).

The presumption that the midwives were lying in their answer to Pharaoh has no immediate merit from the text.  And the text itself does not indicate that they had in fact lied.  Therefore, the reference to the lying of the midwives in the Exodus text has little to do with the question of lying.

Of importance in addressing the question of lying, however, is the reference that “the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive” (Exodus 1:17).  Because they feared God, the midwives did not murder those whom Pharaoh ordered to murder.  They were willing to risk “their own lives to save those babies” (7).

In fearing God as they had, the midwives would not have needed to lie to Pharaoh.  And because they feared God, God blessed them (“dealt well with them,” Exodus 1:20), and not because they saved the lives of the baby boys, as Jeske seems to suggest (see below).

Also inclusive of Jeske’s response to the question about whether God condones lies was a reference to the same Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was involved in a plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

The questioner noted that Bonhoeffer had lied to the SS about knowing the location of certain Jews, though he had known.  The questioner also noted that “Bonhoeffer later remarked that it would have been immoral and evil for him to have told the ‘truth’ in that situation.”  The questioner then puts forth the question, “Under certain circumstances, does God condone lies?” (6)

In response to this question, Jeske begins rightly by giving references to Holy Scripture (i.e. Exodus 20:16; Colossians 3:9; Proverbs 12:22).  He gives examples of even David and Abraham who had lied.

Jeske, then, however, gives the irrelevant example of the midwives (see above) and references Bonhoeffer, praising both.  “I commend the midwives and Bonhoeffer.  They were confronted with moral dilemmas and chose to save lives rather than collaborate in murder.”  Jeske continues and writes, “I’m sure their lies were understood and overlooked by God because their actions brought about a greater good” (7).

I won’t argue that a moral dilemma had not confronted both the midwives and Bonhoeffer.  They had “choices” to make.  As God-fearers, the midwives did as they were given to do, to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).  Also, Bonhoeffer did well in saving those Jews.

Jeske suggests that God understands and overlooks lies on the basis of the greater good that results on account of those lies.  Where are the Bible passages to support such a view?  They are in fact non-existent.

Answering the question about lying on the basis of any “greater benefits” that may follow weakens God’s command against lying and deceiving.   What Jeske is doing is replacing God’s law with human opinion.  Instead of speaking truthfully about God’s prohibition of lying, Jeske is opening the door for human explanations and excuses to support the act of lying as dependent on the circumstance, contrary to God’s Word.  By doing this, Jeske also closes the door to the sweet Gospel, which is reserved for those who have no excuses for their sin, but who only seek the mercy of our gracious God.

In this article, Jeske minimizes sin.  And in minimizing sin, Jeske minimizes the need for forgiveness.  In saying that God understands and overlooks the sin of lying, Jeske almost suggests that God accepts lying, dependent on the results.  Yet the Word of the Lord indicates that God does not accept lying at all.  Lying is sin.  Rather than make explanations or excuses for the sin of lying or any sin, repentance is in order.

Rather than say what is not truthful about how God sees sin, Christians are to confess Christ.  This means speaking the truth about what God says concerning the Law and sin.  It also means speaking the truth about what God says concerning God’s unmerited Grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Because Jeske fails to clearly articulate the Law in answering the question about lying, so he also fails to even speak at all about the forgiveness of sins, the very forgiveness needed by all.

“Under certain circumstances, does God condone lies?” The Biblical answer is a sound, “NO.”  Lies are sin.  One could also ask a related question, “Under certain circumstances, does God condone sin?”  Again, the Biblical answer is a sound, “NO.”

As much as we might want to be out from under the unconditional law of God, which allows for no explanations or excuses, we cannot.  As long as we continue attempting explanations and excuses for our behaviors and actions, even if we should be seeking the “greater good,” we are avoiding the weight of God’s law and His Holy Word.  And in such a state, we don’t have God’s forgiveness, for we only demonstrate an unrepentant heart.

A repentant heart, on the other hand, is one that accepts God’s Holy Law full force, and, having nowhere at all to turn, seeks only God’s mercy in Christ Jesus.  And there, in Christ, the repentant sinner walks by faith, wholly certain of having peace with God.

God does not condone lies, even under certain circumstances.  But God does indeed forgive sin, on account of Jesus Christ.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).

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6 Responses

  1. If Bonhoeffer was wrong to lie then, what should he have done? I don’t understand what the correct answer should be.

    • Good question! In the article, I was trying to address the statement that God would understand and overlook lying (sin) in certain circumstances, among other things. The Bible teaches that He does not. Yet, forgiveness is given to none other than sinners, which means that should one lie (or commit any sin), God’s forgiveness is certain, only because of Jesus Christ. Jeske’s response failed to address this crucial message.

      What should Bonhoeffer have done? He could have spoken the truth, which would likely have lead to the death of the Jews in hiding. He could have remained silent, for which he himself might have to suffer. He could have said that he knew, but that he would not reveal their location, with possible dire consequences. He could have done as he did, and then repent for his deception.

      I hadn’t mentioned in my post that the decisions or in(non)decisions we make sometimes might result in negative consequences for either ourselves or others. Our choices are fraught with selfishness, with self-interest, and self-gain. The answer…Love neighbor and trust God’s forgiveness in Christ.

      Had Bonhoeffer done the right thing? Maybe another question to ask is, “what is in the best interest of my neighbor?” and then, how much sin does God’s forgiveness cover?

      Thanks for the question. Does this help?

      • This is the kind of thing that I believe Martin Luther addresses in many of his works, though I have not read the volumes. He answered the dilemma questions in the things that I read anyway. Your answer does help some.
        I am, however, thinking of Romans where Paul says not to sin because you know you will be forgiven. (let me look that up…(Romans 6: 1-2).
        Yet you say above that “…Our choices are fraught with selfishness, with self-interest, and self-gain. The answer…Love neighbor and trust God’s forgiveness in Christ.”
        I think that is the real answer in the quote. Had he not thought of himself, he would have told the truth and suffered punishment or the Jews would have been killed. But your answer to love our neighbor and trust in God’s forgiveness appears correct as to what he really did. He loved the Jews and trusted that God would have forgiven him.

        That’s my train of thought on this. Thanks for your response and blog! Since I am deaf, I cannot go to the Bible classes at church and your blog helps me to go deeper in the Bible and teachings of LCMS. I appreciate it.

      • It is true, as St. Paul says and as you note, that we should not continue in sin (Romans 6:1-2). It is also true that we ought not intentionally sin. However, and this should not be understood in anyway as making an excuse, but we are also sinners and are not at all perfect. Our righteousness comes from outside of us, that is, of Christ, and not from within. Paul also speaks about the ‘battle’ and ‘inconsistency’ within himself (Romans 7). None can deliver us but Christ. And there is only One Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). Therefore, even as testified elsewhere (i.e.Philippians 3:3ff) we place no confidence in ourselves but only in our one and only Savior, even in those choices and decisions which we believe to be right. Even the good which we do is tainted with sin. Thanks be to God who continues to forgive our sins freely for Christ’s sake!

        Are you aware of http://www.lcmsdeaf.org/? If not, you may want to check it out.

        Thank you for your encouragement! God be with you.

      • THANKS. I know that LCMS has this but never went there as I thought that it is for working with the deaf and not for the deaf themselves. It is nice and I will check it out more. We are deaf but speak and lip-read. We also know sign language but haven’t had an interperter in years at our church (only from 1998-2001 when the pastor’s wife did that for us.)

        Since I grew up with The Lutheran Hymnal, and the pastor, noted above, changed to the newer hynmal and service, I am lost with the hymns. I can follow much of the service but some of the hymns I don’t know at all. The last pastor we had (2002-2011) copied the service that he used and made a booklet for us for regular service and one for communion service. He printed out the prayers and the sermon. That was wonderful and we were not as lost.

        Now we have a vacancy pastor and he just prints a copy of his sermon. I found the Deaf PAH on the iPad with a search for any closed-caption videos in the iTunes U- that was the only one. So I’ve seen some of that.

        Well, it is just hard and very tiring to follow and lip-read if pastor is not close to us during the service.I do much of what I can online with some of the LCMS Pastor’s who blog, etc. There are 3 that I follow and are good- you, Cyberbrethern, and Blogging Siberia- Professor Ludwig in Siberia.

        I have the Small Catechism on my PC and now on my iPad, as well as, 3 versions of the Bible-KJV, NIV, and now ESV. I’ve the 1980’s CONCORDIA COMMENTARY, CONCORDIA CYCLOPEDIA and the NIV with Lutheran Commentary, etc. books. I’ve read the Formula of Concord, too. BUT- I really need to be able to ask questions, such as I’ve done here with you, in order to grow more in understanding. (Do you have an online Bible class?)

        SO- being deaf make one expand their horizons sometimes!

      • I don’t have an online Bible class currently, but I’d be happy to try to answer any questions you might have, and/or begin one. Our congregational website (http://alcplatteville.wordpress.com) might have some studies up, though I’m still updating. I’d enjoy continuing the dialogue and study. Should your congregation call a pastor and he accept, I encourage you also to speak with him about these things, too.

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