Tell the Truth!
These are the things you shall do: speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace. Zechariah 8:16NKJV
Question 144 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?” The first part of the answer states, “The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever.” Last time we saw how we not only can know but do know the truth about many things. Today we consider our duty to promote the truth we know.
Because the truth is that which is real, there is a sense in which we cannot in any way affect, alter, change, or deny the truth. Lying about what time I got to work cannot change the reality of whether or not I was late and by how much. Nothing we say or keep from saying can change history: the things that actually happened in the past. However, we can change what is recorded, and therefore, what is believed. So, for example, the lie, “I arrived at work on time,” when I was really two hours late, asserts something happened that did not in fact happen. Moreover, lying about arriving at work on time causes people to believe something good about me: I am punctual and responsible in my duties. But the good that they believe is false, for the information on which that belief is based is incorrect. I was not punctual and responsible in my duties; in fact I was tardy and negligent. And this tardiness and negligence, of which I am guilty, I cover up and hide with a lie. In this fashion, lying is how sinful people promote false goodness and hide real evil.
Thus, in order to preserve and promote the truth, we must be careful not only in what we say but in what we do not say. So, if I am late for work and do not lie by saying “I was on time,” good! But if I arrange things in my office to make it look like I’ve been there for two hours, I am still promoting what is false even though I do not actually speak a lie. Such activity is hardly preserving and promoting the truth, that which actually happened. Consequently, the Catechism points out our duty to not merely pharisaically avoid a technical false statement, but we must appear and stand for the truth. That is, it is not enough to simply, passively not tell a lie. Those who love the truth will actively seek to see the truth about a certain subject declared and known when that particular subject is in question.
The classic example of not preserving and promoting of a truth that was in question is the story of when Abraham led Abimelech the king of Gerar to believe that his wife Sarah was merely his sister. I love this story because it reveals what sophisticated liars we fallen humans can be! The Bible records, “Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister,” (Gen. 20:1). Notice how clearly & starkly the Scripture puts it: he said “of his wife, ‘She is my sister.’” The result was Abimelech believed him! And so he came and took Sarah to be one of his wives (20:2). Why did Abraham do this? The Scripture tells us that as a nomad traveling in various lands, he was afraid that when men saw Sarah’s great beauty they would kill him, so he made her say “He is my brother,” (20:11-13). Abraham’s reasoning here was twofold: first, Sarah actually was his half-sister, so he could have her say “He is my brother,” and be consoled in his heart that there was truth in that statement; it was half true. Second, Abraham rightly surmised that anyone hearing Sarah was his sister would conclude that she was not at the same time his wife, for brothers and sisters do not marry, and this was the whole point of making known they were brother and sister. Abraham wanted people to make a false conclusion about his and Sarah’s relationship, and so he spoke in such a way that they would. He said “She is my sister,” for the purpose of hiding the fact that she was his wife. Thus, Abraham’s words were not to speak “clearly, and fully… and only the truth,” but to speak in such a way that people would conclude what was not true: that he and Sarah were not married to one another. Abraham sought in a sophisticated way to hide a truth and to promote a falsehood. In so doing, he bore false witness of Sarah, himself, and his neighbors; for he thought poorly of them, concluding “They will kill me,” and did not promote their good names! May the God of truth grant that you and I carefully examine our hearts for any sophisticated ways we may be bearing false witness to the truth!