Using Truth for the Furtherance of Evil
For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. Genesis 3:5NKJV
We continue our study of Question 145 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?” The fifth part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are… speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice.” Last time we looked at sinful silence. Today we consider the sin of using the truth to further the cause of evil.
Speaking the truth unseasonably is to say something truthful, but at an inappropriate time. Thus, sharing the gospel with a woman in the middle of childbirth is not being very sensitive to her condition! Here the intention was good but the timing was bad. In the rest of today’s Catechism section the intentions are not good. The verse at the head of this article could be called Satan’s closing argument in his successful attempt to deceive Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. For in the very next verse, Eve reaches out her hand, takes from the tree, and eats. Satan had promised them both (the pronouns are all plural in Hebrew) that by disobeying God, they would become like God, knowing good and evil. Later in the chapter God summarizes what Adam and Even have done in listening to the serpent: “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil,’” (Gen. 3:22a). God seems to confirm what Satan promised had come to pass. Is that the case? Did Satan tell the truth? If so, how do we square the teaching of Jesus, who said of Satan: “He… does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it, (John 8:44b). If Satan really has “no truth in him,” then how could he promise something true?
The fact is Satan did not tell the truth truthfully or plainly, but he used “doubtful or equivocal expressions to the prejudice of truth or justice.” Satan’s words could be construed as being technically accurate, and yet he spoke them with the intention of Eve taking them the wrong way in order to destroy her. His words prejudiced the truth in that they made the way of truth, which is obedience to God, appear unattractive to her. The fact is by tempting Eve to disobey God in order to know good and evil, Satan, without explicitly saying it, was proposing that she become like God in a sinful way, by a sinful act. God knows good immediately from His own character, for He is the essence of goodness itself. Thus, all that God wills to be good is good, and all that God wills to be evil is evil. God adheres to no standard of good and evil outside of Himself, for He Himself is the ultimate perfection of good so that anything that goes against Him is, by definition, evil.
Accordingly, Adam and Eve acted as gods unto themselves when they decided to know good and evil for themselves, on their own terms, rather than humbly & submissively understanding good and evil by obeying God’s commandment. This act of defiance, wherein they in effect take the place of God as arbiter of good and evil according to their own wills, could not stand, as Satan knew it would not stand. Thus, in addition to using expressions that could be taken more than one way, Satan was “speaking the truth maliciously or to a wrong end or perverting it to a wrong meaning.” Eve understood Satan’s promise in an entirely positive way and was thus deceived. Satan, however, knew that it would not turn out as Eve thought and that was what he was aiming at with every word he spoke.
Thus, Adam acted as if he was God, determining for himself and from his own character what would be good for him and what would be evil for him. The problem with Adam’s acting this way was that he had no right. He was still a creature under God, subject to God’s authority, and therefore, to God’s definition of good and evil. Satan neglected to explain that part of his counsel to Eve. In this way his technically accurate words were stated to accomplish a deception. Reformed Theologian J. G. Vos said it this way, “The real, essential nature of a lie is the intention to deceive some person. Even though what we say may be itself true, if our intention is to deceive others we are really liars in God’s sight.” Amen. And may our good God grant that you and be delivered from such false, Satanic speech.