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War Exceptions for Lying?

PostPosted: Thu Oct 29, 2015 9:47 am
by Hopechick
Ok, this has been bothering me for a while. I know it's one of those tossed around questions whether it's ever ok for Christians to lie, but I've always said no. The way I saw it, God commands us not to, and God is consistent, therefore it would never be alright to break His law. Simple as that, right? The topic was recently discussed in a program I'm doing, they asked if it was ever ok to lie. They used examples such as Gideon threshing his wheat in winepress to deceive the Midianites, Rahab hiding the Israelite spies, and God sending a spirit of deception to King Ahab. Using these (and other) examples they determined that God makes exceptions to the whole "don't lie" rule when in circumstances of war. This didn't set well with me in any way. God making exceptions? That doesn't work, because if God makes exceptions for that then He (theoretically) could make exceptions for absolutely anything. Yes, God is a God of mercy, but that's not the same. The Bible tells us that to determine sin we should compare the circumstance to God's word and law. This has to be absolute or else the "black-and-white" reputation of the Bible is completely thrown out the window.

Frustrated by this I decided to go to "the source". Yes, the Bible, but more specifically the 10 commandments. After all, where exactly does God say that we are to not lie? And the only specific instance I could think of was the 9th commandment "You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbour". (If you can think of another point in the Bible condemning the use of deception, please let me know.) If I look at the way it's worded (in any and all translations/versions) it comes down to "against your neighbour". Therefore it could be perceived in a way that as long as your deception is not used to harm your neighbour, but rather to protect, then it's ok to lie. That satisfied me for a grand total of 3 seconds.

If we can't lie against our neighbours then we better know who our neighbours are, right? But...aren't we supposed to love everyone as our neighbour/brother? Isn't that one of the principle teachings of Christ? So basically, we can lie as long as we don't do it against our neighbours, but everyone is your neighbour, so you can't actually lie to anyone. It all boils down to the same thing.

I've run it over in my head so many times that I thought I might explode. :comp: And given that I personally have a huge issue with deception, this really unsettles me. I asked my Christian leaders and my parents, but they either had no answer, or sidestepped my question about the validity of God being truly impartial.

What are your thoughts on the matter? There are a dozen other arguments for this case that have gone on in my brain, but this is the best summary I could do of them all. Please throw in your two cents! :?:

Re: War Exceptions for Lying?

PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 5:12 pm
by Xeno
A couple of different things about this:
1. The 10 Commandments initially only applied to how Jewish people interacted with other Jewish people. The commandments on the second tablet, which are social rules, did not apply to anyone outside of the Jewish religion/ethnic group. So lying to gentiles was not going against the Bible, since gentiles were not considered to be neighbors of the Jews. Upon the death of Jesus and gentiles being allowed into the Church, this changed, but your examples all stemmed from before this occurred.

2. The ninth commandment is referring to lying about your neighbor in a means to slander or otherwise defame them.Telling other people lies about your neighbor in order to make them turn against the person being lied about is what the commandment is forbidding, not using deception as a means to protect your neighbor or otherwise gain and upper hand against enemies. Invoking Godwin's Law for a moment, if you were harboring Jews in Europe during the second World War, telling German police that "No, I have no idea where the Goldsteins have gone. I saw them pack things up and leave a couple weeks ago." while actually allowing the Goldstiens to live in your basement would not be a prohibited act, because you are using deception as a means to actively protect someone as opposed to dirtying their name. Likewise, when actively engaged in war, it is crucial to provide the enemy with misinformation in an attempt to gain the upper hand. If a Jew or Christian or anyone otherwise is not comfortable with being part of a misinformation campaign, they should have themselves placed in a role where they don't have to do that, but it is still not the same as making a false testimony against your neighbor.

Note that there are other issues like this regarding the 10 commandments and the actions of the Jews in the Old Testament. For example, the commandment "Thou shalt not kill," but then the Jews being ordered by God to commit genocide against the Amalekites.

Re: War Exceptions for Lying?

PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 5:58 pm
by Nate
Hopechick wrote:if God makes exceptions for that then He (theoretically) could make exceptions for absolutely anything.

Well actually yeah. Part of the perks of being an omnipotent deity means you get to decide what's right and wrong.

Xeno wrote:So lying to gentiles was not going against the Bible, since gentiles were not considered to be neighbors of the Jews.

Well Jews don't really follow "the Bible" so if they go against it it doesn't really matter. :V

And while I know what you're saying is true I can't help but take issue with the way it's worded I guess? I suppose it's just a weird thing since stuff like this is what antisemites say to show how Jews are actual evil shiftless people (the same thing happens with Muslims and "taqiyya") I mean, I know you're not saying or implying that I just...I dunno. I don't think maybe it's the best example to use?

Re: War Exceptions for Lying?

PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 7:08 pm
by Xeno
Nate wrote:Well Jews don't really follow "the Bible" so if they go against it it doesn't really matter. :V

Torah, right. Man I'm off my game lately.

And while I know what you're saying is true I can't help but take issue with the way it's worded I guess? I suppose it's just a weird thing since stuff like this is what antisemites say to show how Jews are actual evil shiftless people (the same thing happens with Muslims and "taqiyya") I mean, I know you're not saying or implying that I just...I dunno. I don't think maybe it's the best example to use?

Oh god, yeah, that is NOT what I was trying to say. That's what I get for writing a post while still partially asleep.

Re: War Exceptions for Lying?

PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 8:26 pm
by Kraavdran
Hopechick wrote: Please throw in your two cents! :?:

Are you sure? Those are dangerous words :P

But, in all seriousness, this is a great question. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness in carefully considering this. I can kinda relate to the difficulty. This has always been a troublesome thing since it doesn't seem to be clearly laid out.

So, I think, there are many areas of the Bible (in both the New and Old Testaments) that encourage truthfulness of speech. I'm kinda partial to Proverbs in the Old Testament, so here are some examples in there: 12:22 13:5 14:5 and 17:2. I like them because they are fairly short and to the point. I found references to some more verses here: (a link that looks at biblical references based on category).

So, that being said, I think that lying is definitely bad as a general rule. I've come to really appreciate honesty. At least in terms of social interaction. Yet, at the same time, Rahab is praised for deceiving the soldiers who were chasing after the Israelite spies.

I can see a few different possible answers that might explain the difference. Xeno eloquently said one option, but here are some more:

1) The passage in James that commends Rahab specifically refers to her promise to the Israelite spies. This took place after she lied to the soldiers in pursuit. The promise reflected her whole-hearted commitment to God (Joshua 2). In this way, her lying was not commended... technically. This is not the most satisfying answer.

2) I find this to be a dangerous answer. Perhaps it was conviction from God that encouraged her to lie? And it was good because it resulted in only good things (the furthering of God's plan for Israel). It was selfless and for the sake of God. Perhaps deceit is only wrong because it encourages distrust and is usually used for evil purposes or for personal gain (at the expense of others). Again, this is dangerous because it can very easily be abused/misused. And I could easily see some negative implications concerning one's view of God with this idea.

3) Perhaps a bit more satisfying: I noticed that the verses describing how deceit is bad is typically referencing societal things. It doesn't seem to reference cases of injustice (for example, lying to a corrupt regime for the sake of protecting an innocent person) or other forms of deceit that are, at its core, for a good cause. I should be clear that this can still exist. This could potentially explain why it is wrong to lie to a person whom you are not at war with (friends, countrymen, etc). I think that this would also mean that "white lies" and lies in foreign policy/etc would be immoral. I feel like this is more where I stand in terms of belief. After all, our actions should be done for the greater good (compared to evil). Anything that is good will produce "good fruits".

Well, I think that is it for my "two cents."

Re: War Exceptions for Lying?

PostPosted: Mon Nov 09, 2015 11:29 am
by Rusty Claymore
I think the answer can be conditionally qualified. If A, then X. But if AC, then Y. It's not the definition but the circumstance. Same with Killing. An age-old misconception is the 6th commandment is "Thou Shall Not Kill" but it's literally "murder". The conditions surrounding an act of violence relate to the qualification of the end product. Self-defense is not murder, but if I hate someone and orchestrate a situation where I can kill them in self-defense, then it is Murder.

On the topic of Lying, most condemned instances I can think of in the Bible refer to a known False being legally testified as True. Such as having two sets of measures so you can short sell someone, or testifying that your neighbor agreed to a trade when you know he really didn't. That is a Lie: I testify what I know is False as True, I swear it. That's where Lies and Deception part ways. Deception swears nothing. While it is frustrating to be on the receiving end, the immorality of it rests on the motivation and subject of the deception. In chess, I have a right to know what the rules are. If my teacher withholds a rule (by omission, never actually saying they taught me ALL the rules) to give themselves an edge, it's wrong when they use it to win against me. I had a right to that information on the pretense of a fair competition. The deprivation of my right to know is what's wrong.
In War, I have no right to know. So when an enemy works to make me believe he is somewhere other than where he is, no wrong is being done. I'm simply deceived. If he were to say he was my friend and then attack me from behind, I was Lied to.

Hope that wasn't too tl;dr. On a final two yen: Deception is often attributed to the wise. The wise speak in parables or dark sayings, not using pictures to make things easier, but riddles to make it harder to understand. Knowing what's right takes work. Blood, sweat, and tears.

So keep at it until you find the answer, Hopechick. It's out there. While there are things God tells us we'll never know, the quest to know what's right and what's wrong is a quest to know what/who God is and isn't, and getting to know Him is what He's all about.

Re: War Exceptions for Lying?

PostPosted: Mon Nov 09, 2015 6:31 pm
by Nate
To answer the question, since I didn't originally, I think lying is really only wrong if you obtain personal gain from doing so. If I lie and say my neighbor is making crystal meth in his basement because I don't like him and want to see him arrested, then that's personal gain. If I say that the five dollar bill dropped on the ground is mine when it isn't, that's personal gain. If I ate a cookie and mommy told me not to and I say I didn't, that's personal gain.

So going back to the go-to example for this sort of thing: if I live in WWII era Germany and hide Jews in my house and lie to the Nazis when they ask me if I know the location of any Jews, am I doing it for personal gain? The answer is no, I'm not. I'm doing it to protect the lives of people. And I feel pretty confident in saying God would totally support me doing things to protect people from being killed.

War is a bit trickier, and there's usually no question of personal gain since the individual soldiers aren't the ones declaring war in the first place...still, I'd say that the goal of deception in wartime is to minimize losses (ideally to both sides though in practice usually to your own side) and end the war quicker. The quicker war ends, the less lives are lost usually, so deceiving an enemy in hopes of stopping the war faster would, I believe, also qualify as protecting life and thus be acceptable.

Or, as Rusty said, the fact that in war, one does not have the right to know where the enemy is, and as such giving the opponent false information is a legitimate strategy.

Re: War Exceptions for Lying?

PostPosted: Mon Nov 09, 2015 7:01 pm
by Kaori
God is true, but he is also love.

These are both true statements about God's character, and I think we need to not forget, when we consider lying and whether or not it is morally acceptable to lie, that "God is love" is the most basic and important thing that we can say about God's character.

So you can mentally work through the issue of lying in wartime situations in a couple of ways.

The ninth commandment is often translated "bear false witness," so I had always thought that it was referring specifically to giving witness in court, i.e. you shall not falsely bear witness in court saying that an innocent person committed a crime in order to have them wrongfully condemned. In a society in which eyewitness testimony was basically all anyone had to go on to determine whether someone was innocent or guilty (no DNA testing), to pervert justice and cause an innocent person to be condemned by falsely bearing witness was a very heinous thing (and still is now).

So that commandment is not prohibiting white lies, wartime lies, lies to protect someone's life, that sort of thing.

And while there are other places in the Bible where truthfulness is upheld and lying is condemned, and of course truthfulness is valued and we should want to be truthful people, not deceptive people, if you look at the context of what specific kinds of deception are condemned, it usually is something that causes a person to have an unfair advantage over someone else (like the unequal weights and measures which someone else mentioned). That, or lying in order to preserve oneself from justly deserved punishment, would certainly be wrong, but you can look at those passages about lying and justifiably interpret them to be a prohibition against things that would cause harm/disadvantage to others or pervert justice or would be a selfish and fearful avoidance of a deserved punishment to oneself, that sort of thing.

So Christians should want to be people of integrity, we should not pervert justice and we should not lie to cover up something we did wrong ("No, I didn't cheat on that test"). Generally, people should be able to trust us and take us at our word.

But I think it can be argued that the Bible's prohibition of lying doesn't mean that we have to tell the truth if it will cause harm to an innocent person.

That's one way of thinking about it.

I'd also like to submit for your consideration the fact that we are living in a fallen world. In a perfect world, if there were not sin in the world and if no one ever committed evil against each other, there would never be a reason to lie that would be "for the greater good." But because we live in a world in which there are sinful actions and people do things like genocide, sometimes there are situations where two values, like being honest and being loving, clash with each other, and I am absolutely certain God is not going to condemn or look down upon someone who tells a lie in love in order to save an innocent person's life.

There's a book I would really like to recommend to you, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, and it's about a family of Dutch people living in Nazi-occupied Holland during WWII, and they were sheltering Jews in their houses, and they were raised with a very strict upbringing to think that telling any kind of lie is always wrong, and they had to wrestle with the very same qeustions that you are wrestling with.

There is one point where Corrie's family (which owns two radios) is having to turn in their radio because the Nazis are collecting them all and no one is allowed to have one. So Corrie goes and turns in one of the two radios, and they hide the other one, and when she is asked if that is the only radio their family has, without hesitation she tells a completely brazen lie and says that it is their only radio and they don't have another one. So then later her family is having a big argument about lying and whether or not it is permissible in such situations, and Corrie says something heatedly about how it was her lie that allowed them to keep their second radio (this is important so that they can get news from the outside world and not just Nazi propaganda). And in the middle of that heated argument, her father, who is a wonderful, godly old man, says, "I'm sure whatever Corrie did, it was done in love." And that's the important thing.

There are also a couple of stories in this book about times when people in the Ten Boom family, believing that it is never okay to lie, told the truth to the Nazis and things miraculously worked out okay in the end. For example, there was a household where they had a trapdoor in the floor underneath their kitchen table, and it was covered with a rug or something, and that trapdoor led into a hole or a basement or something where they were hiding Jews. So the family was sitting around their table, and there were Jews right underneath them, and some Nazis burst in and asked, "Where are you hiding your Jews?" And a young woman of that family gave the immediate, honest answer, "Why, they're under the table," and the Nazi soldier lifted the tablecloth and saw nothing under there. And the young woman, because of the tension of the situation, burst into hysterical laughter. So as a result, the soldier thought she was lying and making fun of them, and without searching any further the soldiers got mad and stormed right out again and the Jews were completely safe (though justifiably rather shaken).

But there might also be many cases of people who told the truth for that very same reason about sheltering Jews and had a less fortunate result. If I were the one sheltering Jews from the Nazis, I would lie through my teeth and not feel a single ounce of regret.

Anyways, in these cases, where someone is protecting an innocent person's life by lying, they are preserving justice, not perverting it, and I think the good of preserving an innocent person's life far outweighs the evil of telling a white lie, and if you consider the fact that there are situations in which there are moral dilemmas to be a part of living in a fallen world and make it your principle to do whatever will result in the greatest good and whatever action is acting with the most love towards the people around you, you are not making God out to be inconsistent (it surely grieves God that there are situations where one cannot act in love and also tell the truth, but surely he is grieved less by a loving lie than by an innocent person's life being lost), and you also don't have to jump through quite so many mental hoops before reaching the conclusion that it's better to tell a lie to save someone's life than to tell the truth at the cost of their life.