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Is it Ever Justifiable to Tell a Lie (part 2)?

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Question:  Mr. Luginbill, I am pleased to have stumbled upon your website. God has given you quite a gift of answering those nagging little questions, which brings me to my intended question. When I read about Rahab there is one characteristic I read emphasis placed on, and that would be her faith in the God of Israel. However, when she hid the spies she lied to her countrymen. I understand that she was risking her life by aiding the enemy and putting her faith in their God, but how does that justify lying? Is this the same matter that you have already addressed on your site?

"There is, for instance, "a time to kill" (in war, or capital punishment, or self-defense, for instance: Eccl.3:3). And in these terms, I would certainly not wish to suggest that CIA operatives ought to be telling our enemies "the truth"; it seems clear to me that deception is an integral part of warfare (surprise, for instance, is one of the most important principles of war, and is often achieved only through elaborate scheming: cf. 2Sam.16:15 - 17:22). That said, it is also important to note that both killing and lying (and other normally sinful or criminal behaviors) are justified only as part of personal or national self-defense (from lethal foreign or domestic enemies). This is a very specific and well-defined area of exception." [From: "Is it ever justifiable to lie?"]

I would like to know so I won't be in a quandary when someone asks me this same question.

Thanks for your assistance.

Response:  Thank you for your kind words of support. As to the issue at hand, I believe that you have framed the matter very well indeed. I would say by way of further explanation that a main point in the exception for personal or national self-defense is the preservation of innocent life from destruction by the wicked. That is to say, the world being what it is, populated by sinful people and run in large part by the devil, will sometimes produce circumstances where the believer must have a sense of proportion. Jesus upbraided the Pharisees for opposing the healing of the sick on the Sabbath day for precisely this reason, pointing out to them that if one of their livestock were in jeopardy, they would have a right sense of proportion and "break the Sabbath" to rescue the animal at once - how much more is that not true of a fellow believer?

This is certainly the case in the example you cite. I do agree with you that it does fall within the exception I mention, but even apart from that the overarching principle is clear. Rahab is in a position where if she admits the scouts are in her house, these two representatives of the God she has turned to will die what amounts to a wrongful death. If she "tells the truth", she may preserve some measure of self-righteous integrity (of little value in any case, and especially regarding her profession), but she will find herself culpable in the deaths of two men engaged in God's will.

Clearly, it would have been very easy for Rahab, recognizing the danger she was in (if her subterfuge had been discovered, she would have been put to death), to use "telling the truth" as a fig leaf to cover over what would amount to becoming an accessory in the deaths of these men. The right thing to do here was very clear to Rahab, and it would be very clear to any of us - were we to actually find ourselves in a similar situation. We fear God, and should fear to violate any of His commands. But which of us would hand the innocent over to death on the pretext of telling the truth? No believer - except possibly someone so dreadfully blinded by legalism that their faith is in question - would be capable of doing so from principle. But it would be very easy to do so out of fear, and to cover over the sin with a false appeal to the wrong principle. We could perhaps reduce all this to a formula, but I would prefer just to say that God is not to be mocked by ignoring love and justice altogether (Gal.6:7).

Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering to slaughter. If you say, "But we knew nothing about this," does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who guards your life know it? Will He not repay each person according to what he has done?
Proverbs 24:11-12 NIV

God expects us to do what is right. And we have confidence that He will ever give us the wisdom to know what is right, through the guidance of His Spirit. In my experience, observation, and reading of scripture, it is generally seldom the case that real (as opposed to academic or hypothetical) situations ever allow for much doubt in the conscience of the believer who is at all attuned to grace. What is tested in such cases is the courage and the faith of such believers. For it is easier to know what is right to do than to actually do it; easier to say it than to do it; easier to do something other than the right thing (claiming, of course, that one was constrained by some other principle, scruple, or excuse) than to actually follow through in faith. Rahab did. And that is why James picks her (along with Abraham!) as one of the cardinal examples of someone who showed their faith by acceptable works (Jas.2:25): she was "considered righteous for what she did" (cf. 1Sam.16:2-3). We have that from scripture. She did the right thing, and by doing so demonstrated that her faith was genuine. That is the very essence of applied righteousness, not the exacting execution of every biblical prohibition when such execution causes one to ride roughshod over mercy (Hab.6:6). This is not "relativism" but the choice of truth over hypocrisy.   Here are some other links which make this point in related areas:

Combating Legalism VI

Combating Legalism V

Combating Legalism IV

Combating Legalism III

Combating Legalism II

Combating Legalism I

Yours in Him whose Word can ever separate bone from marrow, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill


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