“Where there’s a lie, there cannot be love.”
Pope Francis offered this wisdom last year, and while I might not be Catholic, his insight on the 8th Commandment rings true about the dangers of bearing false witness. (Also —fun trivia — depending on your church tradition, the commandment about lying might be considered the 9th Commandment.)
Now, it would be disingenuous to talk about lying and omit that I’ve been working on explaining “little white lies” to my second-grader. His moral deliberation is so genuine, earnest and unpretentious — except for the moments he’s trying to figure out what he can get away with.
There are lies. And then there are lies.
We lie when it is convenient or expedient. We lie when the truth is complicated. We lie to preserve other people's feelings. And then we lie to suit ourselves. (Mark Twain’s comments on lies seem relevant as well.)
But for all of our squirming and hemming and hawing about lies, there is something we dare not forget about God — that God doesn’t lie to us.
God is trustworthy. God is true. God is our solid ground — the one who tells us the truth about ourselves, and who tells us that we are beloved children anyway.
We have faith in God because God is faithful — more so than any person we have ever known. And God’s truthfulness is an expression of God’s love for us. We wonder many things about God, but God’s total truthfulness is something I take for granted — a fact that is occasionally breathtaking to me.
God is truth. And as people of God, we are called to be people of truth. We are to tell the truth when it counts. We are called to tell the truth about ourselves to ourselves and to God — both the good and the bad. We are called to reject lies because, as the scriptures remind us: “When the devil lies, he speaks his native tongue.”
But our truthfulness must never come from a hard-edged contempt for the impact of our words. Martin Luther reminds us that if bearing false witness harms the reputation of others, then God would have us interpret others in the best possible light, though sometimes that takes more work than others.
So live in truth. Speak generously and graciously — but also speak courageously, and applaud those who speak courageously.
We might lament that politicians are liars, but that is because we have a habit of voting against those who tell us truths we don’t wish to hear.
And finally, recognize that those who tell the truth are reflecting God’s faithfulness and God’s love — and God knows we need more of each in our world.
Brendan Johnston is pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Two Harbors.