“Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue” (Psalm 120:2).
Lying is a reality in our society. Parents lie to their children and children to their parents. The reason for denying something to their children may not always lack of money though that is what the parents try to convince them. Spouses do lie. Coming home late from office is not always some urgent work that landed on the table as ‘I was about to leave the office.’ Politicians have perfected this art so much so that the expression ‘honest politician’ is obsolete and is a contradiction of terms in most of the cases. Exaggerated resume, tall claims of achievements, grades, qualifications the list goes on.
How often do people lie? A study on American students a few years ago found out that on an average, they lied almost 3 times in a 10 minute conversation with strangers. Another study in Britain found out that British men lie six times a day and women three times.
Saints of the Old Testament especially those who composed the Psalms took lies very seriously. The word translated as ‘lie’ in this Psalm occurs in 21 Psalms and many times more in the rest of the Old Testament. Its synonyms comes many more times.
Isaiah was concerned with speech that is not truthful but deceptive and misleading. He cried out, ‘for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips’ (Isa 6:5). He had to fight political lies and deceptions all throughout his ministry.
It is not a problem in the Old Testament only but the New Testament also exposes the sin of lie. Jesus had warned his disciples that Devil is the source of all lies: ‘for he is a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44). As in all other cases in this aspect also Devil’s character is diagonally opposite to the character of God for whom ‘it is impossible to lie’ (Heb 6:18).
Followers of Christ who has put on the new nature and is growing into the likeness of Jesus Christ are exhorted not to lie. Especially to one another: ‘Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices’ (Col 3:9). John’s vision of those the saints who make it to heaven is very much in line with exhortation to Colossians. They are the ones in whose ‘mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless’ (Rev 14:5).
The early Church also had its share of liars. The story of Ananias and Saphira stands out among them. Though they lied to the elders of the church about the proceeds of the sale of their property, it is considered as a lie to the Holy Spirit.
But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?’ (Acts 5:3).
Lying is a spiritual problem. It comes out of fear and lack of trust in God. It reflects the character of the Devil (liar par excellence) than of God. Jesus said that the Devil is ‘a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44). It is not then surprising that those who belong to him lie. I have come to realize that it is easy to estimate spiritual status from how spontaneous is lying to that person.
Some by nature resort to lie and avoid being confronted by the truth of the Word of God or good counsel by their pastor or spiritual peers. They sow immense damage to themselves as they spiritually wilt away in the course of time but in the process mislead many and sometimes hurt the body of believers. That is why the one who lies and the victims of their lies need God’s protection.
Lying for some is a way of life. They lie not realising they are lying. Lying is built into their system for managing conflicts and maintaining self esteem. Many psychologists agree that people lie in order to avoid ‘social conflicts.’ For example when they are late for a party or dinner with a friend it is usual for people to resort to a lie—most of the cases it would be adverse traffic conditions, an unexpected visitor, or any other convenient lie. Friends lie to each other about their status, finances, relationships and so on, all with the intention to keep good relationships.
Psychologist Robert Feldman finds the main reason for lying is a threatened self esteem. Many people have a ‘real self’ and ‘ideal self.’ When the ideal self (or what they really want to be) is farther away from their ‘real self’ (or what they really are now) they bridge the gap through lies. People claim what they are not and what they did not achieve.
There may be a number or explanations why people lie but one things is clear: lies hurt. Lies hurt first the person who lies and then it hurts the people whom they are lying about. It also hurts who act on the lies that they believe. That is why the Psalmist prayed for deliverance from lies.
Lies hurt the person who lies. I know a man who opened the door of a running car and jumped out of it hurting himself. The driver had slowed down spotting a large truck that was about to enter his lane. However, according to the one who jumped out, the car was about to ram into a truck. The door on the passenger side opened on its own as the driver applied the brake suddenly and he was thrown out of the car. I checked with the driver. It was true there was a truck ahead of them and he had to slow down. But the door was intact and it will not open in any situation on its own. It has never happened with that car before or after.
This person has a problem of seeing things and hearing voices. That runs in the family. He sincerely thought that the car is about to ram into the truck. Out of panic he opened the door and jumped out. He acted on a lie that his sick mind told him. When he later recognized his mistake shame made him to blame the door and the driver. It hurt him physically and emotionally. It hurt also the driver emotionally who had to take the blame. We can forgive this man if we are willing to accept the fact that he did it trusting his mind which was a bit faulty at times. However, lies hurt.
We need protection from lies for many reasons. First of all, our lies backfire to our own harm. We may be caught and the self-esteem that we built up through lying and false pretensions collapse under the weight of it.
Secondly, lies distance us from ourselves. When we lie we have to tell more lies to keep the lies alive. Then as we build upon each previous lie we go far from the reality and end up living a false reality. We end up in a false self image: an ideal self than the real self. The real self which need care, nurture and growth is ignored as we live in ‘an ideal life.’ Lies distance people from us. Lies hurt the villains.
Lies also hurt the victims badly. Lies that people say about us hurt our reputation and our relationships. Lies can be harmful to an extent that some lies could turn to be mortal. When two scoundrel’s gave a false testimony about Naboth he not only lost his property but also his life (1 Kings 21:1-16).
Victims of lies are not only the people who are lied about but also those believe the lies about others. Those who are gullible distance themselves, hate or even attack the innocent victims of lies. Thus those who believe and act upon lies become victims of the lies they are told.
Lies are harmful but who can protect us from lies? I am not aware how many lies about me are out there doing their rounds. Even if know, I cannot go around and defend myself. Even if I defend people still may not believe me! I am least aware of the damage it has caused and it would cause. Lies are silent destroyers. Lies never build anything up. We are totally helpless as victims of lies.
It is this sense of helplessness that makes the Psalmist turn to God for deliverance as he cries out, “Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue” (Psalm 120:2).