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Ancient wisdom for modern dilemmas

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WORLD Radio - Ancient wisdom for modern dilemmas

Is there ever a time to lie? We’re looking at an oft-misquoted commandment to see how ancient wisdom helps us solve modern dilemmas.


KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. At Concurrently, we approach the news through a discipleship perspective. We tackle the challenging topics in culture and current events as learners and fellow laborers with parents, educators, and mentors of kids and teens. We consider the whole person, promoting growth and knowledge, attitudes, and action in the world. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes. We welcome you to the conversation. In fact, we’d love to hear from you. Please send in your questions or comments by way of voice recording or email to newscoach@wng.org.

JONATHAN BOES: We also love to see your reviews of this podcast on Apple Podcasts. That really helps people find our show, if you give us a rating and write a review. If you like what we’re doing here, and you want more parents and educators to hear it, that’s a great way to spread the word. We have a recent review here from Bauer Clan. This was written in response to our episode on dating that we did with Rob Patete and Amy Auten. It says “Thank you for this timely episode. I have five teens in the house and one that’s headed towards a committed relationship, and one that’s not too far behind that one. One of the other young adults involved is from a different tradition. And that has made it a little more difficult.” And so praying for you in that, Bauer Clan. Thank you for your kind review. And again, if you want to leave a review for us, Apple Podcasts is a great place to do that.

Today, we are chewing on a really thought-provoking segment from The World and Everything In It. So on their Legal Docket segment on February 26, Jenny Rough and Nick Eicher talked about “degrees of truth.” They examined two legal cases connected by a single question. What is a lie? And is it ever okay to tell one? I guess that’s two questions. Did I just tell a lie? One of the cases had to do with a corporation withholding information, whether intentionally or unintentionally, from investors, that was regarding a regulation that was going to tank this corporation’s stock prices. The other case had to do with court testimonies and what counts as hearsay. So for all the ins and outs of those cases, you can listen to Nick and Jenny’s excellent summary. We will link to that Legal Docket segment in our show notes. But here on Concurrently, where we focus on discipleship questions for kids and teens, we want to dig into the questions these stories raise. So again, what is a lie? What is a lie of omission? What is a half-truth? And are there ever times when it’s permissible, or even good, to lie?

KELSEY: Thank you so much for leading out with so many excellent questions. Because today, for our purposes of trying to equip these conversations in the home, we want to share the questions that you can use to guide those discussions at home or in the classroom. This is where that discernment begins, is asking excellent examination questions, not only of the world, but even of our heart, as we approach any topic area. So I particularly resonated with Jenny’s final comment of the segment. And she said, “As a lawyer, I kind of feel the need to offer a disclaimer on our theme for the day. I’m not arguing for lies of any sort, whether inside or outside court, or lies by omission. But I think these seemingly dry legal cases do provide an opportunity for some juicy dinnertime discussion.”

JONATHAN: And I don’t know about you, I didn’t find the legal cases dry at all. I thought these were really fascinating. But again, for those details, check out the segment.

KELSEY: I would say, sometimes legal stuff gets dry. For me, it’s all about the conversation. Myself, if I’m not engaged in the conversation, I don’t get the juice. So I’m thankful for us to be able to replicate it here, or to begin it here at least. So I’m thankful for excellent material. And this juicy discussion that we hope to model and encourage today, we want to really lean into understanding, our understanding born of biblical theology. We’re discussing dilemmas when we think about, is it ever okay to lie? And to navigate dilemmas, we really need to have a strong sense of what is good. You know, this question of “Is it okay to lie?” Let’s unpack the idea. Okay. What does “okay” even mean in this situation, and where would we define what is okay?

JONATHAN: So maybe that gets into—I think one of the foundational, core origins of this whole theme is, where do we see, in our biblical worldview, how do we get this idea that it is wrong to lie? Where does that come from? So that’s, I think, probably a somewhat simple question for many people. Even people outside of the church can probably identify “Thou shalt not lie”—or “give false testimony against your neighbor” as it is rather phrased—in the Ten Commandments, the law given to Moses by God.

KELSEY: And you can find the text—and I’m so glad that you caught yourself even there. We do simplify it to this phrase, “Thou shalt not lie.” But that’s not even the way that it’s framed. And that immediately begins to put a bug in our mind for pressing into, what is meant by the law here? And what is good, and what is wrong? We talk about that sin is something that has an omission element, as I talked about in the segment, or a commission element, that there is a way to not keep the law by omitting something, or there is a way to break the law by doing something that you should not do. So omission, I’m failing to do something that is required by the law. Commission, I’m doing something that the law specifically prohibits. And so this is a very important piece of understanding what it means to fulfill the Lord’s righteous law.

JONATHAN: So omission would be like, I am not feeding my children, or I am not providing for my family. That would be breaking the law by omitting something good I’m supposed to do as a father or husband. And commission would be, you know, I’m stealing from my neighbor. Like I’m taking the keys to his Tesla Cybertruck. It’s for his own good, but it’s still stealing.

KELSEY: Doing harm by direct action, instead of by abandonment or by neglect, which is, of course, that omission. So we immediately start realizing that this is a very complicated thing to even understand, by definition. So pressing into definition, like we like to do with the Big Five.

JONATHAN: And the biblical prohibition against false testimony—one of the things that makes it complicated, and what comes out in these legal cases, is that false testimony, it seems, can either be by omission or commission. So in this first legal case, what the plaintiffs are arguing is that this company misled them, or lied, by failing to provide enough information. It wasn’t that the company outright said something false. It was that the company ostensibly could see this huge regulation coming down the pike that was going to tank its business, and said nothing to its investors.

KELSEY: I think that it’s really good to leave that discussion there, because they did a really phenomenal job of bringing it into more rich places that we can touch on by talking about this dilemma. Now many of you may never end up being engaged in the justice system in the United States, or some of you may be lawyers and could have much more to say in this area. But we want to leave a lot of that discussion about what it looks like in the justice system at home.

JONATHAN: And again, of course, you know, a lie of omission isn’t just something in the justice system. One of the questions that came up was, can a statement be false even if—one of the actual justices in the case raised the question—can a statement be false if nothing in the statement, can a whole statement be misleading if nothing in this statement is false? And to that, you know, what my mind went to was like, what if you had never heard of Charles Manson, right? And you asked me like, who’s Charles Manson? And I was like, “Oh, he was a musician, kind of inspired by The Beatles.” And I ended there. You know, I didn’t say anything false. But I think we would agree that’s a misleading description of Charles Manson. And so there can be, even outside the legal system, you can mislead or tell half-truths in such a way that it amounts to some sort of lie, even if the content of your speech isn’t technically false.

KELSEY: So we’ve been discussing omission and commission as very important pieces of the dilemma of, is it ever okay to lie? As we move forward and kind of bring it into maybe more familiar territory, particularly for our homeschool crowd, I know that Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place is on so many curricula out there, and for good reason. She was faced with a huge, huge discipleship dilemma in her hiding of Jews from the evil Nazi regime. 

So we’re asking this question. Let’s think about it. As applies to her situation, she was faced with the question, “Are you harboring Jews? Are you hiding Jews in your home?” And her story, by the way, is also a part of that great program from February 26. The history section really concentrates on her story, and you hear her discussing her faith and discipleship, and what it meant for her to trust the Lord in this very difficult, challenging dilemma. So let’s just go to some of the questions that we might ask in this scenario. You’re faced with evil men knocking on your door, asking you, are you hiding people? Now, we know from this story that these evil men, what they want to do is they want to take and destroy these people. Their intent is murderous. And that, of course, leads me right back to the law. What does it mean for us to keep the righteous law of the Lord? What is good? And what is evil in this scenario? Is it ever evil to lie to an evil man? That sounds a little bit like a logic problem. It is a bit of a logic problem, right? Do two wrongs make a right? Do two negatives make a positive? It sounds like a math problem too. But as we drill down into this, we’re revealing some things that are very challenging about biblical ethics. And since we have the full canon, we can not only look at passages like Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, which not only list the Ten Commandments in their explicit language—you know, “You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor”—but we also see what Jesus had to say in His Sermon on the Mount.

JONATHAN: And before I get into those things that came to mind for me, you know, I want to reiterate my lack of qualification in a sense to talk about this. This is such a difficult issue that people have studied and written about, and even people from the same theological traditions disagree on sometimes, about how do we live out this command to not give false testimony, when faced with, you know, a Corrie ten Boom type of situation, or even lesser situations along similar lines. And so, you know, these are just the questions that come into my brain and the themes that come into my brain, and hopefully can help spark your conversation, listener, at home.

And so my mind went immediately to the Sermon on the Mount and to the way that Jesus expands the law, in a sense—in a sense. So He was speaking to a people who had taken the Old Testament law and made it very legalistic. They were looking at the letter of the law. And it was very much motivated by a desire to have every little jot and tittle just right. But what Jesus says is, you know, “You’ve heard it said, ‘You shall not murder’; I say, ‘If you even hate your brother, you’ve murdered in your heart.’” He expands it beyond the letter of the law. It’s Him saying, “No, it’s not about that. It’s about the heart.” And what that reveals is that you can be actually be following all the letter of the law, but if in your heart, it’s not in the right place—if in your heart, you’re still hating, if in your heart, you’re still telling untruth—then you’re still breaking the law, even if you still have that outward performance. And so what Jesus does is, He creates this separation for us, where we see it’s not just about checking off all these little boxes or having a perfect system. It’s about a much more, in a sense, more complicated issue of what’s going on in the heart.

KELSEY: I think that’s exactly what we see when we see Jesus speaking to the rich young ruler in Mark 10, when we see Him speaking with the scribe in Mark 12, that it is addressing not merely the letter of the law, but deeper, much more challenging concepts: What it means to love, what it means to give up self to love well. And the scribe in Mark 12, when he is examining Jesus, and when Jesus is asking him questions back, and they are doing this Socratic dialectic method of discerning what is most important, and you come to understand that what is most important is loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, with loving your neighbor as yourself. And so we’re asking these questions as we think about, what does it look like to bear honest testimony—not to lie. What does it mean to truly keep the law here?

And so maybe an awesome task for us to do, or for you to do at home or in the classroom, would be even to take those Ten Commandments and breathe them through the things that He says in the Sermon on the Mount, where He elevates and kind of amplifies—you used the word “expands.” I think that there is a certain amount of expansion to it, because righteousness, just like shalom, these are words that are expansive words, and that what it truly means to keep the law is a fully orbed, 360 degrees, all-of-life before the Lord orientation of the heart flowing out into action. That’s really I mean. That’s really impossible to keep. So to try to keep this thread of what this task could be, or this exercise to do at home, is breathe the Ten Commandments through, reframe them through the thoughts of the Sermon on the Mount. How might He say, “You have heard it said, ‘Thou shalt not commit false testimony against thy neighbor.’” What would the amplification of that look like?

JONATHAN: And I think an interesting point to maybe bring out in your discussion of that is to think again about, why do we, or what do we lose when we shorten, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” what do we lose when you shorten that to just, “You shall not lie?” What significance in that is being carried by the word neighbor? And how does that tie in to what Jesus told us is the summary of the Law?

KELSEY: We’re leaning in and reminding that definition is so vital to our discussion. And when we oversimplify terms, there’s a loss of that fully orbed dimension. How do we extricate further meaning and explicate through using terms like omission and commission? If you do a word study on righteousness, or, for example, if you use some of the resources we’ve commended to you in the past, from the Bible Project, they pull out word studies like the term righteousness, or like the term shalom. And if we’re called to bring shalom, that what it means for us to keep this law of love is bringing a right-orderedness to all of life. That’s what shalom means, that completeness, that all is working as it should, instead of just that conflict and warring, that it is peace, because all is working as it should.

I want to kind of return to this question of, is it ever wrong to lie to an evil person? Going back to Corrie ten Boom, when we talk about this, if we know that somebody is coming with murderous intent, what does it mean if we were to say, “No, these people aren’t here”? One of the things that comes to mind—and this is just as a teaser as you attack this question at home—one of the things that comes to mind as we ask, is it ever wrong to say, “No, these people aren’t here”? I immediately started thinking of, “No, they’re not here for you. You who has murderous intent, you have murderous intent, these people are not here for you.” What do you think about that as an idea of how to think through what it means to use information to bear testimony in a way that is in keeping with the righteous law, the law of love?

JONATHAN: I think it’s interesting that you frame it in terms of who you’re talking to, in terms of talking to the evil person. Whereas my brain goes more to, how do my words and actions work out in neighbor love in such a situation? How would my words workout in neighbor love for the people in hiding? Which is maybe kind of inverse of the way you framed it. Because you could say I’m giving false witness to the Gestapo at my door by saying there are not people hiding in my home. But I would almost be tempted to say, am I bearing false witness to the people hiding in my home by betraying them? I think, in my mind, that gets more at the heart level of that prohibition in the Ten Commandments. That’s kind of where my brain goes with it. Again, not saying this is the way you have to think about it, but just where my where my thoughts go in this issue.

KELSEY: You’re asking the question, what does it mean for me to bear false witness in this situation? I really also appreciate the question that was implicit in what you said, too, is, you know, how am I loving my neighbor? Let’s consider the Gestapo as the neighbor to whom we’re presenting an untruth or to whom we’re lying. What does it actually mean to love this person who has murderous intent? And I think of this illustration, through this TV series that my family and I love, and that I’m not sure I would commend it to you, listener, but it’s been around for a while. So you may be familiar with Person of Interest. It’s a story about artificial intelligence that is out to help, actually, to protect in case of a national emergency. But there are a whole bunch of side effects that come with it, that can actually equip people to protect others who are just in harm’s way or who might be about to perpetrate harm on other normal citizens, not on the national terror scale. And so part of what it means to be people of shalom, or to work out loving these potential perpetrators or potential victims, is to arrest the murderous action, to keep it from happening. And the AI is even designed to help to avoid such violence enacted on the human beings. And so I take that story back into this scenario, this dilemma that actually, if I’m asking that question—how do I love my enemy, this neighbor who is actually out to do harm? It’s actually by keeping them from doing that harm that’s so destructive to their being, to be murderous. And of course, I immediately think of horcruxes when I think of what it means to destroy ourselves when we murder.

JONATHAN: You just lost the homeschoolers. I did not read Harry Potter until I was in college.

But another theme that comes up for me in this question, again, parsing out the Corrie ten Boom type of situation, and maybe this is a little more controversial—and just opening this door again, not giving any solid conclusions—but the idea of, are all commandments equal? Are all the commandments we’ve received equal? You know, when Jesus is asked, “What’s the greatest commandment?”, He gives an answer. He says that there is a commandment that’s the greatest and there’s a commandment that’s the second greatest. And so is it appropriate that other commandments would be subjugated under the greater commandment to love God and love your neighbor?

KELSEY: That’s an interesting query. And, of course, this dives a little bit into some more of how word studies work here. He says, “And the second is like it.” Some people interpret that to mean that we actually keep the first commandment in part by keeping the second great commandment, so that we—maybe to reframe it through the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The first question is, “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” It’s been interpreted that we glorify God by enjoying Him forever. It’s a both/and statement. Similarly, these commands, we love God also by doing as He commands, by loving our neighbor as ourselves, so that they are a partner rather than a hierarchy. But I think that deserves a whole bunch more conversation, and one that is rich for having at home or in the classroom. You know, what do we think about, what do we know about, what do we understand about these commands the Lord has given us? Is one inferior? And how would we know? You know, where do we, across the scope of scripture, where do we receive our information? How are we informed on this?

JONATHAN: Another place you see this question work out is in the issue of killing, right? There is a split of Christians and what they believe about pacifism, or whether it’s okay to fight in self-defense, right? A lot of Christians would say that, if it comes down to loving your family by protecting them, it is okay, you know, to kill the person who is trying to kill your family, or to kill in war if your government is at war. But there are other Christians who would say that that is actually never appropriate, because again, it is violating the commandment against murder. So that’s also another place where you see the same tension of, how does this commandment, this specific commandment to not murder, how does that mesh with the overarching commandment to love God and love our neighbor?

KELSEY: In John 7, we see another one of these “what does it really mean to keep the law” when Jesus brings out to those who are questioning His authority: “Hey, you know, is it lawful for man to heal on the Sabbath? Is it lawful?” And they are not treating Him as God, but I mean, is it lawful for God to heal on the Sabbath? You know, is God limited by His own law? Or what is the true fulfillment of His law of the Sabbath? Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath? So we’re raising a lot of questions that help us to actually have that understanding that keeping the law is much more weighty, much more expansive, and much more 360-degree. And these are excellent discipleship conversations, that the material that we supply, through WORLDteen and WORLDkids and God’s WORLD News, the questions that we even bring up for discussion. The Play-by-Play, the material that you’ll see through the podcast The World and Everything In It, and so much excellent material where we are looking at this world and thinking discerningly about how we engage righteously. So some of the scriptures we would maybe want to send you to, as you think about some of these just scenarios. Israel asked for a king. What does it mean that now we live out, in a public life, in a way under human governance, what it means to try to engage the Lord’s righteous law, but in a very different way than He intended. Or we might say that He intended something different than what ends up, so that we are living out a public faith with the intention of having those who are in authority over us, who may not hold the same convictions, and may put us in places where we feel the pressure of what is true. And what does it look like for us to say what is true in this scenario?

So I’m thinking back to Legal Docket. Is it more honoring of the Lord and His law to say what is true, or what is loving of neighbor? So it began kind of back in that taking on a more civil-type government. We refer to 1 Samuel to see, 1 Samuel 8, to see some of the consequences that come from adopting a type of government like that. Maybe you would lean in to John 7 and think about those questions of, is it lawful to heal, to do good on the Sabbath? Maybe you want to lean into the Sermon on the Mount, which is in Matthew 5, to think through these, just heightening of, the elevating of what it means to fulfill the law through what Jesus is just pushing into at the heart level for His listeners, which include us. But note, as you dig around in scripture, and one of the things that you also find is much blessing, an anchoring for this process, that the Lord is good, and He brings us through this process by His Spirit.

JONATHAN: And one media suggestion for older teens. If you want to spark a really interesting discussion about when is it okay to lie, is it ever okay to lie, this would be probably for older teens. Again, research this yourself to find out if it’s appropriate for your family. The superhero film The Dark Knight raises really interesting questions in this regard. I know with [my friends and me], we had discussions about this theme just coming out of this movie. The decisions the characters make [at] the end of the film The Dark Knight involve a lie for the purpose of a greater good. And the movie kind of leaves you in that place with questions. So again, doing your own research, seeing if it’s appropriate for your family, that could be a really interesting movie to spark a conversation in the home about: Is it okay to perpetuate a lie? And when is it not okay?

KELSEY: The Lord has revealed to us His righteous ways in this Earth, and He has cloaked us with Jesus’ righteousness. And He has given us His indwelling Holy Spirit, to help us to discern and to grow, sanctifying us in this process as we learn what it means to engage this world towards shalom, with the hope that He is bringing it in its entirety and His perfect timing. Some of these anchor verses that remind us that He is having His way—Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

JONATHAN: And Genesis 18:19: “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

KELSEY: The seed of Abraham has come, and we have been engrafted into this family that is learning how to be a blessing, just as Abraham was learning to be a blessing. Blessed to be a blessing. He has equipped you for the work.

 


Show Notes

Is there ever a time to lie? We’re looking at an oft-misquoted commandment to see how ancient wisdom helps us solve modern dilemmas.

Check out The Concurrently Companion for this week’s downloadable episode guide including discussion questions and scripture for further study. Sign up for the News Coach Newsletter at gwnews.com/newsletters.

We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at newscoach@wng.org. What current events or cultural issues are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.

See more from the News Coach, including episode transcripts.

Further Resources:

 

 

Concurrently is produced by God’s WORLD News. We provide current events materials for kids and teens that show how God is working in the world. To learn more about God’s WORLD News and browse sample magazines, visit gwnews.com.


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