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Is It Ever OK to Lie?

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

I remember a discussion one time in my women’s group about is it ever OK to lie? I can’t remember the study we were doing. Or even if that was in the study. Or why we started discussing it. But I remember one woman being adamant that it is NEVER alright to lie. NEVER. I remember her saying this and exactly where she was sitting when she said it. According to her it is always a sin to lie. I didn’t agree with her. What harm is it to tell someone their hair looks nice if they ask you, even if you don’t think it does? What harm is it to tell someone you like the casserole they made you? What harm are the little white lies? You know, the little ones that save hurt feelings.

I remember when I first read about Abram (Abraham) lying about Sarai (Sarah, his wife) being his sister and it really disturbed me. God, I thought we weren’t supposed to lie? And here is the father of the Jewish nation lying. Not once. But twice! What kind of example was that? Was God accepting of Abram lying to save his life?

Over the years to lie or not to lie and trying to figure out what I believe about lies has entered my thoughts. I remember one time asking a pastor at my old church what he thought. Was it ever acceptable to lie?

Lying is wrong. Omitting information to deceive people is wrong. Exaggerating to make ourselves look good is wrong. His honest answer was he wasn’t sure.

The Bible tells us not to lie. We know that.

But is there ever occasions when we should lie? Would God certainly understand and be merciful on us as He witnessed our lie?

I just finished re-reading The Hiding Place (affiliate link) by Corrie ten Boom. It has been years since I read it and since I have a really horrible rotten memory – there was a lot I had forgotten.

The book is about Corrie ten Boom’s family in Holland during Word War II. They are loving Christians and rescue many Jewish people. Corrie and her sister are sent to a concentration camp in Germany for helping the Jews. I’m not giving the book away by telling you any of that. You can read the back cover and learn that much.

Corrie ten Boom

The Hiding Place (affiliate link) is an excellent book. A Christian classic. I highly recommend it. There are so many memorable moments in it that will stick with you forever - the fleas and Corrie encountering a guard from the concentration camp after the war to name a couple.

When I read it this time though, what stuck out to me was the times when lies were told and not told when I thought they should be. And the reaction of the people who told the lies or refused to lie.

The first example was at the beginning of the occupation of Holland when everyone was ordered to turn in their private radios. Without a radio they would be unable to get news on the war. When asked if either her sister or father had a radio, Corrie lied.

I had known from childhood that the earth opened and the heavens rained fire upon liars, but I met his gaze. “No.” Only as I walked out of the building did I begin to tremble. Not because for the first time in my life I had told a conscious lie. But because it had been so dreadfully easy.

Wow! Here is the kicker. When Corrie lied about the radio, she was around 48 or 49 years old. Does that not surprise you? It did me. First her belief about liars being horrible sinners and second, that here she was in her late 40’s and this was the first conscious lie she ever told! Oh my! How many thousands of lies have I told by that age? It made me think how our culture has influenced us today to believe sin really isn’t sin. Perhaps my friend who had said “all lies are sin” is correct? Hmmmm.

During the war Germany needed labor for their munitions factories. They would suddenly surround a block and round up the men ages 16 - 30 and send them off to Germany to work in their factories. So families started sending their men into hiding or dressing them up as women when they went out or finding emergency hiding places in their houses. Corrie’s sister’s family had devised a plan to use a small potato cellar in the kitchen floor to hide their sons. They arranged a large rug over it and centered the kitchen table over it.

Sure enough one day they needed it. Two of their sons came flying in the house saying the soldiers were two houses down and on their way. They hid in the potato cellar. The one soldier asked their sister if she had brothers and where they were. Even though she had been taught not to ever lie, Corrie thought, ‘surely now of all times a lie is permissible!’ The sister told them they were under the table. When the soldier went to look the girl started laughing hysterically and the soldiers thought she was laughing at them. They stopped searching and left.

Later when the girl’s mother, Nollie (Corrie’s sister), gets home she stands by her daughter telling the truth.

“God honors truth-telling with perfect protection!”

Corrie isn’t so sure. And Corrie points out that Nollie’s family is hiding two Jews at their house. Is that not a lie? Nollie quotes Psalm 141:3 about keeping the door of her lips.

“All right, what about the radio? I had to lie with my lips to keep that!”

“And yet whatever came from your lips, Corrie, I am sure it was spoken in love!” Father’s kindly voice reproached my flushed face.

I’m in Corrie’s camp on this one. I would have lied.

One day soldiers come again to Nollie’s house. They ask Nollie if the blond woman with her is a Jew. Nollie says yes. She won’t lie. Nollie goes to a cell in the local police station and the woman goes to an old Jewish theater in Amsterdam where the Jews are held until they are transported to extermination camps in Germany and Poland. Corrie is angry with her sister for telling the truth. She just doesn’t understand it. I don’t either. Again, I would have lied.

Nollie in prison gets a message to Corrie which says: “No ill will happen to Annaliese. God will not let them take her to Germany. He will not let her suffer because I obeyed Him.”

Six days later Corrie finds out the theater in Amsterdam was broken into and 40 Jews were rescued. Annaliese was free.

I am again going WOW! If I had been in any of those situations I would have lied. If it was to protect someone from harm and evil, I would lie. But Nollie didn’t believe it was ever alright to lie in any circumstance. Ever. And she believed God would honor her obeying Him. And He did. I’m going to be brutally honest here. I don’t have that kind of faith. Perhaps someday I will. But I don’t now.

I tried to teach my children not to lie. Once when they were little one of them turned off the refrigerator. I noticed it a couple days later. I asked who did it. Neither of them. I knew one of them was lying and I was determined to figure out which one. At first I was reasonable, but when the guilty party wouldn’t fess up, I remember chasing them in circles around the house to paddle each of them. OK so besides lying, my parenting skills weren’t stellar either. I never did figure out the guilty party.

My son once didn’t want to go somewhere with his friends and told them his aunt and uncle were visiting. I was upset he had lied to his friends. He didn’t think it was wrong. Sadly, I’m sure I have used this same kind of lie when I wanted to get out of going somewhere.

We tell our children not to lie. But we do it.

We know lying is wrong. But we do it.

We don’t set a very good example.

Is it ever OK to lie?

God is just. He is merciful. He knows our thoughts, our motives, our heart. I believe He would take into account the circumstances of our lie and our heart’s condition. Are we lying out of love and concern for others? Or are we lying to better our circumstance? He knows. He will judge us fairly. What I once thought was acceptable (like lying to someone because I didn't want to go somewhere), I am now convicted is sin. Lying to someone (like the Nazis) to protect others is still acceptable in my eyes. But perhaps I am deceived. Perhaps all lying is sin. Perhaps I will be convicted of this down the spiritual road and believe differently than I do now.

  • Have you ever thought about it much?

  • When it comes to lying, where is your line in the sand that you won’t cross?

  • Do you think of lying as a sin? All lying or just some lying?

  • Is there a gray area? What kind of lies fall in that gray area?

In our search for answers to what we believe, we could begin by praying these Scripture verses.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Try me and know my anxious thoughts;

And see if there be any hurtful way in me,

And lead me in the everlasting way.

Psalm 139: 23-24

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