Have you ever told a lie?

If you say no, you’re lying. We all lie – sometimes intentionally, sometimes unknowingly. Christians in particular believe in not telling lies. Why? The Bible is full of references to how bad lying is. Why? Satan is the father of lies, the first teller of lies, the adversary of God (even though he’s not on equal ground). Our tendency toward lies and deceit tie us to Satan, which isn’t a positive thing in God’s eyes.

Because I’m someone who likes to challenge everything from a logical perspective, often to point out its flaws, lately I’ve pondered something – we know that lies are a sin, but is a lie always wrong?

Many of the verses in scripture that reference lies talk about bearing false witness against other people, or not keeping your promises to others. They are both selfish lies (as are most lies) but also destructive, since one is intentionally motivated to cause harm to another person, and the other shows you to be false in your promises. (God also takes promises seriously!)

But what about lies that aren’t selfish? They’re still a sin, sure, but are they wrong? Was it morally wrong for German Christians to hide Jews from the Nazis and lie about their whereabouts? If you argue yes, then you’re faced with the alternative: those that knew what the Germans intended to do with the Nazis and told the truth about their whereabouts didn’t sin by lying, but sinned in their motivation to cause harm to another person. That’s the same result as bearing false witness against another person. No lie, but an evil result.

The truth can be as evil as a lie, and just as sinful. What matters most is the intention behind our truth or lies. Selfish lies and selfish truths are just as destructive; do we lie to protect ourselves, or tell the truth to punish someone else? If you take even the smallest amount of self-satisfaction in telling a truth that is going to harm another person, you’re sinning. But if you tell a lie, you’re also sinning.

Sin is inevitable. We can’t escape it, justify it, or run away from it, which is why God gives us an out in Jesus to be forgiven for it. We’re still supposed to guard our words and not tell selfish lies or selfish truths, but in those impossible situations where the truth would do more harm than a lie, or a lie would protect lives, we’re covered because under Christ’s blood, all sins, even well-intentioned ones, are forgiven. As Gandalf would say, “that’s a comforting thought.”