Friday, December 20, 2019

What about the "righteous lie"?

There are better, more detailed treatments of this that delve into such important questions as the moral law being an expression of the character of God, and whether that character can ever conflict (of course not!). But after seeing this question make the rounds among some whom I love and respect, I wish to add my own informal, comparatively brief summary answer.

A faithful, Reformed pastor over at Purely Presbyterian quotes Dr. Murray in Principles of Conduct:
On Rahab being honored by God despite her lie, John Murray cuts to the heart of the matter:
"It is strange theology that will insist that the approval of her faith and works in receiving the spies and helping them to escape must embrace the approval of all the actions associated with her praiseworthy conduct. But if it is objected that the preservation of the spies and the sequel of sending them out another way could not have been accomplished apart from the untruth uttered and that the untruth is integral to the successful outcome of her action, there are three things to be borne in mind.
(1) We are presuming too much in reference to the providence of God when we say that the untruth was indispensable to the successful outcome of her believing action.
(2) Granting that, in the de facto providence of God, the untruth was one of the means through which the spies escaped, it does not follow that Rahab was morally justified in using this method. God fulfills his holy, decretive will through our unholy acts.
(3) The kind of argumentation that seeks to justify the untruth because it is so closely bound up with the total result would be akin to the justification of Jacob's lie in connection with the blessing of Isaac [Gen. 27]; Jacob's deception in deed and word is integral to the de facto outcome of the episode, and yet we need not and may not justify his lie."
(Principles of Conduct, pp. 138-139).
Murray is excellent on the question of the so-called righteous lie. The "you can lie to save life" idea runs afoul of the doctrine of God's sovereign providence. It was a blindspot of Dabney, so there are many good men who follow him on it today, and there does seem to be an increased tendency to hold the "righteous lie" position among those who have had to participate in war.

There are options in a situation like Corrie Ten Boom's. You only have to give an answer to those who have a moral right to demand it from you, so silence is often an option. In those situations, you can also answer with a different truth than the one demanded, or even a question. Our Lord Jesus models all of these responses in the gospels.

Some will say that in Scripture God Himself deceives. In my opinion, this is blasphemy. What God does do is give information that is seized upon by the wicked to their own destruction. Because of their wicked assumptions and wicked intent, they respond by plunging into being deceived. God will not even send an holy angel to speak a single untruth. Even in His determined providence, only a wicked one will do in that case (cf. 2Chr 18:18-22).

There is not space here to engage the variety of objections that defenders of the "righteous lie" often raise. It should be needless to say that one had better be absolutely sure, and have much more than tenuously arranged moral reasoning, to justify an idea that must stand up against such clear statements as: "God is not a man that He should lie" (Num 23:19) and "God cannot lie" (Titus 1:2). And "when he [the devil] lies he speaks from his own [i.e. his own character, or even language], for he is a liar and the father of it" (Jn 8:44). And especially "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone" (Rev 21:8).

Oh, and by the way, Corrie Ten Boom told the truth! The Jews were in a trap door under the table, and when asked where they were, she said, "under the table!" Her persecutors laughed and left, and they were safe. Of course, they could also have looked and found them and killed them all. But that is God's liberty in His inscrutable providence. The duty of not lying is ours. The events of what comes of it belong to God.

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