The problems caused by deception and lies

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From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 9 – What is ‘the love of the truth’ and why does truth matter so much to God?

I have been a police officer, and then I was a solicitor and businessman for many years after that. If I had to say in one word what is the greatest single cause of difficulty within the workplace, I would say it is dishonesty. I mean that in its broadest sense, not just in what we say, but in what we do and what we are. In Great Britain it has now become normal to be dishonest. Things which would have been considered shocking even 20 years ago, let alone 100 years ago, are now commonplace.

The MPs expenses scandal in the House of Commons some time ago, and which is still ongoing, is a prime example. An alarming number of our politicians (not all) were milking the system for all they could get, regardless of right and wrong. The concept of truth probably never entered into the minds of many of those MPs.

They were acting as if there was no God and no day of judgment. They were doing things which would not have been done by the MPs of the 1980s, and certainly not by the politicians of the 1930s or the 1880s. There has been a collapse of integrity amongst the majority of our nation. Genuine honesty is now so rare that the dishonesty of the wider population is accurately reflected in the MPs who represent us.

They are like a mirror, reflecting back at us what we are like ourselves. The public felt a lot of anger when the expenses scandal broke in 2010. However, the reality is that the majority of the British people would have stolen the same, or more, than their MPs did, if they had been in their position.

The effect of this exponential increase in dishonesty in the Western nations is that there is now no basis for trust. In the past many business deals were done on the basis of a handshake. There was no serious expectation of either party failing to keep their promises. Now that would be wholly unrealistic. Any business which enters contracts anticipates that other people may well break those agreements.

Therefore provisions are made in many contracts to specify in advance what has to be paid if the contract is broken. That said, many people would have no intention of abiding by that provision even when they sign up to it. They would only pay those damages if they could be tracked down and forced to do so. They would not feel honour-bound to pay, in the absence of coercion. I can say that with some authority because I spent many years in commercial litigation and have seen at firsthand how dishonestly people behave.

Even the very word ‘honour’ now seems outdated and quaint in our culture. It is rarely ever used. It is a concept which was widely understood 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago. It was taken seriously then, not only by businessmen, but by husbands and wives, neighbours, politicians, soldiers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, journalists and so on. That is not the case anymore, at least not for the vast majority of us.

I have an unusual vantage point from which to view what is going on in the world. I have not only got my own experiences to go by, but also those of my staff and of the clients that we acted for. I have observed that people at all levels now seem able to lie effortlessly and without any embarrassment, guilt or anxiety. I have had school teachers lie to me and also lawyers, policemen, medical staff and business people. I have had my own staff, even solicitors, look me straight in the eye and lie to my face. Then, when exposed or challenged, they feel no shame, only resentment at being caught out and thwarted.

When I was a policeman in the 1980s I was shown how to interview witnesses and suspects. I was taught to look at their faces closely as I questioned them and to watch their eyes in particular. When a person told a lie they would feel uncomfortable about it. They would then look away from me, even if only for a split second, at the exact point when the lie was being told. That way you could usually tell quite accurately where the lies were in the story.

That technique still works up to a point, but it is less effective today. It relies on the person having at least some residue of a functioning conscience to make them feel awkward when they lie. But as people’s consciences have got weaker, or been entirely switched off, that discomfort factor has been diminishing. Therefore that technique works less effectively today.

I also remember a Solicitor colleague in a previous law firm who said to me one day, quite openly, that if ever her “own neck was on the line” she would definitely lie to save herself. I looked surprised and said “Surely not!” She replied “Of course I would, if my neck was on the line.” It was said as if it was obviously the only practical approach. She thought I was odd for being surprised.

But what she said isn’t right. Telling lies is wrong and will always cause harm, especially to ourselves. Whenever we lie to try to save our own skin we anger God, which will bring Him into opposition to us. In the short term we might get ourselves out of some tight corner by lying, but if we do that, we are sure to arouse God’s opposition. We may even bring His curse upon ourselves, such that we end up with far bigger problems later:

32For the devious are an abomination to the LORD;
but He is intimate with the upright.
33The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked,
but He blesses the dwelling of the righteous.

Proverbs 3:32-33 (NASB)

In the book of Zechariah we are actually told of a specific curse that God Himself deliberately sends out and which attaches to every person who steals or lies. This curse then causes that person to be cut off and to be punished and suffer loss:

3 Then he said to me, “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land; for everyone who steals shall be cut off henceforth according to it, and everyone who swears falsely shall be cut off henceforth according to it. 4 I will send it forth, says the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of him who swears falsely by my name; and it shall abide in his house and consume it, both timber and stones.”

Zechariah 5:3-4 (RSV)

The choice between having God’s help, or provoking His opposition, is no small thing. How can it make sense to tell a lie for some short term gain or advantage but put ourselves on an inevitable collision course with God Himself? It would be much better to lose out financially, or miss out on a promotion, than to make God into your opponent. Remember also that any lie you tell today will be raised with you by Jesus at the Judgment Seat. Moreover, there is good reason to think that it will be exposed publicly. (See Book Four in this series, concerning The Judgment Seat of Christ)

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