Saturday, August 4, 2018

When God Lies

So, when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. – Hebrews 6:17-18(ESV)

Therefore, God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – II Thessalonians 2:11-12(ESV)

Does God lie? The writer of Hebrews based the certainty of God’s promise on the unchangeable truth that it is impossible to lie. It’s the sort of thing you expect to see written with needlepoint and hanging on a wall next to a cross. But what about what Paul wrote to the assembly at Thessalonica? “God sends them a strong delusion.” Can they both be true? We certainly can’t write it off as a mistake because the Bible gives us multiple situations in which people were deceived as a result of an act of God. Exodus 7-9 repeatedly tells us that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart. I Kings 22 and II Chronicles 18 tell a story of the Lord sending a “lying spirit” to be in the mouth of the prophets. And that doesn’t even consider the times that God blessed the lies of people like Rahab or Jael. How do we resolve this?

First, consider that we never see God utter a lie, but the deception is carried out by those sent by God. This may be because it is truly impossible for God to lie. God spoke, and the world came into being from nothing. It may be that if God were to speak a lie that the whole Universe would be torn apart trying to deal with the paradox. But that doesn’t keep him from sending messengers who are deceitful at his command or keep him from “hardening” a heart.

Next, consider the situations in which these messengers have been sent. In I Kings 22 and II Chronicles 18 the Lord sent the lying spirit to lure King Ahab out to battle so that he would fall as had be prophesied. Ahab was an evil king who didn’t want to believe the Lord. So, even when Macaiah told him that the Lord had sent a lying spirit Ahab followed the lie. And let’s look again at II Thessalonians 2:11-12. Why did God send strong delusion? Because they didn’t believe the truth and had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Can we summarize this by saying that when God lies it is because people have rejected the truth? The deception that comes from God is used to move people into a position where they will receive justice for their unrighteousness. How many times have we seen people who have done evil things and were caught because they thought they could get away with it. They believed a lie and it exposed their unrighteousness. Could it be that God sent a messenger to persuade them to believe the lie? They preferred the lie over the truth, so God gave them what they wanted.

What you might be asking is whether it is okay for us to lie. Rahab hid the spies and was blessed by God. Jael offered a man protection and then slew him while he slept, but she too was blessed by God. But Ananias and Sapphira lied about how much they were paid for their land and they died at the word of Peter. There seems to be two kinds of lies. One lie is the usual kind in which we tell something that is untrue because we desire unrighteous gain. The other kind is one in which we tell something untrue because it will prevent unrighteousness or bring about justice. An example of this might be that a gunman enters a school and asks someone where others are hiding. To say that there are no others would be a lie, but it would prevent the death of those students. Contrast this with someone telling the police that the gunman ran in the opposite direction of what he did.

It seems that a lie in and of itself may not be sin, but the evilness of the lie is determined by the evilness of the result. We must be extremely careful because it is so easy for us to convince ourselves that we are lying for good reasons and yet the results turn out otherwise. When in doubt, tell the truth, but don’t aid those who do unrighteousness.