Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Lying about God and One Another (Leviticus 19:11-12)

“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by My name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.”

Leviticus 19:11-12

This is a reiteration of the second, seventh, and eighth commandments, but we will only be spending time on the second and eighth commandments mostly because the seventh, do not steal, should be obvious enough. Essentially, what we will cover here is not lying by God’s name and not lying about your neighbour. First, we’ll deal with the 2nd Commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God,” which Luther explains in the Small Catechism, “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” We won’t spend time examining Luther’s entire commentary on the 2nd Commandment but simply the part where God commands, “You shall not swear by My name falsely.”

In this regard, Luther comments, “For His name has been revealed and given to us so that it may be of constant use and profit. So, it is natural to conclude that since this commandment forbids using the holy name for falsehood or wickedness, we are, on the other hand, commanded to use His name for truth and for all good, like when someone takes an oath truthfully when it is needed and it is demanded [Numbers 30:2]” (LC Part 1, 63-64). Common examples of oaths taken in our day are marriage, the military, and some sort of public office.

For example, when I swore the Oath of Enlistment in the U.S. Army, I swore the following, “I, Garrick Sinclair Beckett, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God” (emphasis mine).[1]

I not only swore before the U.S. Army and the federal government that I would uphold these duties but I also swore before God. If I had refused to defend my country from enemies foreign or domestic, or betrayed my nation, or disobeyed the President or my officers, I would have violated this oath and therefore made not only myself but especially God into a liar.

On a more relatable note is marriage. There are many marriage vows out there, especially according to one’s religious or cultural tradition. As I am writing from a Lutheran perspective, we will use the vows in the service of Holy Matrimony from the Lutheran Service Book (pp. 275-277). The husband and the wife vow “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy will; and I pledge you my faithfulness” (LSB p. 276; emphasis mine).

This oath is sworn before your spouse, the pastor, everyone in attendance, and God Himself. If a spouse leaves whether things are better or worse, or in sickness or in health, they violate this oath and make God out to be a liar. If the spouse does not love and cherish his or her spouse according to Scripture’s mandate (see Ephesians 5:22-33), they make God out to be a liar. If anything ends their marriage that is not death, they make God out to be a liar. If any spouse becomes unfaithful or abusive, they make God out to be a liar. Sometimes, though, one spouse has no choice and becomes innocent in the matter, such as no-fault divorce. How this often happens is that the wife will divorce her husband at “no fault” of hers and the husband has no legal means to prevent the divorce. No-fault divorce is an evil that seeks to separate what God has joined together (Mark 10:9).

Besides oaths, “This commandment also applies to right teaching and to calling on His name in trouble or praising and thanking Him in prosperity, and so on “(LC Part 1, 64). So, anytime heresy is taught, God is made out to be a liar. Such heresies include Jesus is not God and/or the Son of God, you must do good works to get to heaven (works righteousness), God’s Being is not the Holy Trinity (there are many variations of anti-Trinitarian heresies, some of which Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses confess), and many others. This is why Bible study and church attendance are of paramount importance, so that you may know how to guard yourself against heresies lest you lie about God. This is why, for example, many Christians find no fault with the Christian fiction book, The Shack, which has about 13 heresies in it (see image on right).

Lastly, anytime God is not praised for prosperity but rather we give thanks to our hard work or something else, we lie about God since He graciously gives us all things, however much or little. This doesn’t matter if you’re a believer or not, for God provides impartially. In Jesus’ words, God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). We also lie about God when we blame Him for our misfortune, for He desires nothing but our good. We conveniently forget that (a) we are the cause of evil and (b) the devil wants nothing but our misery and death.

This concludes our coverage on the 2nd Commandment for now.

The 8th Commandment is, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour,” which Luther explains, “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” This is probably our favourite commandment to violate against one another, even Christians. We slander and tell lies about people we don’t like or people with whom we disagree, whether that disagreement be on theology, sports, or politics. Indeed, the entire political realm is a cesspool of 8th Commandment violations! And we betray a friend’s confidence, even feign being his or her friend in order to betray their confidence and embarrass them. And boy, how much Christians love to gossip, damaging our neighbour’s reputation!

You may say, “What if I know it to be true?” Heed Luther’s words, “If you do not trust yourself to stand before the proper authorities and to answer well, then hold your tongue. But if you know about it, know it for yourself and not for another. For if you tell the matter to others—although it is true—you will look like a liar, because you cannot prove it. Besides, you are acting like a rascal. We should never deprive anyone of his honour or good name unless it is first taken away from him publicly” (LC Part, 270). In short, you’re looking for an excuse to sin. Keep your mouth shut and don’t be a jerk.

Rather, we are to defend our neighbour, “speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way,” or as is more commonly said, “put the best construction on things.” If someone begins gossiping, speak well of the person being attacked. If you know something to be a straight up lie, call out the liar for their rubbish. If you’re unsure of what the truth is, explain everything in the kindest way and so defend your neighbour’s honour, just as you would want someone to defend your honour in such a situation (love thy neighbour as thyself).

On the other hand, if someone is publicly convicted of a crime in court, say, of assault and battery, then by all means, condemn their evil actions. Otherwise, as is the usual everyday experience, when gossips and rumours rear their ugly heads, shut it down and keep your mouth shut unless you attempt to explain everything in the kindest way.

In conclusion, whether you get divorced or break some other oath, lie about God, or lie about your neighbour, these are not above Christ’s forgiveness. He is the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29), which includes your sins—every single one of them. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

[1] Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962; emphasis mine.


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