“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Winston Churchill
There are times when a lie protects the greater truth because truth is a greater reality than any one statement.
A small example: If your wife (in this case) puts on a new outfit that doesn’t quite seem to fit her and she asks you, “Does this make me look fat?” – Your true statement might be, “Why yes, dear, it does.” But your marriage, your love for her and the evening that you will spend together is a greater truth reality than your simple true (but stupid) answer.
Telling the truth seems to be a Christian ethic (way of doing the right thing) but a Christian ethic is not the only thing to be considered. There is a greater reality at work here.
There are ways to tell the truth that are unloving, rude, sarcastic and judgmental just to name a few. And some are just plain, as in the aforementioned example, senseless.
So ‘truth’ itself is not adequate. Truth must be centered in Jesus Christ who IS the truth.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives the example of a teacher asking a child in front of the class whether it’s truth that the child’s father often comes home drunk. (p. 753 The Bonhoeffer Reader.) The reality of this personal family’s life is being invaded by the pretense of seeking the ‘truth’. When the child says NO he or she is expressing a greater truth- the love, the privacy and even secrecy of a personal family against this unjustified intrusion.
In another example Bonhoeffer gives, there is a criminal who is looking to harm your friend whom you are hiding. The lawbreaker asks you if you are hiding your friend and you respond, ‘no’. And when the Nazis sought out the Jews being hidden by Christians, the homeowners lied to protect the innocent.
See truth is not just about facts but involves a greater reality centered in the person of Jesus Christ.
And, this is not about choosing the lesser of two evils. No, not at all. It’s about choosing the best reality, the greater truth identifying with Christ. If everything about Christ provides the context for our living then lying (in the sense of using certain words equated with a certain reality) is fully acceptable for the sake of Christ.
Truth telling comes from inward communion with God through God’s Spirit. Before the incident of the TREE in the Garden of Eden there was only truth, the will of God. And now, when faced with an ethical decision we go inside to ask, ‘Father, what is your will in this matter?’ We look at Christ on the cross asking why and for whom he died and then make our decision in light of that cross of love. And if we are wrong, well, God will cause all things to work for good for those who live within his love.
I really like the scripture where it is said, THE LAW CAME THROUGH MOSES (good and righteous as it was) BUT GRACE AND TRUTH CAME THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. (John 1:17) There is a distinction. Note it.
Sometimes truth requires a good lie.
Disclaimer: None of the above is an excuse for licentiousness. That, in the phrase of Bonhoeffer, would be CHEAP GRACE.