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20 June 2018

Lies!

And the difference between lies and falsehoods—and why certain people don’t care there’s a difference.

LIE /laɪ/ n. Intentional untruth: A false statement involving deception, or an impression designed to be misunderstood.
2. v. To make an intentionally false statement, present a false impression, or deceive.
[Liar /laɪ(.ə)r/ n.]

By “lie,” most folks ordinarily mean an intentional untruth.

“I floss every day,” you tell your dentist, and you totally don’t. “I think I was going 45,” you tell the traffic cop, and you know you pushed it to 60 to beat the stoplight. “I exercise,” you tell your friends, but haven’t been to the gym since the first week of January. The truth is embarrassing, or may get you into trouble, or you’re sure it won’t get you out of trouble. But when you try to get people to believe otherwise, that’d be lying.

But there’s another definition of “lie” floating around. It’s grown in popularity, ’cause people use it to provoke one another. In short, a lie isn’t just an intentional untruth. It’s any untruth.

Fr’instance somebody asks how much you weigh. You don’t like the answer, but you wanna be honest, so you tell them: “I weigh 200 pounds.” They have you step on a scale, and it comes up 205. “Aha!” they exclaim, “you lied.” But you honestly thought you weighed 200 (and you probably do, once you’re not wearing five pounds of clothing). So no, you hadn’t lied: You weren’t trying to deceive. There’s a difference.

But some folks don’t care there’s a difference. They just wanna catch you doing the wrong thing, so they’re willing to fudge the definition of “lie” just a little. That’s why partisans love defining “lie” as any untruth.

A couple years ago I read some preacher’s Facebook rant about some popular book by a prosperity gospel pastor. He called her a liar nine times. Called her teachings “lies” six more times. Now, is she a liar?—using the ordinary definition of “liar.” Is she intentionally making statements she knows to be false? Is she trying to deceive? Is she trying to say one thing, but make you think she believes another? Is she deliberately, willfully trying to lead Christians astray?

Um… I’m gonna give her the benefit of the doubt and say no. She’s no liar. Oh, she’s wrong of course; the prosperity gospel is Mammonism and she’s definitely distorting the scriptures and misleading people. But she believes her rubbish. She’s leading herself astray, same as everyone else. She’s not lying in the proper sense of the word. Neither are heretics and nontheists, wrong though they are.

So why’d the Facebook preacher call her a liar? Well, in this guy’s case, it’s overzealousness. A lack of patience. Easily-stirred anger. Quick to argue. He’s kind of a fruitless guy, and the reason he has a lot of internet followers is because fruitless Christians eat up this behavior with a spoon.

And he’ll justify it by claiming the prosperity gospel teachings are lies. Though not necessarily the book-author’s lies. More like Satan’s lies. And to his mind, anyone who spreads lies, no matter if they think they aren’t lies, is a liar. Ergo she’s a liar.

No that’s not what “liar” means, but he doesn’t really care. “Liar” stirs people up, and that’s what he’s really going for. Which is a little bit deceptive—dare I say lying?—of him.

Oh, Satan’s a liar, of course.

At one point Jesus got frustrated with the Judeans who kept mischaracterizing him, and did a little of his own ranting:

John 8.43-47 KWL
43 “How come you can’t recognize my speech? You aren’t able to hear my message!
44 You’re from your father—the devil. You want to do what your father desires.
From the beginning, it’s been into manslaughter. It doesn’t stand in the truth; truth isn’t in it.
Whenever it speaks lies, it speaks its own language. It’s a liar, and every liar’s father.
45 Because I tell the truth, you don’t believe me. 46 Who among you accuses me of sin?
If I tell the truth, how come you don’t believe me? 47 The one from God, hears God’s words.
For this reason you don’t hear me: You aren’t from God.”

Musical bonus: Keith Green’s “Lies.” YouTube

The NIV prefers “the father of lies” over the KJV’s more accurate “father of it”—which I rendered “every liar’s father,” because psévstis/“liar” is what Satan’s the father of, not lying itself. The idea Christians get is that Satan was the first being to figure out how to lie. Kinda like Ricky Gervais’s character in The Invention of Lying, who discovers being the only person who knows how to lie comes in really handy for him personally. Works great when Satan wants to tempt people. “You won’t really die,” Ge 3.4 did a number on Adam and Eve.

A fair number of Christians decide this verse means Satan composes every lie: Whenever a falsehood exists in the world, it’s because the devil came up with it, and got someone to say it. That includes your lies. If you tell people, “I rarely eat fast food,” yet every weekend you shove fistfuls of fries into your face, their theory is the devil was sitting on your shoulder, whispering, “Don’t tell ’em you eat fast food. They don’t need to know that. Tell them this…”

What’s their proof? Back in Acts, when Ananias and Sapphira sold their land and lied to their church about donating all the proceeds, the Holy Spirit told Simon Peter otherwise:

Acts 5.3-4 KWL
3 Simon Peter said, “Ananias, for what reason has Satan filled your heart?
Lying to the Holy Spirit? Setting aside some of the value of the land?
4 It wasn’t to stay yours, was it? The sale happened under your authority, right?
Who put this idea in your head? You didn’t lie to people, but to God.”

So if Peter said Satan was involved in the lie, Christians deduce Satan’s involved in every lie. Every time you claim, “I’m busy tonight” in order to dodge an obligation, the devil roars in glee: “Best lie I’ve ever invented! Everybody uses it. And now they do so little!”

Meh. Back to the Facebook preacher. He may not’ve gone all the way through this thought process, but that’s the philosophy behind it. The author he railed against is a “liar” because he imagines Satan, hiding in the shadows behind all her wrongness, tricking her into proclaiming, “It’s so easy for the rich to enter the kingdom,” Jesus notwithstanding. Mt 19.23 It’s a devilish falsehood; therefore the devil made it up. They’re not her mistakes; she’s spreading its lies. She’s the devil’s proxy. An under-devil. A substitute liar.

Ever been wrong? Gonna blame Satan?

The belief the devil composes every single falsehood in the world, starts to get goofy when we analyze certain falsehoods.

Fr’instance. When I was a kid, I didn’t like math, and skipped my math homework regularly. So when test time came round, I’d get C’s instead of A’s. Whose fault was that? Satan’s, because it wanted me to fail math? Or mine, because I was lazy?

For another instance. Sometimes my mom calls me by my brother’s name, and vice-versa. Same with my sisters and sister-in-law. Same with lots of parents. Same with this pastor I had, who’d mix up Elijah and Elisha every time he preached on them. So… does this mean Satan’s perched on everyone’s shoulders, getting us to mix up names?

You do realize certain Christians honestly do think so. If every error belongs at the devil’s feet, it means Satan is near-omnipresently everywhere, tripping humans up, making us constantly stumble lest we get anything done for Jesus. ’Cause that’s why they embrace this idea: Every human error is the product of taking our eyes off God, and listening to Satan when we shouldn’t. Every error is sin.

If you wanna travel that road, you’re gonna go bonkers from perfectionism and legalism. You’re never gonna take risks, because if you fail, it indicates you’ve sinned. And that fear stymies way more Christians than mixing up your kids’ names.

Fact is, sometimes the devil is behind an untruth. But we humans are entirely capable of lying without any outside help. Some of us are experts: No devil needs to tell us what to say. We’ll lie just fine on our own.

And while these liars might try to blame the devil for their misdeeds, just like Eve tried with the serpent which tempted her, Ge 3.13 this excuse isn’t gonna fly with God any more than Eve’s did. Each of us stands before God for all our deliberate acts of deception. When we’re honestly mistaken, the Spirit tries to correct us. Jn 16.13 But before he tells people better, God overlooks those who don’t know any better. Ac 17.31 Those who do know better—those who intentionally spread untruth, actual liars—suffer greater condemnation.

More inflammatory than accurate.

That’s why I give the prosperity gospel author the benefit of the doubt. I don’t assume she’s one of those con artists who joined the movement as a means of separating Christians from our cash. (“You gotta plant that seed money! Send us that dollar, and God’ll give it back to you tenfold!”) There are such people, who deliberately preach wealth instead of God’s kingdom, and unless God intervenes they’ll spend eternity among their burnt-up wealth instead of in the kingdom. Horrible to contemplate, but such people do exist. I don’t think she’s intentionally one of them, and I hope I’m not wrong.

No, it doesn’t mean she’s in a good place. She still has a materialist view of God, a covetous view of the world, and little respect for how to actually read a bible. And I remind you the Holy Spirit tries to correct such people. The fact she’s put this stuff in a book means two things: She’s resisting the Spirit’s corrections, and now that her views are in print it’s a lot harder to walk ’em back. Not impossible, but not easy. You gotta swallow a lot of pride.

But let’s get off her, and back to the Facebook preacher who’s mighty free with that word “liar.”

Twelve of the 15 times he referred to lies and liars, he emphasized his words. He’s one of those writers who loves to emphasize words in every way the computer permits: Boldface, italics, underlines, capitals. Sometimes all four at once. With extra exclamation points! (In real life, he’s a pretty shouty preacher too.) So when he called her a liar, he wanted to make sure his readers saw those words. No mistake: She was a liar.

Trying to make sure people stay away from her? Indubitably. And no mincing words about it. She’s not merely misguided, mistaken, foolish, or shallow: He figures she’s deceived, and deceives others in turn. She’s dangerous, poisonous, toxic, deadly. Y’know, words that make people flinch. Like “liar.”

“Liar” is a fighting word. People sue over it, y’know. Call someone a liar, and you’ve cast doubt on their good name, or accused them of a crime. It’s not a light term to fling around, despite how often preachers and pundits do it. So when you toss out the L-word, don’t be surprised when people take real offense at it. Even legal action.

The point of warning people about bad theology, false teaching, fake prophets, a phony gospel, or anything they need to stay away from, is accuracy. We’re trying to point them to truth. Problem is, when we use extreme words instead of precise words, fear-provoking words instead of thought-provoking words, we’re not really pointing ’em to truth. We’re redirecting them towards another falsehood. We haven’t brought ’em any closer to the truth than before.

It’s why I used to be really free with the term “liar,” just to get a rise out of people. Not to expose truth; solely to outrage. I didn’t care about truth. Just about winning the argument. That’s how pundits are. Sad to say, that’s also how a lot of preachers are. They’re willing to lie to scare people away from hell, unaware that they’re simply leading ’em into hell from a different direction.

That’s why I warn you: It’s not about winning. It’s about Jesus. Stick to the truth.