There was big news in the psychology world last week. Headlines proclaimed: “Telling fewer lies linked to better health and relationships.” Some psych professors at the University of Notre Dame actually did a study on lying, and concluded that their test subjects were healthier, both physically and emotionally, when they did not lie. The control group (who presumably went on telling lies) had no such benefits.
I always snicker when some study or other confirms what is obvious. Even people who’ve never cracked a Bible will admit that lying is a sin.
God is pretty straightforward about this one: “Do not lie. Do not deceive one another” (Leviticus 19:11).
In Psalm 5, David wrote, “You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies.” In John 8:44, Jesus accused the hypocritical leaders of Israel, saying “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. … When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” And finally, there’s the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, where God struck them dead for lying about a real estate transaction.
(Most people, if asked to list the Ten Commandments, would include “Thou shalt not lie.” Interestingly, that is not on the list! What God really said is, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”)
We have no excuse for thinking that lying is all right, but that doesn’t stop us. Like a lot of other sins, lying is becoming socially acceptable. In fact, we expect people to lie. How else can you explain the success of the 1997 Jim Carrey movie Liar, Liar? The whole plot is based on the premise that telling the truth can cause all sorts of (hilarious) problems.
On Tuesday, I talked about how lying has turned this year’s presidential race into a pit of slime. I found a poll, conducted in the U.K., that asked people which professions lie the most. Apparently, the Brits have the same problems we do here in the States, because here are the results:
Politicians are the biggest liars of any profession, even worse than estate agents or car salesmen, according to an opinion poll today. A survey of over 3,000 adults to find out the worst liars showed that politicians won by a landslide. Other professions in the top 10 included estate agents, car salesmen, lawyers, journalists, builders and pop stars. … Almost one in five of those surveyed said they believed all politicians lied.
Is this opinion accurate? I dug a little deeper. According to wiki.answers.com:
12% of adults admit to telling lies “sometimes” or “often”. The profession with the highest number of liars is teaching, with 65% admitting to telling lies, and a surprising 18% telling surveyors that they tell lies “routinely”.
I admit, this surprises me—I used to be a teacher. The article continues:
When asked the question “are you a liar?” nearly 97% of people answer “no”. When the remaining 3% (self-confessed liars) are subjected to questions calibrating their real, rather than perceived honesty, they turn out to be, on average, 28 times more honest than the people who claimed they never lied.
Can you believe it? The liars actually lied about being liars. Reminds me of those riddles where you have two tribes on an island….
So why do we keep on lying when we know it hurts our minds, hurts our bodies, and God really hates it? I can think of a number of reasons why I am tempted to lie (and, I admit, sometimes I succumb to temptation). We lie to increase our self-esteem, or to avoid hurting other people’s feelings. We lie to evade the consequences of our behavior. We lie by exaggerating, to make our story have more impact, and we lie by minimizing some facts that might prove embarrassing.
What it boils down to is that we’re all liars, at one time or another.
Is that all right—or do we want to be more honest? The Notre Dame study (mentioned above) has some suggestions for us.
Participants said they realized they could simply tell the truth about their daily accomplishments rather than exaggerate, while others said they stopped making false excuses for being late or failing to complete tasks…. Others said they learned to avoid lying by responding to a troubling question with another question to distract the person….
Human effort can only get us so far. Thankfully, as believers filled with the Holy Spirit, we have supernatural power. Without God’s help, there’s no way I can totally stop lying. And that’s the truth.
What strategies have helped you avoid lying? How have lies hurt you?