Most of us have heard the warning of Sir Walter Scott, "Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." However, at one time or another, we've found ourselves caught in a web of deception of our own making. The weeping prophet said it well centuries ago: "The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). We are simply just too much concerned about ourselves and not enough about the hearts of others and the character of God. One of the clearest proofs of this is our deceitfulness toward others. In addition, we depend upon our own methods of preservation or acquisition rather than depending upon God to deliver us through the truth and give us what we need through our honesty. The consequences of telling the truth often seem too threatening compared to living a lie or too limiting if we don't "stretch the truth" to get what we want. Unfortunately, we seldom anticipate the real cost of our deceit when the truth finally is known ... and it usually becomes known ... at the worst possible time.
However, the most dangerous part of the deception is getting away with it. The lie steals a part of us, depriving those we deceive of seeing the real us and creating a wedge in our relationship that robs each side of genuine intimacy. As the web of deceit grows, it touches more and more aspects of the relationship until the very foundation of the friendship, marriage, contract, fellowship, or partnership is entangled in the deceit and the very foundation of the relationship is threatened. Even if our deceit is never "outed," we are damaged and become selfish and abusive people who fear no consequence.
No wonder Paul gave the Christians of Asia Minor these guidelines to root out deceit and bring truth to their lives:
Put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are members of one body. ... Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs. ... Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-32)
These inspired words remind us of three complementary principles that are crucial to the world of truth-telling.
Tell the truth. Don't start the deception. If you have lived in deceit, then find a way to come clean and live in the truth beginning now. God is truth. He does not lie. It is not part of his character and he reminds us that he hates deceptive speech and actions (Proverbs 6:16-19 & Proverbs 12:22).
The truth you tell needs to benefit the person you are telling. Don't volunteer truth that hurts unless you have been deliberately deceptive. This is sometimes called "judicious honesty" and the sensitive practice of it is hard. You need prayer and the help of a wise, experienced Christian counselor or close friend to help you know how best to practice this when long-term deception has been involved and you are trying to decide if, how, when, and where to share your deception. And be careful here that "judicious truth" doesn't sink back into "hedging the truth" to protect yourself and your reputation. Finding the balance between blowing apart someone's life with "the truth" and hedging the truth to protect ourselves is not easy.
When someone confesses to us about their deception, no matter how agonizing, we must forgive just like you have been forgiven by God. This may not be easy, but is crucial. Forgiveness is as much commanded as telling the truth. Jesus' warnings (Matthew 6:12-15; Matthew 18:21-35) remind us how important the principle of forgiveness is! Again, in times when a long-term deceit is revealed to us, a close Christian friend or experienced counselor may be needed to help us proceed down this road redemptively when the crushing weight of a long-term deception is revealed.
*Robert Feldman's studies on lying can be found all over the web through a search or you can just search on lying to see how prevalent and pervasive it is in every area of life today. Search about lying, but be forewarned, there is a lot of good, bad, and ugly out there about lying!
How do you feel about long term lying and deception? What principles do you believe need to be used when "coming clean" about a lie and deception? I'd love to hear from you on my blog: