The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”
But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.)
- Joshua 2:2-6
“In the interest of truth, I should first disclose the fact that Christian theologians are divided on this subject. Some—like Saint Augustine—believed that it is never permissible to lie. Others—like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who had ample time to contemplate this issue from the perspective of a Nazi prison cell—held that under certain circumstances lying was not only morally permissible but morally mandated. Thus, Bonhoeffer advocated deceiving the enemy in circumstances of war, and he had no compunction about lying in order to facilitate escape for Jews facing extermination.
“Furthermore, while the Bible never condones lying qua lying (lying for the sake of lying), it does condone lying in order to preserve a higher moral imperative. For example, Rahab purposed to deceive the lesser moral law) in order to preserve the lives of Two Jewish spies (the higher moral law). Likewise, a Christian father today should not hesitate to lie in order to protect his wife and daughters from the imminent threat of rape or murder.
“Finally, there is a difference between lying and not telling the truth. This is not merely a matter of semantics; it is a matter of substance. By way of analogy, there is a difference between unjustified and justified homicide. Murder is unjustified homicide and is always wrong. Not every instance of killing a person, however, is murder. Capital punishment and self-defense occasion justified homicide. Similarly, in the case of a lie (Annanias and Sapphira, Acts 5) there is an unjustified discrepancy between what you believe and what you say, and so lying is always wrong. But not telling the truth in order to preserve a higher moral law (Rahab, Joshua 2) may well be the right thing to do and thus is not actually a lie.”
- Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answer Book (question 28)
I was in a Thursday night Bible study when our wonderful teacher took the point of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a debate. Several people in the adult Bible study were vehement in saying that there was no justification whatsoever in lying. Odd how one of them used God’s name in vain almost all the time.
The teacher who was an ordained pastor painted the picture that a gang was terrorizing the neighborhood. Your best friend in all the world knocks on your door and begs you to hide them. You show them to the broom closet just as there is banging on the door. You answer the door to find a gang member. They ask where your friend is. You answer, ‘They are in the broom closet. Let me show you the way.”
The outspoken person against lying, who cussed like a sailor, said something like, “That was a disgusting analogy. That kind of thing just won’t happen.”
Our teacher said, “And people in Germany in the 1930s did not think it would happen either, but you do not have to worry about it. You did not lie. So, when your best friend in all the world died in the extermination camp, you can go to bed with a clear conscience for not lying.”
Not much more was said at the Bible study that night.
In my research for the Bible Study that I wrote about Joshua 1-2, one of the scholars that was quoted on other subjects tried to straddle the fence on Rahab’s lie. They said that God could not condone a lie, but He favored Rahab in saving the two spies.
But wait. The spies were saved by Rahab when she did not tell the truth. This makes no sense. If you are straddling the fence, I hope it is not electrified. You might find a hot time in the old town tonight.
I have had well-meaning Christian friends who have told me that I should divulge all the secrets that I have learned when in service to my country. It is impossible in that I cannot remember them all. I told them that most of what I know has been declassified, but I will never divulge any of it because I have not been personally granted relief from my oath.
In this case, Jesus warns against giving an oath. It is better if you never give an oath, but if it is required of the job and you have no choice whether you take the assignment or not, then you are stuck.
And the strange thing is that most of the secrets that I keep are secrets where the lives of others are not at stake. Yet, an oath is an oath.
But then, can I say that my little secrets do not hold the lives of others? Spies, who gather information can take innocent slips of the tongue regarding things that are mundane and insignificant. They can then piece those innocent pieces into a single string, tying the pieces together with the only logical “secret” that makes sense under the circumstances.
The old saying from World War II applies even today. “Loose Lips Sink Ships.”
If you have been trusted with a secret, it is not for you to determine if that secret is important or not.
And as for the friend in the closet. It ought to be important to you to redirect the bad people elsewhere.
If you have a meaningful relationship with God, I am sure He will understand.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.