Is it ever permissible to tell a lie for a greater good?
From a secular standpoint, there are probably scenarios that could be discussed in which it would seem reasonable to tell a lie. However, the Bible is clear. 1 Peter 3:10 teaches without ambiguity that our lips should speak no guile. This means that whatever we say should be truthful, and we are to avoid all slander, falsehood, lying, and deceitfulness. This command was not contingent upon circumstance.
The Bible does not espouse a doctrine of moral relativism. God’s truth is absolute, and a lie is indicative of a flawed character and nature. My daughter asked me if I could lie if I were smuggling Bibles into a country that forbade them. I could break man’s law to obey God’s law in giving out Bibles. I would not volunteer what I was doing; however, if directly confronted with the question by authorities, in no way could I deny the truth, even at the expense of imprisonment.
Lying and cheating is a violation of all that is good and right. For the moment, it may seem that lying would serve a greater good, but long term it would bring destruction. Part of the beauty of salvation in a life is the purity it brings—the sameness throughout. Put a lie in the mix, and you have something that is defiled and no longer pure.
What advice do you have for parents about honesty?
First, parents should always be honest with their children. While a parent is not wise to disclose everything a child might want to know, it does even more damage to lie. Some parents make commitments to their children and then do not follow through. This teaches a child that is it all right to say something for the moment and not have an obligation to do it. If a parent tells a child that they will go somewhere or do something, they need to be sure they keep the commitment. Children learn more by observation and experience than by what we tell them verbally.
Second, parents need to teach their children the value of honesty at a young age. Around two to three years of age, children develop the capacity to lie, often by denying misbehavior. Around age four, children typically know the difference between truth and lying and often seek to cover up wrongdoing. Lying can progress as a child ages if left unchecked. One study said that 96 percent of young children lie at some point. Many of them lie multiple times a day.
It is important that parents teach honesty and require it when there is knowledge of dishonesty from their child. When a young child lies, it is not cute. They need discipline and their behavior should be corrected immediately with both negative and positive consequences so that they learn the value and importance of honesty.
Someone asked me a question and I immediately told them something that was not true. Have I sinned?
True dishonesty is when something is intentionally said for the purpose of deceiving someone. If you did not have time to process, and the first thing that came out of your mouth was something to ‘protect yourself’ and later you realized it, that is not sin. However, it is important that you go back to the person and correct what you said, as embarrassing as it might seem. There are lessons to be learned and caution exercised when you find yourself having to go back and make corrections like that. When someone speaks to deceive with forethought, they will not be so ready to fix it, because the heart is deceitful. In that case, there is an additional need of repentance, or they cannot be saved.