Does God condone lying? I’m arguing that he doesn’t, but not in the absolute. There are times to lie that are justifiable before God. Allow me to explain.
Recently, a close friend of mine asked me a question about a moral dilemma found in 1 Samuel 20. I decided to make a small post about this moral dilemma because Christians need to be aware of these examples in the Bible so that they are not caught off guard when people ask about them.
My friend’s question was essential this: In 1 Samuel 20, Saul wants to kill David, so Jonathan and David make an agreement that Jonathon will lie to Saul about where David is to see if Saul wants to kill David, but part of the agreement includes lying to Saul. My question is if they are lying about where David is just to lie? Are they justified? (1 Samuel 20:4-24)
This is a moral dilemma that becomes clearer about how we should respond once we consider a few things.
First, David had good reason to believe Saul intended to kill him, even though he didn’t do anything worth of death (1 Sam 18:11, 17, 25; 19:1,10-11, 15, 21, 23-24). Like all of us, David had the right to protect himself. His plan ultimately prevented Saul (the king) from committing a sin and preserved an innocent human life. It also did not involve the use of physical force from David against someone. Therefore, this is justifiable.
Second, I would add that if you look at 1 Sam. 19:13-17, Michal also deceives Saul in telling Saul that David was sick, when the truth was that he had escaped from the window. Again, Saul’s intentions were to kill an innocent man (David) (“if you don’t escape tonight, you will be dead tomorrow!” [1 Sam. 19:11b]). Michal was not obligated to give Saul information that would help his plan in killing David. If she had not his David’s escape and lied, David and possibly she as well would have been killed.
Of course, these examples don’t give Christians, or anyone else, permission to lie for the sake of convenience, or to hide our own sin. Instead, these actions demonstrate that, when faced in situations where human sin abounds, it is not always possible to choose between pure good and pure evil.
Lastly, we see this even more early on in Exodus 1. Verse 19 tells us that the Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh. Again, we see them misleading Pharaoh to save human lives (Pharaoh ordered all Hebrew babies that were male to be killed in vv. 15-16). The action of the midwives (lying) isn’t an example God necessarily approves of. However, once again we see a key principle in the biblical text.
Lying is permissible, even the right thing to do, when and only when it’s intended to avoid far worse evil acts toward others, such as the murder of innocent life. Because of Pharaoh’s evil intentions, he didn’t deserve to hear the truth.
Again, in a world that’s infested with sin, it’s not possible to choose between pure good and pure evil 100% of the time. Sometimes we will have to choose the least sinful alternative. In doing so, God will know our hearts’ intentions and ultimately will know that the preservation of human life was the primary goal and thus will not hold us accountable for lying in these instances.
I’m not so sure about you, but I would not want to hear that an innocent life was taken simply because I was too caught up in making sure I told the truth for my own sake.
If anyone sees a fellow believer committing a sin that doesn’t lead to death, he should ask, and God will give life to him- to those who commit sin that doesn’t lead to death. 1 John 16a