The Truth and Nothing But the Truth

The Truth and Nothing But the Truth November 15, 2010

In a recent online advice column, the questioner wrote, “I’m a habitual liar, and it’s threatening to ruin my relationship with my husband.” She goes on to say that she is newly pregnant and that for some reason, her husband is in doubt about the parentage of the child.

Let’s re-word the question: “I’m a habitual liar and can’t understand why my husband doesn’t trust me.”

So, can this marriage be saved?  (Oh ye women of a certain age–do you remember the Ladies Home Journal column of that name?)

About the same time I read that column, I learned of yet another marital break up. The couple had been married only a few years, seemed highly compatible, had an absolutely beautiful wedding ceremony, and recently became parents of a gorgeous healthy baby boy.  As is often true, what we see on the surface hides dark secrets behind closed doors.

They had known each other well before the wedding with joint schooling, work, and habitat. Their relational patterns had been established long before the wedding. The unsolvable problems had already surfaced. They disappointed each other from the beginning, and managed to miss each other in almost every way. When the agonized husband was asked why he went ahead with the wedding, he replied, “I thought she would change.”

“I thought she (he) would change” stand as some of the saddest words in the world.  It is another type of lie–one we tell ourselves, not others. I wonder if the husband of the habitual liar above thought his wife would also change after the wedding.  That a marriage ceremony would fix long standing issues of character, habit and integrity.  It doesn’t.  It never has.  It never will.

A question that philosophers have struggled with for years is the nature of being fully human. What is it that characterizes real humanness?  As a theologian, I always return to the idea of the Imago Dei, that of being created in the image of God. It means we, too, are capable of powerful love, joyful creativity, satisfying work, intimate relationship with others. It means the capacity to think, to bring order out of chaos, to extend ourselves in the redemption of the world.

Yes, we are privileged to carry it, but so often leave it behind.  I wonder sometimes if our propensity to lie to ourselves and to others represents one of the biggest ways we compromise our humanness.

Yet I know the “little white lie” often helps social interaction and smooths otherwise uncomfortable or even incendiary situations.

“How are you?” someone asks.  “Fine, and you?” we respond even when we are anything but fine.  Or the dreaded, “does this dress make me look fat?”  “Why no, it looks fabulous on you!”

These are normal conversational conventions, not the kind of lies I write of here. Those lies that compromise our humanity say, “It is OK not to be a person of integrity as long as I don’t get caught.”  Or, “I hate this part of him or her but he or she will soon change in order to lessen my discomfort.”  Or even greater, “I am more powerful than God.  I can and will violate all rules of holy living and I’ll still come out just fine.”  That last one calls God the liar. That last one eventually destroys the soul.
Again, as a theologian, I ponder the nature of eternity and final judgment.  I wrestle mightily with the possibility that no matter how gracious God may choose to be–and I hope God is mightily gracious–those who have spent their lives lying about the true state of their souls will no longer be able to state truth and say, while bowing before real glory, “My Lord and my God!”
I wonder if the ingrained habit will so overtake the moment that the possibility of speaking truth will no longer exist. I wonder if we will have consigned ourselves to the place where the poet John Milton puts these words in Lucifer’s mouth, “I’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.”  This is the ultimate lie.
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