Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” Exodus 1:18-19
We all remember the childhood story of Pinocchio, the little wooden boy whose nose grew when he told a lie. He goes on an epic adventure to find the virtue of telling the truth. Many parents have used this story to drive home the teaching on honesty to their children—I know mine certainly did!
Truth-telling matters. It matters deeply to all of us, and it matters to God. It’s why He instructed His people in the Law to not bear false witness. God knew that once a fib was told, trust was broken. It makes sense. All of us have been on the losing end of lying at some point or another. Honestly, we really don’t think about lying much…until it pops up in this story and others in Scripture, and we see those who lied are honored by the Lord.
Say what?!! How could this be? If lying is wrong, if it goes against all that is part of God’s best, then why were these Hebrew midwives honored? What about in other places in Scripture, such as the account of Rehab, who hid the spies, or all those who lied for David as he hid? What about accounts in our modern history such as the Underground Railroad, the Holocaust, or the Rwandan Genocide? These individuals too were honored for…lying. Why? How do we wrestle with this very apparent tension?
We live in a complicated world where this answer is not so easy to tease out, and there are no clear cut answers. For some cultures, shame is a greater offense than lying, so when faced with two evils, the lesser of the two is chosen. In the scenarios listed above, the choice needed to be made whether to save a life or tell the truth. Both are important. The lies were not spoken for selfish gain, but to protect another. This doesn’t make the lie “ok,” but in a Kingdom where God always values people over process, the lesser evil is to tell the lie. In some situations we must do as Lysa Terkeurst says, and do the next right thing, which unfortunately isn’t always clear cut. This is why we must continually come before God and ask Him what the next right thing is.
This is a hard tension to wrestle with. I invite you to lean into this tension this week and watch the film, The Good Lie. It is a wonderful example of doing the wrong thing for the right reason.
By Sheila Rennau