by David Shalley.
Mudslinging has become an art form today. A passing comment is taken as fact and “presto”, a fine reputation is damaged beyond repair. Prejudicial reporting is making it difficult for some people to obtain a fair trial, with many media outlets preferring profit before integrity.
Trust is yet another casualty of character-theft. With mutual confidence lost, no basis exists on which to conduct our affairs. Life becomes a selfish scramble for a bigger slice of the economic cake. In the market place a person’s word can no longer be trusted because truth is seen to be a relative commodity, on sale to the highest bidder. We have redefined truth as that statement of an issue that will achieve the best result for me, regardless of how it will harm others.
In short, our society suffers from “truth decay”, demonstrating that we have disregarded God’s caring prescription: the Ninth Commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour” (1). Whilst in the Eighth Commandment God tells us to respect the property of others, in the Ninth He tells us not to deprive them of their good reputation.
Basis for Justice: A good reputation is a precious thing to own(2). God intends that none should have their good name besmirched by untrue statements. Reputation is the public view, or perception, of someone’s character. False reports that impact badly on a person’s reputation impugn their character.
The primary purpose of this commandment is the maintenance of a just society. The heavy penalty that perjury attracts in Australian law is significant. Our whole justice system hinges on determining the truth surrounding each case(3). Once, not so long ago, our society was basically honest. One could believe all that was said. A person’s word was their bond. What a person wrote was the truth. The thought of guile seldom entered anyone’s head. Contracts were honoured, forms honestly filled out and tax returns completed factually. Now the truth has to be extracted from us, like pulling a deep rooted tooth, via a string of regulations reinforced by severe penalties. The Lord had more in mind than just social conduct, interpersonal issues also are addressed by this Commandment.
Lies told with intent to damage; unnecessary disclosure of misinformation; sowing doubts in one person’s mind about another; guilty silence in the presence of slander; imputing ulterior motives to good actions; elaborating the truth through flattery; even the flowery testimonial—how much damage has been caused by ill-considered letters of reference?
Every violation of the truth breaks the Ninth Commandment. Thus blatant lies, half-truths, truth packaged so as to deceive and knowing silence are all equally lies. The positive command implicit in the negative is the seeking of our neighbour’s good and, so to speak, the truth about them to this end. Healthy interpersonal relationships can only flourish in a climate of truth. The Lord expects that we should be people of truth, particularly when it comes to the reputation of another person(4).
God relates to us on the basis of a full knowledge of what we are. He wants us to relate to others on the same basis, given that our knowledge of others is limited to what they want us to know.
Test of Character: A very discriminating test of character is whether a person will slander another so as to protect themselves. To be a person takes such liberties with the truth is to face the prospect that you are living with someone you cannot trust…..yourself!
Some Christians try to deceive others about their commitment, state of growth and attitudes in order to advance their own selfish ends. The spirit of Ananias and Sapphira is still abroad today (6).
The Lord’s fiercest criticisms were reserved for hypocrites, people who were living a lie. The road to Calvary was lined with them. Christ was condemned to die on the basis of false evidence. So prevalent was falsity in the time of Christ that Pilate was moved to ask, “What is truth?” (7), surely hinting that absolute truth did not exist in Roman thinking. Truth was governed by expedience, convention and experience, but there are no such things as “white lies”. Evil means lead to evil ends. The New Testament exalts truth and condemns slander(8).
Many are unable to face the truth about their own lives and seek to conceal it by slandering others. Some have twisted the truth so often they can no longer unravel the tangled mess it has produced.
Truth can endure mighty onslaughts but the truth is brittle. Bend it ever so slightly and its integrity is lost. Today’s generation needs to hear the truth and to see it plainly lived by society in general and Christians in particular. Parents, public figures, media personalities, experts, advertisers, lobby groups, teachers and sales staff all too often set double standards, and then decry the young when they copy their seniors.
Sad Outcome: We need to remember that, although the young will have to answer for their own offences, it is the people of our generation who have made it difficult for them to find and choose the right way. We have strewn the pathway with confused values and misguided directions, and left them adrift on a sea of relativity without chart or compass to guide them. Everything has been thrown out: the bathwater, the baby and even the bath! All that remains is “If it feels good…do it” – a prescription for self-destruction if ever there was one. Sadly our society has believed a lie for so long they can seldom recognise the truth when it is staring them in the face.
So why is society so impure and dishonest in its speech? Isaiah’s cry from the heart strikes a deep chord of guilt in our hearts: “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips” (9). Our world is like it is because Christians are the way they are! We hold ourselves up as models of morality to our fellow citizens, only to fail again and again. This makes a mockery of the compassion of Christ who said: “I did not come to judge the world but to save it” (10). Jesus moved among everyday people, lifting them up. In contrast, we stay in the meeting place, lifting ourselves up from introspection and claim that to be the whole truth. It is in fact a gross misrepresentation of the loving heart of God as personified by Jesus.
Questions: Have we slandered the character of God who is Holy-Love, spread gossip about His motives, and stood in guilty silence when he has been misrepresented?
Have we born a false testimony about God to our compatriots? Have we set forth a God caged by ancient traditions, irrelevant and indifferent to the needs, pains and heartaches of modern humanity?
Have we locked Him into “our position” in theological debate that has little to do with fulfilling His heart’s desire for the world? Have we let our petty differences place a smokescreen between estranged people and His reconciling love? (11).
The only way to deal with such sin (for that is what it is) is to admit that it is true of us, confess that God’s view is right and turn away from such falsehoods that trample the reputation of our Lord. The alternative is almost too painful to consider. It is to spend a lifetime in guilty regret for having distorted the truth about the Father, consigning ourselves to ineffectiveness in the service of God, whilst He looks around for someone whose heart and lips are true to His loving character and purpose for the world.
Let the final word come from the Psalmist, whose prayer should find an echo in our hearts:
“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord. Keep a watch over the door of my lips” (12).
(1). Genesis 20:16
(2). Proverbs 22:1
(3). Ecclesiastes 23:1; Proverbs 12:17
(4). 1 Peter 3:8-10
(5). Ephesians 4:28; 1Timothy 6:17-19
(6). Acts 5:1-11
(7). John 18:38
(8). Colossians 3:8-9; Titus 3:1-2; James 4:11
(9). Isaiah 6:5
(10). John 12:47
(11). 1Peter 3:15-16; 2 Corinthians 5:16-20
(12). Psalm 141:3