The Christian walk is a tricky one. Whilst the Bible is universal in its appeal and value, it is also a historical text that reflects its historical culture. Consequently, in a 21st century world, which has seen ever hastening cycles of data and progress, it is difficult sometimes to work out the direct applicability of the Bible.
Now this opening could be seen as quite controversial by many, thus I want to spend a moment to make my position clear. I am not inferring that the Bible is outdated and in need of a face-lift. Nor am I suggesting that it has lost its relevancy, nor piquancy, in our lives. Far from it. What I am trying to grapple with is how we most effectively apply it to our everyday walk. In some regards this is easy. There are very clear passages that relate to concepts like adultery, murder, respect, and love – I’ve no qualms there. It is more a case of topics, or ideas, that fall into the realm of Christian liberty that I’m considering here.
For example, the Bible clearly doesn’t directly address the advent of IVF. In fact I’d want to shake the hand of any futurist author who foresaw concepts like this 50, even 100 years prior. Consequently I’d very much like to shake Aldius Huxley’s hand. So the problem remains: the bible is my primary source of guidance for living life, how do I apply it to this specific circumstance.
I think Joshua gives a good answer to this dilemma in its exploration of another squirmy topic: lies.
Now I know this is well debated territory. I am also aware that the story of Rahab is often used in contrast to the story of the lady who told the truth to the Nazi’s whilst protecting Jews from the Holocaust. Consequently, I am treading a well-worn path. Regardless, I think there are principles here that are worth exploring.
Before I get ahead of myself, lets recap the story as presented in Joshua 2. Spies are sent to Jericho and are protected by a prostitute called Rahab. When she is questioned by the King she deceived him saying:
Yes, the men did come to me, but I didn’t know where they were from. At nightfall, when the gate was about to close, the men went out, and I didn’t know where they were going. Chase after them quickly, and you can catch up with them!
This response is a blatant lie to her king. Lets break it down:
- Did Rahab not know where the men had come from? Most certainly not, immediately after deceiving her king she went to where she hid the men and said “I know that the Lord has given you this land.”
- Had the men escaped through the gates? Nope, in fact she herself had “hidden them among the stalks of flax that she had arranged on the roof”.
- Did Rahab not know where the men were going? Far from it. She actually guided them to “go to the hill country so that the men pursuing you won’t find you”.
It seems reasonable, then, to suggest that this wasn’t just a little white lie. Rather the porky that Rahab told was bulging, festering, and dark as night. It was a whopper!
How do we justify this then? How do we reconcile the apparent condoning of lies by Rahab in the sight of an unchanging God who extols the virtues of truth – even to the extent that Jesus embraces the nomenclature “the way, the truth, and the light”?
It is a case of the means justifying the ends? Do we diminish it in a convenient character assassination like “she was a prostitute anyway, lies aren’t a big leap”? Or can we acknowledge the selfless in her act, her desire to protect her family?
I think the answer to this riddle lies down none of these paths. Rather, I think the answer is altogether more nuanced.
Let’s start with what Rahab did know. She knew the power of God and of his decision to “give you this land”. She knew resistance was futile as she had “heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt”. Importantly, she knew that this power was not temporary for:
the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below.
Now I find Rahab’s knowledge impressive on several accounts. It seems like she has more faith in God’s ability than even the Israelites. She is so certain of God’s control of everything that, upon hearing of God’s plans to hand her land over to the nation of Israel, “terror… has fallen on us”. That is some pretty impressive faith.
Further, she wants to support God’s plan. Rahab’s faith stocks are skyrocketing. Imagine hearing that God has a plan to hand over your house to some randoms from down the street. Could you, in good conscience, say “I know of the power and unshakable will of God, if he wills it to be so then I’m on board” before handing over the keys to strangers? I think it is important to remember that, though she asked to protect her family, Rahab is placing everything she knows in jeopardy, in order to follow God’s will. She is risking her friends, her home, her lifestyle, the lot – because she knows of God’s desire to act on his plans.
It is in this context of faith, then, that we must consider Rahab’s decision to lie. I think what is most important, is that her actions derive from her desire to not hinder God’s will. She wants to see his plans come to fruition.
Does this forgive a lie? I don’t think this is my place to judge. What I do think, however, is that it provides a good framework for me to consider my approach to telling lies in my life. Namely, I need to carefully consider my intent. Equally, I need to carefully consider God’s character and nature.
Unlike Rahab, I have more than just the recounts of God’s exploits to work with when making my decision. I have his entire special revelation bound within the pages of the Bible. Just like Rahab, though, I need to carefully consider this information in order to justify my actions. I think, therefore, it is pretty easy to work out where the line is for using deceit to gain financial advantage for myself. I don’t have a scriptural authority to infer I’m doing it for God’s plan, it therefore seems pretty easy to dismiss.
Saying that I’m a teacher on a visa in order to smuggle in bibles to a resistant nation- this is where it could be seen as a more curly question. To be honest, for all my writing and thinking this morning I’m still pulling up stumps on how to respond to this. Perhaps my stance will be further clarified as I continue to dwell on God’s word and instruction.