Tall Tales about Truth Telling

It is a difficult undertaking to try to fully know whether or not you’re hearing truth or falsehoods. I’m not talking about any particular group of people within our society, though you can make the application wherever you want. I’m talking about all of us. In the Bible it says that Satan is the father of lies. Obviously, he seems to hang around some folks more than he does others. It is hard to get to the truth. We all have become inclined to be master tellers of tales that are not the truth at all. You can find lies being told in the Garden of Eden, and you can find lies being told today by listening to people in a friendly discussion as they twist and turn words and events, misrepresent facts, and blatantly tell lies.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus wrestled with this issue in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew Chapter 5, He says, “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (v. 37). What is Jesus talking about? Simply stated, telling the truth. When He says to let your yes be yes and your no be no, the problem we see too often is that people say yes with a kind of thoughtful qualifier in the back of their minds that they could later change it to no, or they say no about something with the foreknowledge that later they might represent it as yes. That’s what Jesus is talking about.

Sometimes people tell me they’re going to do something while knowing all the time that they had an excuse in their back pocket in case they didn’t do it, or that they committed to something at least in part knowing that they did not fully intend to carry out the responsibility. Yes is yes and no is no in Jesus’ discussion of truth.

Let me just point out some of the difficulties we face in today’s world when looking at truth telling. We need to keep in mind that a half-truth is still a whole lie. In fact, half-truths can be more difficult to deal with than big, black, hairy, in your face, bold lies. Why? Because it’s hard to find where truth is and where a lie is in the half-truth. Somebody once defined a half-truth as a skin of reason stuffed with lies, and that definition is true. Even more so is the reality of some of our biggest lies, our boldest misrepresentations of what we don’t tell.

Here is the way that seems to live itself out in some places at some times in blogs and posts and Facebook ramblings. I once knew a fella who seemed to have a masterful recipe for telling untruths in a truthful way. His recipe was something like this: Take a spoonful — just a teaspoonful — of truth. Actual facts may be included. Add to that a couple of cups of assumption, mostly your own assumptions about what brought about the truth or where it would lead. Then add a quart of personal opinion, dogmatically stated and seemingly true. Stir it up. Really stir it up. When you get it stirred up real well, pour it out and spread it around. As you do so, sprinkle in some disqualifiers like, “That’s not what I really meant. I’m not positive about this. We’ll see how it turns out,” all of which are placed there so that you can say, “Well, I didn’t really say that’s what it was or the way it was going to turn out.” It’s an ingredient that you put in there so whatever you say, you can accuse the other fella of misunderstanding.

Another major problem with today’s truth telling is that so many mistruths are robed in religious and spiritual fervor and thrown out there and gobbled up, only to find out the information is both irretrievable and deadly. No doubt you have heard the old story that gets told and retold of the gossiper who lived in the kingdom. The king had finally had all he could take from the person spreading the gossip and called him in. The king handed him a big sack stuffed with feathers and ordered him to walk around the city just throwing them up in the air and in a few days to come back to him. The gossiper followed the instructions. The king handed him an empty sack this time and told him to go and pick up every feather. You can imagine how the gossiper felt. He told the king that would be impossible. The king explained to him that’s the way the words of his mouth and the gossip of his tongue had traveled throughout the kingdom. That’s the way it is today, too, except it gets spread faster and farther than anyone could ever imagine.

So what are we to do as Christian men and women who have read what Jesus said about our yeas and nays? We are to be straightforward, honest people. I’m not talking about just being honest to hurt someone. Frequently I hear someone say to me or to someone else, “Can I just be brutally honest?” when in fact what they really want to do is be brutal more than they really want to be honest. Jesus would tell us today that we need to be people who not only walk close to the truth but share it as best we know so we can be helpful, encouraging, and faithful in telling the right things that will bless people rather than wrong things that will hurt them. We’ve become gifted at telling a lie so it will look like the truth, so we can go on to our next venue of misrepresentation.

I know an article in The Baptist Record can’t clear up and clean up everything you see on TV, and all that you hear from pundits and politicians and even preachers, but you and I can spend time thinking about what Jesus says about our yeas and nays, and whatever we do more than that coming from evil. Don’t be one of the people who gets trapped in a life of tall tales about the truth.

The author can be contacted at directions@mbcb.org.

Jim Futral

Executive Director-Treasurer