Does God ever approve of dishonesty?

Harry Reeder & 2 others
3 Min Read

REEDER: I follow the John Murray “principles of conduct” and the ten commandments for things like this. Sometimes, what we look at ​​as a falsehood in the text, may actually not be a falsehood. We just have to know more about the text. For instance, the Hebrew midwives (Exodus 1) are always thrown out as an example of a falsehood. However, you should dive deeper into the text and understand how many midwives there would be, who the midwives were, etc. I am not saying that they didn’t find ways to clutter their calendar or that they didn’t get to the Egyptian women at the delivery point. In fact, the Egyptian women would often deliver quicker than they could get there for various reasons. But I think the midwives were making a valid point. Sometimes, when we claim that there is a falsehood in the text, I’m not sure that we understand the context wherein we have to work our way through the issue. So, I would put that out as a beginning point.

If someone came to me during World War II and said, “Do you have any Jews in your house?” I would know what they were asking and that they were not saying all that they were asking. In effect, they would be asking, “Do you have any Jews in your house for us to kill?” The answer would be: “No, I do not have any Jews in the house for you to kill. I may have some Jews in the house, but they’re not here for you to kill.”

NICHOLS: We can call this “the principle of disclosure.” This is what we call an ethical dilemma when you have opposing commands—to follow one means to break the other. Sometimes, we think things are ethical dilemmas when they’re not. However, there are cases of ethical dilemmas, and Ethicists speak of a principle of disclosure. You do not need to tell me the pin number for your debit card, even if I ask nicely. I have no right to that information, and you are not obligated to disclose it. So, these soldiers or officials who come to the door, whether it was Rahab’s door, Nazi-occupied France or Amsterdam, wherever it was, they don’t have rightful access to the information they seek. Ethicists speak of this as the principle of disclosure in terms of what Dr. Reeder just articulated.

REEDER: Now, you all have had the wonderful example of the difference between a pastor’s answer and a president’s answer right there.

PARSONS: I have wrestled with this a great deal over the years, especially in speaking with college students and young people. The issue gets at so many different questions, such as what Dr. Nichols just discussed regarding what the questioner deserves. I have really wrestled with this because I don’t think it’s as easy a question as that.

We have numerous examples of this issue in Scripture, and we can come up with all sorts of examples from our own lives. What does someone deserve? My answer is very difficult for some to grapple with, but it has essentially been that it is never right or okay to go against God’s law. However, I believe that in certain circumstances, God will overlook or permit when there is a greater good or protection of others in mind. It is a very difficult answer, but I cannot tell anyone that it’s okay to lie when you think it’s okay. God may judge that situation in your heart and the intention behind what you did, and you may be wrong.

We want to be very careful, especially in counseling young people, that they can sort of play the situational ethics game and make up their own mind as to when it’s right to do this or when it’s wrong to do that. I think this issue really plays out a great deal in what we see in abortion. The reasoning many people use is it’s not going to be good for the child for all these reasons. So, they build up this case in their minds for why it would be worse for the child to come into the world due to all the child might have to endure. They say it’s better to abort them and play games with these situational ethics. I do not think we’re ever able to say that is okay. The Bible doesn’t give Rahab a pass to say she was faithful.

This is a transcript of Harry Reeder’s, Stephen Nichols’, and Burk Parsons’ answers given during our 2022 National Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.