The following article is composed by the same author, but poses a dialogue between two opposing views debating the following question “is it ever morally justifiable to use deception and/or lies as a defensive mechanism for the safety and protection of others?”
For example, during the Holocaust, would it have been moral to lie to Nazi soldiers, by lying that you were not offering refuge to Jews, in order to save their lives. Consider the arguments presented and share your opinion at the link below.
AGAINST: LYING LIPS
The moral dilemma with which this question poses is easily solved once one determines the moral qualities of both lying and deception; the inevitable conclusion being that it is immoral to use deception or lies under any circumstances.
Understanding the Bible as the basis for moral principles, it is easily identified that ‘the Lord detests lying lips’ (Proverbs 12:22), and that believers are to speak in truth to one another (Colossians 3:9). The upholding of truth within both the judicial system and interpersonal relationships is of such importance to God, that the forbidding of bearing false witness is found even within the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:16).
Furthermore, God’s character is diametrically opposed to the notion of deception and lies, as God by nature is honest and trustworthy. Any deviation from the truth is of Satan (John 8:44), thereby making the utilisation of deception and lies morally reprehensible, even if conducted with noble intent. Despite any altruistic motives, the obligatory evil necessitated by the situation cannot be justified, and must therefore be avoided.
FOR: LESSER EVIL
Through analysing Biblical evidence and a comprehensive understanding of ethics and morality integrated with Biblical principles, it is apparent that it is morally justifiable to use deception or lies in order to ensure the safety and well being of others.
Regarding the moral quality of lying and deception from a Biblical perspective, it is undeniable that both are inherently sinful and undesirable. However, the conclusion derived that therefore there are no foreseeable circumstances under which such methods are ever excusable, is over simplistic and problematic.
Were such principles applied within a perfect, sinless world, such a black and white paradigm of morality would not only be acceptable, but ideal. However, humans must operate within a fallen and broken world, in which the inclusion of sin has complicated morality. Thus it can be argued that in order to prevent a greater evil (death), it is morally justified to commit a lesser evil (lie or deceive).
Furthermore, we see several Biblical characters presented with this same decision, many of whom opt for deception rather than telling the truth, in order to ensure the safety of innocent lives (Joshua 2:1-7; Exodus 1:15-20, 1 Samuel 19:11-17).
AGAINST: ANOTHER WAY
Whilst it is recognised that we live in a morally complex world due to the fallen nature of this planet, the moral principles of God stand firm and are unchanging. As such, it is still a violation of God’s law to commit a lesser evil, even to prevent a supposed greater one.
Rather, when presented with two undesirable outcomes, it is better to pursue a third outcome which is more desirable. This strategy was utitlised by Jesus on several occasions, who when posed with a trick question from the Pharisees (the two answers presented both being undesirable) he would devise his own third answer (Mark 12:13-17).
Furthermore, regarding the Biblical characters who used deception to save lives, it is important to note that in most of these examples, no indication of God sanctioning or condoning these actions is given. In fact, other Biblical stories demonstrate God’s judgment against those who use deception as a defensive mechanism, rather than trusting in Him to sustain and provide for them (Genesis 20:1-17).
FOR: MORAL RESPONSIBILITY
To recognize the complexity of earth’s moral landscape and to then propose there is no room for the ‘greater evil, lesser evil logic, immediately precludes several other actions such as Just War, in which one commits a lesser evil (killing invading enemies) in order to prevent the deaths of innocent lives (greater evil). Such logic would demand that every nation merely surrender to any invading army and subject its population to ensuing tyranny.
Furthermore, though the aforementioned examples do not include any reference of God specifically commanding these deceptive strategies, there are numerous examples where does God command such methods, and even instigates several himself (Judges 7:19-22; Exodus 5:1; 2 Kings 6:18-20; 2 Kings 7:6-7).
It can also be argued that the individual committing the lesser evil, should not even be held morally accountable for their actions, as they were forced into such a choice as a result of someone’s greater evil actions. No believer should rejoice at having to make such a decision, and repentance should be sought out, but the individual cannot be held accountable for the compromising position they were forced into.
AGAINST: THE CROSS
Whilst it is accurate that the one committing the first evil is morally responsible for his actions, this does not negate the other individual of their moral responsibility. Even if such a sin was coerced, Jesus died for all sins, and such an act of lying and deception although altruistic in intent and seemingly noble, inevitably falls upon the shoulders of Christ on the cross, who must bear that sin. In avoiding harming one individual, the lie simply hurts another.
FOR: NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH?
The final criticism of such a black and white paradigm of morality, lies in examining how truly complex the world is, and pondering how far one takes the notion of truth?
For example, does secrecy classify as deception, as it is a concealment of truth? If one is to believe that secrecy is of the same moral evil as lying, then governments should be transparent in all national security to other nations. Similarly, what of individuals such as pastors, counselors and doctors, who are sworn to uphold confidentiality. Do they sin by not telling others the complete truth regarding those who have confided in them?
Furthermore, sometimes the truth can be equally as harmful as a lie. For example, though rumours and gossip about someone may be confirmed as definitely true, it violates the command to build up others (Ephesians 4:29) and is actually a harmful truth. Similarly, if you hide your true feelings of someone in order to avoid conflict and maintain peace, is such a diplomatic interaction considered sinful?
Or what of the father in “It’s a Beautiful Life”, who pretends that he and his son are playing a fun game, when in actuality they are trapped inside a concentration camp? Is the father sinning for protecting his child from the truth that they are close to death at any moment?
It can be determined through eternal Biblical principles, that deception and lies contradict the very nature of God, and thus it is never morally justified to commit one evil in order to prevent another, as all sin regardless of its intent is bore by Christ on the cross.
As demonstrated through Biblical examples involving both God and humans, and through analysing the complex nature of truth and lies in a morally ambiguous world, it is evident that to lie or deceive as a defensive mechanism, in order to ensure the safety of others, is a morally justifiable action.
By Christopher Petersen
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