Nothing but the truth

Published 7:07 pm Monday, September 24, 2018

In the Jewish Talmud, there’s a story about a king who sent his servant out to get the best thing in the world. The servant returned shortly with a package in which he had a tongue. The king commended  the servant for his wisdom, then asked him to go out and get the worst thing in the world. This time the servant was gone for a longer period. When he came back, however, he had another package. The king opened it, and there again was a tongue.

How true to life is this ancient tale.

The gift of speech can be either a great blessing or a great curse.

“I’ve gossiped about my neighbor,” the woman confessed to her minister. “One day I saw her stagger about the yard, so I told a few friends that she was drunk. Now, I find that her staggering was caused by a leg injury. How can I undo this gossip I started?”

We damage, hurt and destroy people when we speak untrue words about them. Thus, it is with good reason that God says in the ninth commandment: “Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor” (Deut:5:20).

Originally, this commandment was given to uphold the judicial system, to prohibit lying in a court of law. To bear false witness, then, is to give false testimony against someone in court. 

But I believe that “bearing false witness” goes well beyond bringing faulty evidence into a judicial system. As with the other commandments, God intended this one to apply to all aspects of our daily living. It is God’s way of saying, specifically, that persons are more important than anything else. God says, “Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.”

It seems to me that this ninth commandment is God’s answer to the “truth decay” of our day. It is a notable defense against the deception of our time.

Writing in his book “Conversations of the Heart” Bishop Woody White says that “At a time when deception seems commonplace, it is no perfunctory exercise to give pause to the meaning of truth.” The Bishop continues, “To tell the truth is still a desired and expected virtue that holds together and gives meaning to relationships, covenants, and social intercourse.” Stating it another way, community life itself depends on truthfulness.

Is there anybody reading this article who doesn’t believe that we in this society need a genuine concern expressed for the truth?

Think about the whole issue of fake news, the Mueller investigation, the Clinton email squabble, the Brett Kavanaugh controversy, the political smear tactics, the discord concerning top Intelligence leadership, the White House daily update debates, the political party shenanigans, etc. There it is-truth decay in the highest places.  In America today, we have become accustomed to widespread scandals, slick cover-ups, padded resumes, political doubletalk, scientific fraud, falsified reports, marriage infidelity, character assassinations, crimes of greed and slanderous gossip.

In “The Christian Century” (Aug. 15,2018) issue, there’s a cartoon that very much identifies where we are in our culture. A witness who is being sworn in with one hand on the Bible and the other in the air is asked, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, even though nobody has any idea what that is anymore?”

This ninth commandment mirrors two of God’s gravest concerns. God’s first concert is always relationships. Notice what God calls the person we are prone to lie about, the person with whom we are angry or jealous. God doesn’t call him or her an adversary, but a neighbor. “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” That suggests relationships.

It has been said that we have levels of conversation. The highest level of conversation is when we talk about ideas. The second level is when we talk about things. And the lowest level of conversation is when we talk about people. Relationships are critical.

Then God’s second grave concern here is integrity. According to Dr. David Jeremiah, noted preacher, teacher and author, “There have always been people who boast about “getting away with it,” who cut moral corners, or believe the rules don’t apply to them. But today it is different. Popular culture celebrates such people, and today’s technology constantly parades them in front of our eyes, discouraging our efforts to live more truthfully.

However, God States in Proverbs, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them”(Proverbs 11:3). 

And I might add that crookedness or dishonesty can also destroy a nation.

Integrity means wholeness, soundness, honesty, truthfulness, consistency and character. It also means “keep your soul.” 

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” God declares.