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On the Truth, and the cost of lies

“Remember: one lie does not cost you one truth but the Truth” – Hebbel


It seems that truth is bendable – it has become elastic during the last decades. People can twist and turn it any which way they want, especially if they have a good lawyer.

“Guilty or not guilty?”
“Not guilty.”
“Have you ever been to prison?”
“No, this is this is the first time I’ve been caught stealing.’

Surely truth is a question which has plagued mankind for centuries. The question of what, exactly, truth is, has been particularly in the headlines during the last year.

There are those times in which we do not speak the truth in order to shield others from something. The Bible records incidents in which people did not speak the truth and two incidents immediately come to mind: the first deals with the protection of the small Jewish babies by the Hebrew midwives (Ex. 1:15-21). The second recounts the hiding of the Jewish spies sent to search out the land for the Israelites (Joshua 2).

Incidents such as these remain relevant to the present times. We have only to think of the Second World War during which time many Christians hid Jewish refugees.


My husband and I had such an incident in our lives as well. It had not nearly the magnitude of life and death to it, but it does illustrate the fact that things are not always black and white.

A few years after my husband’s graduation from the Ontario Veterinary College, we had our third child. An aunt of my husband’s, Tante Til, had come over from Holland to help me out for a week or two. She was cheerful, lively and a bastion of cleanliness. We enjoyed having her around. Tante Til had a wonderful sense of humor but she also had a passion for sterilizing whatever came within her reach. Perhaps this was because she mistrusted my husband’s close daily contact with stables and their inhabitants and distrustfully eyed the mud caked to his large rubber boots. Tante Til was “proper” and would never dream of letting a soup bowl function as a cat dish or using her handkerchief to wipe away a cobweb.

Tante Til was not extremely fond of animals and the kitten, dubbed “Little Grape” by our two girls, had to stay out of her way. The litter box was vies (dirty), and my husband was delegated the task of cleaning it while I was in the hospital. He gladly did so. We had, I am ashamed to say, acquired the habit of cleaning out the litter box with something I had never found much use for – a silver salad fork – somehow failing to inform Tante Til of this rather disreputable habit. The fork lay in a secluded corner on the kitchen counter. It was a dirty black because I hated cleaning silverware, finding it a useless chore when it would only get dirty again. Besides that, we had lots of stainless steel.

One of my first nights home from the hospital, Tante Til cooked us a special dinner – mashed potatoes, vegetables, pork chops, applesauce and salad. It looked and smelled delicious. As we sat down and bibs were tied around the girls’ necks, Tante Til shone with goodwill. “Nou, eet maar lekker, jongens! (Eat hearty, guys!)” We prayed and then began to put the food on our plates.

It never hit us until my husband began scooping some lettuce onto his plate. He suddenly realized that he was holding the silver salad litter fork. Only the fork was not holding cat litter but green salad. His second scoop, therefore, hung in mid-air. He caught my eye and I grinned at him. He didn’t grin back.

“Good salad, isn’t it, sweetheart?” I said wickedly.

Dank je (Thank you),” Tante Til beamed. “Zal ik jou ook wat geven? (Shall I give you some too?)”

“No, thank you,” I answered virtuously, “it might give the baby gas.”

My husband ate around the salad on his plate as Tante Til explained in detail how she had cleaned the fork she had found on the counter and wasn’t it nice and shiny now? “Je moet je zilver wat vaker poetsen hoor, kind (You should polish your silver a little more often, dear.)” She gave me a sidelong glance but smiled tolerantly for wasn’t I a young mother with a great deal to learn?

I cannot recall whether or not my husband ate the salad on his plate, but I do know that we never told Tante Til what the salad fork had actually been used for. “I speak truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare,” said Montaigne.


Most incidences in daily life, however, call for plain, unadulterated truth – truth you should never shy away from.

A number of years ago, during a snow-infested January day, I noticed a car slide to a stop behind a snowbank in front of our house. Our driveway was engorged with snow and I watched to see if the driver of the car would wade her way into it or head for our neighbor’s house. She turned into our driveway. It was a slow process, getting to our door, but it gave me time to put the kettle on, arrange some cookies on a plate and finally, wipe a few hands and noses while giving instructions on good behavior.

When I looked through the window again, the woman was only about three quarters way up the driveway. I walked to the door, opened it and smiled a welcome. The woman was small and carried a briefcase. I did not know her. She smiled back and her funny, black hat tilted in the wind. “Why don’t you step in for a minute?” I said, fully confident that this tiny lady was lost and in need of directions and a hot cup of tea to warm her up.

“Bad weather.” The short, terse statement was carried by a strong voice, albeit a strong voice with a quaver. I nodded, agreeing wholeheartedly. She pulled off her gray, leather gloves and began opening her briefcase in the kitchen. A watchtower tract fell on the ground. I bent simultaneously with her and we almost bumped heads. She reached the pamphlet first and picking it up, held it out towards me.

“No, thank you.” My words came automatically. The pamphlet quivered. The hand that held it was blue-veined and old. “It’s free,” she said, mistaking my refusal to take it with fear of having to pay for it. I shook my head. “I know.”

She put the tract back into her briefcase. The kettle was boiling and I turned to unplug it. Her voice followed me to the counter. “The world has many problems.” My oldest son toddled into the kitchen and smiled at her. I walked past him and said, “It’s a good thing that Jesus Christ came into the world.” She nodded, her little hat nodding with her. “Jesus was a good man.”

I both agreed and disagreed. “He was a good man,” I said, “a perfect man, yes, but He was and is also God.” She smiled and answered, “How could He be both at the same time?” Shaking her head, she laughed at what appeared to be a foolish and impossible notion. And when I persisted in speaking of the Triune God, she gave up and put her gloves back on while two of my children fingered her briefcase. With her gloved hands she pulled the small, black hat firmer onto her wet, gray hair and then opened the door. The wind blew swirls of snow into the foyer as she stepped back outside. I watched her go, the snow filling in her plodding steps almost as soon as she lifted her feet. And a few minutes later there was no trace to show that she had been by.

Pascal said, “Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the lack of contradiction a sign of truth.”


Providentially not only the liars are in the news. The January 30, 1999 issue of World magazine records that a man by the name of Daniel Crocker confessed to murder. Daniel Crocker, who at that time was thirty-eight years old, was sentenced to twenty to sixty years in prison. He will be eligible for parole in ten years.

The unusual aspect of Mr. Crocker’s case is that he was living free and easy, with a wife and two children in Chantilly, Virginia. He had committed the murder twenty years previously, smothering a nineteen-year-old girl with a pillow following an attempt to rape her. However, his Christian conscience, following his conversion later in life, would not let him alone. Compelled by the Holy Spirit, he confessed his murder and was consequently tried and convicted. Mr. Crocker and his wife, Nicolette, reportedly were able to pray together twice before the sentencing. Mrs. Crocker said that their two children, Isaac, 6 and Analiese, 9, who were not at the trial, “know what Daddy’s doing is right.” Mr. Crocker apologized tearfully to his family “for embarrassing and shaming them” and to the relatives of Tracy Fresquez, his victim.

Mr. Crocker submitted, at this point in his life, to the Truth. And that Truth, even though he is a murderer, will set him free.


According to the NIV Exhaustive concordance, the word truth is used 224 times in the Bible. One of the phrases recurring throughout Jesus’ ministry reads, “I tell you the truth.” When the truth of the Bible is compromised, there is no sweet, roundabout way to avoid conflict. Emerson aptly said, “God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please – you can never have both.” Although in this phrase the word choice smacks a bit of arminianism, the fact remains that you cannot have both truth and repose. A lot of people today, however, are convinced that you can have both, never realizing that they have thereby lost their hold on Truth. Although they might agree with Mark Twain’s quote, “Truth is the most valuable thing we have”, they subconsciously go one step further with him when he adds, “Let us economize on it.”

But there is no way to economize on the Truth of creation; there is no way to economize on the Truth of headship; there is no way to economize on the Truth of God’s judgment on homosexuality; and there is no way to economize on the Truth of being servants of one another in love and compassion. Because to economize on one principle does not cost merely one truth but the Truth. And only if you believe this Truth in your heart and confess this Truth with your mouth, shall you be saved.

This is an abridged version of an article – “Remember: one lie does not cost you one truth but the Truth” – that first appeared in the June 1999 edition of Reformed Perspective.

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Is it ever permissible to lie?

When Reformed Perspective first started, we had regular contributions from Dutch politician and journalist Piet Jongeling.  In this article, from the October 1985 issue, he writes of his experiences during World War Two, when the Nazis arrested him and sent him  to the Amersfoort concentration camp. ***** People who are in the public eye must be prepared to face the criticism of onlookers and bystanders if they want to stay in business. I have experienced that quite often in my life as journalist, politician, and author. One of those experiences was a letter I received recently and which I would like to share with you. The letter read as follows: Dear Mr. Jongeling: Some time ago I had to do an essay on the topic of "the white lie" for a Reformed young peoples group. I would like to share part of my introduction with you. I wrote:  In a book about Dr. R.J. Dam I read that the question of the “white lie” became a vital issue during the German occupation of the Netherlands, and that Dr. Dam discussed this issue several times, and in great depth. On the one hand, he rejected the easy acceptance of lying that was so often the case during the war. On the other hand he showed a real understanding of the Biblical dilemma Christians faced here: to speak or not to speak lies, and to do so in love for God and for their neighbor. He understood how difficult it would be always to witness to the truth if he were to fall into the hands of the enemy. So as much as he hated the necessity of lying, he maintained that if he were forced to speak, he would never want to put other people's lives in jeopardy. Clear enough. How different is Jongeling! In the booklet "Called and Gone," an interview with Peter Bergwerff and Tjerk de Vries, Jongeling says: “I have lied faster than a horse can trot.” Such a statement forces me to classify Jongeling with the many people who during the war stole like the gypsies. Thus far a part of my introduction. As could be expected, your quote about "lying faster..." was brought up in the question period. I promised the young people at the meeting that I would get in touch with you to ask you to please elaborate further on that statement, preferably in the light of Dr. Dam's position. I will soon be speaking on the same topic at a men's society meeting. I could then include your explanation in my paper. Hoping you will comply with my request, etc... Discussing it in our cell Thus far the letter. Didn't someone once say: "Give me just a single line of your writing, and I'll hang you by it?" Somehow this brother letter-writer manages to use my words "lied faster..." to put me in the lineup with those who, according to him, "stole like the gypsies" during the war. Now, the issue of whether it is ever permissible to lie has been the subject of much public discussion in the past, and it is most certainly a relevant question. So let us consider what was and what was not allowed under God's law during the German occupation. First of all, it is necessary to read my "quote" in the context of the interview in which it was given. In Called and Gone I related the events surrounding my arrest in March 1942 and the interrogations that followed. A member of our resistance group had been arrested and an anti-Nazi pamphlet had been found on him. Under heavy pressure and torture the man finally admitted that he had received the document from me. That was the truth – I worked in the distribution center from which our group spread its literature. After his confession I was promptly picked up. But the search of my house yielded no evidence: everything had been quickly gathered up and hidden somewhere else. In this excerpt from the Called and Gone interview I continue recounting my experience in German custody. We were both questioned for days on end, first in the police office and later in the remand center in Groningen. It still amazes me how wonderfully well it all ended up. We were locked up in separate cells, although in the same block. Between us there was an empty cell. But we soon discovered that with a bit of effort we could talk via the large heating system pipe that ran through the back of all the cells. We were dragged out for questioning one at a time. When he returned – often after being tortured – I asked him what questions they had asked him, and what answers he had given. And later, when I faced the same questions, I made sure that my answers corresponded with his... ...for some time I shared a cell with Rev. J.W. Tunderman. He was minister in Helpman and on January 6, 1942, the Gestapo dragged him out of his home. In December of that same year he died in Dachau. Together with him I have prepared my case as well as possible in the circumstances ... I lied faster than a horse can trot. As was to be expected, the interviewers zeroed in on that last statement. They asked me: "Lied faster than a horse can trot? Did you give that any thought at that moment?" I replied: Yes, I did. But in a way one also acts intuitively in such a situation. Sitting in the cell together, Rev. Tunderman and I, we discussed the issue for hours on end. Tunderman was very straightforward. He said simply: “You must not tell them the truth. If you do, many others will perish.” Of course, one could say, as later Prof. Greijdanus did, that in such a case you should remain silent. But that doesn't work. Those hoodlums use the most inhumane methods to make you talk. Besides, there are situations when silence does not help either. Take as an example, a farmer who is hiding fugitives, as so many did in those days. "Are you hiding anyone?” "I won't tell ... I won't tell...” No, refusing to answer is not a practical solution. That’s why I believed it was my duty to lie. To this day I still believe that. They hit me, they hurt me, but I had built up a watertight story and that is why I could stick to it. There are situations like that in the Bible. Think of Rahab and her lie; think of Gideon with his torches in the empty jars. Those were well-designed ruses with only one intent: to mislead the enemy. Thus far the quotes from the interview. I maintain to this day that I acted, though spontaneously, yet not rashly, when I did not share the truth with those torturers in the Scholtenhuis prison. Had I remained silent, assuming for a moment that I could have kept that up even to death, the result would have been heavier pressure on my fellow inmate. And he had already succumbed once. He would most likely have been forced to mention more names. But now it became possible to communicate via the heating pipe, so that we could make up a story that steered their whole investigation to a dead end, so that further arrests were prevented. On the Ninth Commandment During the war hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people pondered how best to deal with such cloudy ethical dilemmas. Some preachers tried to provide Scriptural leadership on these matters. Rev. Tunderman did that for me in our cell. Rev. B. Holwerda did it in his preaching. In his collection, The Gifts bestowed on us by God, Part IV, we find a sermon on Lord's Day 43 (the Ninth Commandment), held on Sunday, January 24, 1943. That was in the middle of the war, when the matter of “white lies” was extremely relevant. And it was at a time when many ministers of the Gospel had already been dragged away into concentration camps because they had said things on the pulpit which were not to the liking of the occupying forces. This did not deter Rev. Holwerda. He let the light of God's Word shine on those points that, especially amidst the terror of war and the confusion of the occupation, most had to be clarified. Holwerda explains that the commandment “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” brings us into the realm of the courts. These courts are in place so that the government may avenge unrighteousness in a righteous manner. To that end, proper order is to be maintained, and everyone is called upon to give his full cooperation with these courts. Therefore, when so requested, one must speak the truth. But it would be another thing altogether if telling the truth would become instrumental in the abuse of justice. Then, according to Holwerda, witnessing to that truth has become senseless. As he puts it: When the Lord asks His children to walk in the truth and to act in truth, there is something more and different at stake than simply providing factually accurate information. Communion with God and our neighbor comes first. Therefore, in the life of obedience to this Ninth Commandment the key question we need to ask is not whether we are at odds with the facts, but rather whether we are shortchanging our neighbor... If I am put under pressure to make a statement which clearly would deliver my neighbor (or myself) up to unrighteousness and render him defenseless against the brutal force of the father of lies, woe then to me if I dare speak the truth! For then I sacrifice my neighbor on the altar of the facts. But the Ninth commandment forbids me to sabotage justice. Therefore, it commands me to sabotage unrighteousness — if need be, through an incorrect declaration. If need be, I must be willing to sacrifice the facts for the sake of the urgent needs of my neighbor... Holwerda continues with examples from the Bible. And he warns against abuse. Let no one say: We may do as we please; the minister has said so... No, you shall love your neighbor, honor his rights, defend his good name and reputation, and so ensure that there is room for him within society. And you shall love him “as yourself.” You shall also protect your own rights. All this is necessary, otherwise society will collapse and sink in the mire of lawlessness. A Reformed thesis In 1979 the Korean minister Bo Min Lee was promoted to doctor of theology at the Kampen seminary. His thesis was entitled: Mendacium officiosum, with this explanation as a subtitle: "A discussion of the so-called white lie, with special emphasis on Augustine's views." Although there is quite a bit of Latin in this dissertation, it is written in a clear and readable manner. A comprehensive critique is not in place here, but a few lines and conclusions may suffice to illustrate the point I am trying to make. The concept mendacium officiosum is usually represented by the English expression "a white lie," but that does not properly express what is contained in the Latin phrase. "Officiosum" means something like: "in the service of..." According to the author, the phrase expresses the service we are sometimes called to deliver to our neighbor or to ourselves through the means of speaking an untruth. But "white lie" also indicates the critical situation in which we find ourselves and which makes the speaking of such an untruth a means of protecting ourselves and our neighbor. Augustine and many theologians after him reject any speaking of untruth, even if it results from the desire to prevent a terrible evil from befalling a neighbor; for instance, murder or rape. Bo Min Lee claims that such a radical rejection by Augustine and his followers results from an erroneous separation of the body as the lower part of man and the soul as the higher part, an idea that has its roots in the Greek world of thought. He also demonstrates that the church father could only maintain that outright rejection by following an incorrect exegesis of all kinds of Scripture passages. The Scriptures The dissertation's third chapter, entitled "Scriptural givens," begins as follows: It is as clear that Holy Writ forbids us to lie. Texts such as “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16) and “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9) leave no doubt. And Augustine did not leave any of this open for discussion. But some passages of Scripture create problems and leave us with the question: is every form of lying at all times forbidden? The author then introduces a long list of texts of which the first is Rahab's misleading answer when Jericho's king demanded that she hand over Israel's spies (Joshua 2). The Bible praises Rahab because of her attitude towards the spies and the people of Israel, as we can read in these four passages: Joshua 6:17: And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent (Joshua 6:17). Joshua 6:25: But Rahab the prostitute and her father's household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho (J Hebrews 11:31: By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. James 2:25: And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? It’s clear that nowhere in the Bible is Rahab’s lying denounced. However, many exegetes hold that Rahab also wasn’t praised for her lying, and that it was Rahab's faith that was praised. They insist that it was still wrong of her to utter lies to save those spies. Bo Min Lee rejects this form of reasoning. In an extensive discussion of the relevant passages he shows that such conclusions are based on a twisted exegesis. Rahab is being praised in the Bible for her "faithful works," and the misleading message she gave is a vital part of those "faithful works." The same holds true for many other cases where the Bible describes how misleading statements were made with a virtuous purpose and were clearly crowned with a blessing. Think of the God-fearing midwives in Egypt (Exodus 1), of Jael and Sisera (Judges 4:18-22), of the woman of the house of Bahurim (2 Samuel 17:17-20), and also of several stratagems which have only one purpose: to impart to the enemy an erroneous image of reality. The author of the dissertation then comes to this conclusion: The Bible does not prohibit what Rahab and others have done, and therefore we have no right to introduce such a prohibition now. We realize that the mendacium officiosum may never become a matter of routine. Such “lies” may only be used in borderline situations. He continues to explain then that such borderline situations are governed not only by the Ninth Commandment, but that the other commandments are often relevant as well. That, too, he illustrates with a number of Scriptural examples. Again, it is impossible in the short space of this article to relate the many arguments Bo Min Lee produces in his thesis. He also gives ample coverage to opposing views, but refutes their ideas in a most convincing manner. A forced choice During those critical days of war and occupation, many Christians were confronted with the problem of what to do if one fell into the hands of the enemy. I was one of them. What do I do if a factually correct answer can cost others their freedom or even their lives? We had no time then to have an interesting theoretical discussion on that matter. It was literally a matter of life and death. Many, and I was one of them, concluded: I must not reveal the facts. And silence, even if I could keep that up, will not help. And just as a ruse aimed at spreading disinformation by fake actions is acceptable during times of war, so misleading the enemy with words is also acceptable — even mandatory. That, in the jail cell, facing death during the torturous interrogations, was not a choice one made rashly. But it was a choice that was suddenly forced upon people, and their correct decision has saved the lives of others. It was a choice for which I in my circumstances have prayed and for the outcome of which I have given thanks to God, the Father of truth. And if someone, like my letter-writer, equates that with the activities of those who in wartime "stole like the gypsies," he should really reflect a bit more deeply on the meaning of the ninth commandment, also as it affects his own speech.  Some readers might know Piet Jongeling better by his pen name, Piet Prins, under which he wrote the children's series "Scout," "Wambu," and "The Four Friends."...