Young People Ask . . .
Is Lying All That Bad?
Michelle knew that her folks would get angry when they learned she had broken a cherished knickknack. She was in no mood, though, for punishment or a stern lecture. So she found a simple means of averting her parents’ wrath: she accused her younger brother of breaking it.
LYING—many teenagers feel that it is all right under certain circumstances. Some say they would lie in order to hinder some criminal action, to protect the innocent, or to save a life. Such situations, however, are rare in real life. Far more often, youths resort to lies for the same reason Michelle did: to escape punishment or to get out of some uncomfortable situation.
Donald told his mother that he had cleaned his room when, in reality, he had thrown everything under the bed. Along similar lines, Richard told his parents that he got a failing grade, not because he did not study, but because he ‘did not get along with his teacher.’ Most unconvincing.
Still, you might feel that because these were not malicious lies, no harm was done. ‘What’s the harm in a white lie?’ you may say. And since dictionaries define a white lie as a “polite or harmless lie,” telling a white lie may not seem so bad.
In the book The Importance of Lying, H. L. Mencken is quoted as giving yet another reason why some resort to the lie: “What ails the truth is that it is mainly uncomfortable, and often dull. The human mind seeks something more amusing and caressing.” Not surprisingly, then, people often do not really want to hear the truth, preferring instead “to have their ears tickled.” (2 Timothy 4:3) The greatest teacher who ever lived, Jesus Christ, found this to be true. “If I speak truth,” he said to the people of his day, “why is it you do not believe me?” (John 8:46) How tempting it is at times to tell pleasing lies instead of unpopular truths!
But does the fact that a lie may be attractive or over a trivial matter or even well meant mean that it is right?
God’s View of Lying
The tendency of humans to lie was noted back in Bible times. Said the psalmist: “Untruth they keep speaking one to the other; with a smooth lip they keep speaking even with a double heart.” Self-interest lurked behind their lies. They said: “With our tongue we shall prevail. Our [lying] lips are with us. Who will be a master to us?” Note, though, how God felt about their lying ways: “Jehovah will cut off all smooth lips, the tongue speaking great things.”—Psalm 12:2-4.
Yes, “a false tongue” was and is one of the things that “Jehovah does hate.” (Proverbs 6:16, 17) After all, it is Satan the Devil himself who is “the father of the lie.” (John 8:44) Interestingly, though, the Bible makes no distinction between lies and ‘white lies.’ It simply says, “No lie originates with the truth.” (1 John 2:21) That is why a “devious person is a detestable thing to Jehovah, but His intimacy is with the upright ones.” (Proverbs 3:32) Yes, Jehovah simply will not have a close relationship with someone who is dishonest.
The God-fearing youth thus cannot view any kind of lying as acceptable. As a youngster named Tyrone puts it: “It is like a true-or-false test. Something is either right or wrong.”
Lying—Why It Is Harmful
Why, though, is lying so wrong? Might not a lie save you from getting punished? Perhaps. But what happens if the lie is exposed? Then it has merely postponed punishment. Young André also observes: “It makes you mad when someone tells you something and you find out later that it was a lie.” Yes, lying stirs up anger and resentment. And when the ones lied to are your parents—a serious dose of discipline can result.
No wonder the Bible says: “The getting of treasures by a false tongue is an exhalation driven away.” (Proverbs 21:6) In other words, any advantages a lie may bring are as short lived as vapor.
Lying and Your Conscience
Lying also harms the liar himself. Michelle (mentioned at the outset) managed to convince her parents that it was her brother who had broken the knickknack. However, she later felt compelled to confess her wrongdoing to them. Michelle explains: “I felt really bad most of the time. My parents had put trust in me, and I let them down.”
Michelle’s bad conscience well illustrates a principle stated by the apostle Paul. In Romans 2:14, 15 he indicates that God has placed within mankind the faculty of conscience. Paul explains how this works, saying: “Their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused.” In Michelle’s case her conscience ‘bore witness’ to the fact that lying was wrong and ‘accused her’—tormenting her with guilt feelings.
Of course, an individual can ignore his conscience, hardening it. An article in the journal Adolescence indicated, for example, that younger teens tend to view lying as wrong. But as they get older, their view of lying hardens. “Fifteen-year-olds,” said the article, “perceive lying as sometimes not wrong with greater frequency than do twelve-year-olds.” Evidently, the more a person practices lying, the more he is in danger of becoming ‘marked in his conscience as with a branding iron.’—1 Timothy 4:2.
Developing “an Honest Conscience”
By way of contrast, the apostle Paul could say of himself and his companions: “We trust we have an honest conscience.” (Hebrews 13:18) Paul’s conscience would not permit him to resort to lies or half-truths. Is your conscience likewise sensitive to untruth? If not, train it by studying the Bible and Bible-based literature, such as this magazine and its companion, The Watchtower.
A youth named Bobby has done so, with good effects. On occasion these publications have dealt with a problem he has been having. Rather than covering over the problem with a web of lies, he has been prodded by his conscience to approach his parents and honestly discuss the matter. At times this has resulted in his receiving discipline. He nevertheless admits that he ‘feels better inside’ for having been honest.
Granted, as one youth put it: “If you tell the truth, it will hurt your parents.” However, they will respect your telling them the truth. It will demonstrate to them that you are growing up and realize you are accountable for your actions.
Another aid in developing an honest conscience is to be careful in choosing friends. “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly,” says Proverbs 13:20. Observes Bobby: “A friend you lie along with will get you in trouble. He is not a friend you can trust.” The psalmist thus wisely said: “I have not sat with men of untruth.” (Psalm 26:4) Try to find friends who respect godly standards.
Finally, if tempted to lie, remember the standards Jehovah God sets for his own friends. “O Jehovah, who will be a guest in your tent?” asked the psalmist. “He who is . . . speaking the truth in his heart.” (Psalm 15:1, 2) Reflecting on what a privilege it is to have a relationship with God motivates one to be honest!
Speaking the truth is not always easy. You may even be in a situation where “a group of people tell a lie, and you have to tell the truth,” as a youngster named Mark puts it. But the one who makes a decision to tell the truth will maintain a good conscience, a good relationship with his real friends, and best of all, a good relationship with his Creator. A youth named Steven thus sums the matter up nicely when he says: “The fact that others tell lies does not mean that you have to!”
[Blurb on page 20]
Lies are often unconvincing and may merely delay punishment until they are exposed
[Picture on page 21]
Confessing a wrong is not easy, but your parents will respect your honesty