It’s not as clear cut and as easy as you think to do the right thing under distress, especially when it comes to truth and lies. Corrie ten Boom, a concentration camp survivor tells the story that once while she was visiting her sister’ in law’s house, her two nephews burst through the door in terror. The Nazis were hunting down young men for conscripted labor. Her sister-in-law had a potato cellar in the main room and the boys hid inside. Then they put a rug over the trap door, pulled the kitchen table over it, and threw on a table cloth and dishes.
Shortly after the Nazis burst through the door and demanded the boys’ sister where her brothers were. She hesitated, stuttered and delayed. As a Christian should she tell the truth and sentence them to a likely death? Or should she as a Christian lie?
A similar event happened in Scripture. Pharaoh gave two leading midwives the mission of killing all newborn males among the Israelites. They did not obey this order and rightfully so. Eventually Pharaoh found out and he questioned them.
“Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” (Ex 1:18). How should they answer the Pharoah? Disobedience meant death. Telling the truth would mean death. But more than that if they both died, certainly Pharaoh would just choose others who would obey and who would kill the babies.
Some time later King David was on the run. He was running from Saul who was trying to kill him and went to Achish king of Gath. But then the people recognized him and David “was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. So he pretended to be insane in their presence” (1 Sam 21:12). Was it right for David to pretend to be something he wasn’t? Or did he do the right thing to save his life?
What is a Christian to Do?
It is not as easy as you think and it has been debated from the beginning of mankind. And I don’t speak as one who hasn’t experienced this first-hand, but one who has.
How should a person respond? Is truth a law mean one must never bend even to save life? Or is the spirit of truth to bring life?
There are two threats at stake. One can bend the truth to justify any sin, any wrong doing, any lie. Most of this type of bending is not usually “saving life” but justifying sin for selfish gain. This is rampant today in society in the name of “love.” The other threat is to be so rigid with the truth that actual physical life is sacrificed for this rigidity.
There are many factors involved. What is the circumstance? What is personal conviction? What does the Word say? These will never stop being wrestled with in the desire for obedience, honor, truth and love.
What Did They Do?
In the situation with Corrie ten Boom her niece burst out into giddy laughter and said her brothers were under the table. They flipped up the tablecloth and when they didn’t see anyone, the soldiers were angered thinking they were being mocked.
In the case of the Hebrew midwives they told Pharaoh that the Hebrew women were strong and had babies before they got there. God honored them and gave them families of their own.
In the case of David his enemies thought he was crazy and left him alone. His life was spared.
I can’t say this issue is settled in my heart. In fact, I wish it were more clear. I know of a woman in a large country in Asia whose conviction was always to tell the truth but never give any names. Three times she went before a firing squad and three times experienced miraculous escape.
I know another man personally who was imprisoned in the Middle East and told the truth plainly even with a double-life sentence on his head. He was able to share the gospel in the courtroom. One man gave his life to the Lord. (Dan Baumann, Cell #58 book).
And then I know an apostle who was in jail in Philippi and preached the gospel to so many in prison that everyone knew he was in chains for Christ (Php 1:13).
There’s something to be said of both camps.
May we live out our faith as we sit fit under the truth and grace of God.
And pray for much wisdom in that moment.