Does God Lie?

By Way of Deception
By Way of Deception

1 Kings 22: 20 – 23 

And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’
“One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ ”
‘By what means?’ the LORD asked.
” ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.
” ‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the LORD. ‘Go and do it.’
“So now the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The LORD has decreed disaster for you.”

Introduction

Did God lie? It serves our purpose to first define a lie. In this post, I will defend the following definition of a lie:

A lie is

  1. An untrue statement
  2. Spoken knowingly
  3. With the intention to deceive
  4. In a context which does not justify untruths

Justified Contexts

Fiction:

Fiction is untrue. The writer writes it knowingly, and as convincingly as possible, but with the understanding that the readers know it is untrue. The intention is not to deceive, because the writer does not intend the audience to believe the untruth. The purpose (or context) is one of entertainment. It is perfectly acceptable to tell a story that didn’t happen for these reasons.

Magic Tricks:

Magic tricks present a reality that is untrue. The magician does it knowingly, in order to fascinate the audience. The audience know it is not true, but even if they didn’t, the purpose (and intent) of the act is to entertain. If the magician did it as a defense of the existence of magic, he would be lying.

Note that in both examples above, the intent and context go hand in hand. In the context of entertainment, when the artist tries to make his act/story as convincing as possible in order to entertain the audience, untruths are justified. That is, after all, the whole point of the show.

Using Makeup:

They are in fact, making themselves look different from the way they really are. And they are often convincing enough. The intent is to produce an untrue reality – one different from the real. The purpose is to please the viewer. But whether or not the viewer knows it to be a deception, as long as the woman does not intend her act to be taken as a statement of what she actually looks like, the deception is justified by its purpose.

Sarcasm: 

“Tracy, should I use this money to buy food?”

“No. eat it.”

That’s a common conversation between my brother and I. It is not a lie chiefly because the purpose (and my intent) is not to tell him what to do. It’s to tell him that he’s being silly.

Hyperbole:

“Desmond, if you turn on that AC, I promise, I’ll strangle you in your sleep!”

He never believes me and rightly so. Once again, the purpose of the statement is not to communicate truth. It is to communicate anger.

Deception in War:

The Ancient Art of War
The Ancient Art of War (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“All’s fair in love and War”, they say. I say not in love, but maybe in war. Deception is commonly used in war. Make the other side believe your number is larger than it is (Like Joshua did in the battle against AI). Make the other side think you are going to do something you are not (a feint). Distract the other side while you execute your true plan.

If war were to be fought without deception, it would hardly work. Telling the truth to your enemy does not serve the purpose of war. Imagine if Joshua said to the men of AI.

“Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to have some of my men on a hill with torches. And some of my men on the other side, blowing horns really loudly, so that it echoes and sounds like we have a lot of men. But I’ll actually only have 300 men.”

There would have been no deception then, but Joshua might as well have surrendered.

Unjustified Contexts

Wait, you say. But can’t that be used anywhere? A robber could justify tricking a man into opening his doors by saying “The purpose of my statement was not to communicate truth, but to aid my theft”. Of course not. An action done to support a wrong action is usually wrong because it is part of the wrong act. Stealing is morally wrong, so anything done in order to aid that theft counts as part of an attempt to steal in the same way providing a criminal with money for his crime counts as aiding a crime.

Summary

So far, I’ve made a definition of lying based on utility. A lie is an untrue statement, spoken knowingly and with the intent to deceive, where the context ( or purpose) does not justify speaking falsely.

  • Speaking falsely in a novel, or magic act is not lying. The purpose is to entertain.
  • Using makeup and body modification is not lying. The purpose is to please. No one wants to know what you really smell like. Use deodorant.
  • Speaking falsely in war or while robbing a home, etc. is wrong is the purpose is wrong. i.e. lying to entertain is not wrong because the purpose of entertainment justifies the untruth. Lying to steal is wrong, because the purpose of stealing does not justify the untruth.

So, Does God Lie?

Let’s look at the passage from the beginning, in context this time.

The King of Israel wanted the King of Judah to go with him to war.

So he asked Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to fight against Ramoth Gilead?”

Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “First seek the counsel of the Lord.”

So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”

“Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”

But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?”

The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” (1 Kings 22: 4 – 8)

So Micaiah was brought to the King. And he said:

English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Na...
English: Jezabel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard Giclee. Print by Sir Frank Dicksee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left.

And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’
“One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ ”
‘By what means?’ the LORD asked.
” ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.
” ‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the LORD. ‘Go and do it.’
“So now the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The LORD has decreed disaster for you.” (I Kings 22. 19-23)

Was that a lie? Think about the purpose – to punish Ahab for his many crimes. Think about the fact that God did warn Ahab. Was it his intent to deceive them. Are you deceiving someone if you warn them that you are deceiving them – perhaps, if it is part of the plan to deceive them. And think about who Ahab was.

“There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.” – 1 Kings 21:25, 26

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Tracy

I’m Tracy

3 thoughts on “Does God Lie?”

  1. An interesting side approach:
    The prophets referred to are not prophets of the Lord. It seems to me that this is somehow parallel to the story of Job; insofar as it’s God permitting evil to spread lies and destruction.

    1. It does parallel the story of Job, but letting Satan take Job’s belongings and his health is not immoral for God. Lying is a different case.

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