“Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit”
A lie is a secret hidden behind a story. The story could be words, a shrug, an outburst, a lifestyle, or silence. It is the clothing we wear (or don’t), the product we hold in pride, the reaction we have when criticized, or the silent refusal of stepping out when called upon. Lying can both be proactive and reactive: we sell a bag of goods we are not or protect the real bag of goods from being seen. Lying can be both visible and hidden; we take some action (talking, acting, anger, distraction, behaving, mannerism, etc.) or we avoid some action (withdrawal, shutting off, ignoring, avoidance, etc). A lie is always meant to conceal, distract, or defend. Whatever it takes, the truth can not be seen.
Truthfully, we know we can never get away with a completely original untruth (no human is that creative) so we weigh and predict which bits of truth are worth exposing in order to protect the rest, like sacrificing a bishop to protect our queen. Over the years, we… I have become a master in this chess game. But even that is a lie. This game is unwinnable. It is not that the game is rigged but rather the goal is unachievable. Play after play, layer after layer, we keep constructing an imbalanced edifice behind which we hide. Each new addition supports and protects the layer before it. However, each new addition can’t support its own weight. Thus it requires its own additional layer of support. Eventually, the game will collapse in on itself, leaving the player scrambling to pick up his or her pieces as quickly as possible and find a new board to reconstruct a newly flawed game.
Our true-self demands to live. We long for it. But to live means to be in the world. To be in the world means to be in the presence of people. The world itself is fine; it is the people that make it dangerous. We have two alternatives: embody a safe facade or completely withdrawal into nothingness. Some simply choose non-existence. Most embody the lie. Thus, we construct vales, vacuds, walls, and disguises. These then become the new us and around these we must construct a supporting narrative. This deception ultimately undermines our identity; we reject the true self in return for the assumed safe-self. This is the real destructive power of the lie – we start to confuse ourselves with the lie we have been telling. Of course, this is not what it means to be alive. This is death and death is what sin produces.
I have come to believe that one of the most practical ways of understanding sin is that of an reaction to a lie. To sin is believe a lie. To sin is to lie. To sin is to hide. For example, Adam and Eve are told a lie, they believe it, then they eat the fruit. They then hide. Another example: I believe that I am not good enough so I have to pretend to be something else other than what I am. This, of course, leads to me hiding my weaknesses and struggles because if people see those then I may not be accepted. This then becomes a feedback loop – a never ending and ever increasing set of deceits I become lost in.
One would hope that the Church would be the place that people could learn the truth and that the truth would set them free (John 8:32). One would hope… the painful and ugly truth is that it is not. What normally happens at a church is that there is this expectation of “holiness” (what we really mean is perfection) to which we compare each other against. If someone does not measure up well enough, it is time for an ultimatum. This fosters a run-away reaction where we compare ourselves against each other to make sure that we are the least likely to be disapproved of. If we are in the lucky half to be considered on the “right” side, we might be tempted into proving ourselves slightly better than most. If not, we might be tempted to maintain the status quo and squeak by without any criticism (or any attention).
Churches are efficient in creating a culture of shame. In the church world, there is this expectation of measuring up. We speak of sin in such a way that when someone sins or is struggling with sin, there is no way they would willingly admit it. Sin is not “normal.” In fact, it is scandalous. We preach it as if it is normal, but we act as if it’s not. There’s this tongue-in-cheek way in which we publicly admit sin in general but never are willing to discuss it in particular. We find solidarity in all of us “acknowledging” our general imperfections but also in never discussing our specific messes. “Sin” becomes this commonality of us all being imperfect while our actual sins becomes a cacophony of scarlet letters. The shame of the act is not what scares us the most, it is the public labeling and silent gossip. It is the not-measuring-up and not-being-good-enough. We are worried about becoming second, or third, class citizens of the church community. Or worse, being pushed to the outside where my voice and my person no longer matter.
Church often becomes a place to maintain appearances and societal norms. It becomes simply a place to get our weekly fix of emotional significance without risking personal vulnerability. It becomes a delicately balanced system where we get just enough “vulnerability” and “acceptance” while not really being exposed to true vulnerability and acceptance. So, anyone who might threaten this is the scapegoat of all of our collective shame. This is a further extension of deceit where we protect ourselves by taking away from others. Such a culture is a culture where sin is not dealt with. Sin produces shame. If we shame, we reinforce (and one could say protect) sin. The only remedy is truth. The lie seems small and insignificant but is malicious.
Walk in Truth
A lie is often only identified when words are employed. It is the deceit that employs continual acting and avoidance that really sabatoge one’s life. We like to think that we are all the true version of ourselves, but we’re not. We lie because we must hide something, something we fear. This lying becomes so frequent that it blurs the line between us and our lies. Humanity is often at its most creative when there is something to hide. To truly experience true life rather than the fake veneer requires someone to risk all of the fake comforts they have built and go against the flow. It requires me being truthful.
The hardest part in this process is not being deceitful but in living truthfully. The shadows of secrets past weigh heavy on us, telling us to live in the falsehood rather than in the truth we now walk. We had become so good at walking in the dark that to walk in the light is overwhelming and terrifying. The littlest of moments beckon us to retort against truth. To walk in the light means to refuse to hide. And to hide is perhaps the greatest of temptations.