As a storyteller, I love the story of Rahab. We get just the bare bones of a story that hints there is much more to be told. Why did the spies go to Rahab’s house? Was she a harlot as some translations say, or an innkeeper? Why did she choose to hide the spies, risking her own life for theirs? Who were the two spies? Was one of them Salmon, who would later marry Rahab and father Boaz? This same Boaz who was so gracious and kind to an outsider named Ruth? Did he learn to embrace someone outside his clan because his own mother had been an outsider?
But enough wandering down the romantic lanes of my imagination. This story gets abused frequently as a justification for lying. The argument goes something like this: “Rahab lied when she hid the spies, and God blessed her and protected her and her family. So it’s OK for me to lie, if there is a good enough reason.”
There are two problems with this line of reasoning: First, it supposes that Rahab was blessed because of her lie, and there is no biblical evidence of that. Second, it assumes that we are fit to judge what is a ‘good enough reason’ to lie. That seats us on God’s throne as judge, a place that we are not suited for at all.
Several years ago, one of our kids had to complete a simple survey and calculate percentages based on the responses for his math class. He chose to ask the question: “Is it ever OK to lie?” He asked fellow students, teachers, adult friends of ours, even pastors. The results were surprising to me. The vast majority of respondents, almost all of whom are professing Christians, said, “Yes, it is sometimes OK to lie.” They had a variety of reasons ranging from hypothetically hiding Jews from Nazis to avoiding hurt feelings or promoting themselves in some way, such as padding a resume.
What seemed really clear to me was that what people were really answering was not “is it OK to lie” but “would I lie if I thought that it was necessary.” They applied their knowledge that, yes, I would lie if I thought it was necessary to the question of whether or not it was OK, or whether it was a sin to lie. Whether or not we might choose to do something should not be what dictates whether that thing is sinful in God’s eyes. That is backwards. Instead, we should start with what God has to say about that behavior, and what God says should dictate whether we would do it, not our own judgment (warped by our sin nature) of right and wrong.
When we choose to lie, even in a situation of life and death, what are we saying we believe about God? If we’re faced with a gunman, who asks if we are a Christian, and we know they will shoot if we say yes, do we believe that God is able to save us in that moment? Could we say, like Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from . . .But if not, we will not” — fill in the blank.