Strange New Thoughts

The place where I slam down gauntlets and pick up the pieces.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

St. Pinocchio

I'll just come right out and admit it - I love challenging conventional wisdom, especially when such wisdom is more conventional than wise. Same goes for conventional morality - it's fine with me, as long as it's biblical. "Wait a minute!" you say. "Isn't the Bible where we get conventional morality?" Well, yes and no. Just because God and His Word are eternal doesn't make either of them conventional. Jesus routinely blindsided everyone from His adversaries to His followers by proclaiming such counterintuitive ideas as love for one's enemies, or the last being first (and vice versa.)

Some biblical morality is more intuitive than that, though. We automatically feel guilt (or "conviction", if we're born-again types) when we do something shady or unkind. Hopefully, anyway. And then there's lying. Inherently evil, right? "Stop lying to one another," Paul tells us in Colossians. 3:9. Okay, we won't do that. We'll never lie again, under any circumstance.

Any circumstance? We've been warned all our lives about white lies, half-truths and the like. One problem, though. The Bible, on closer examination, seems to rely on an even higher law than any rigid legalism. To make matters worse, God blesses people in the Bible for . . . lying?

Don't take my word for it. Check out, for starters, Exodus 1: 19 - Pharaoh commands the Hebrew midwives to kill any baby boys they deliver among their own people. The midwives disagree with this lousy idea and let the baby boys live. Pharaoh calls them on the carpet - "Why have you done this thing and let the boys live?" The midwives look sheepish and confess their crime.

Wait, I guess they don't. No, they lay it on thick: "Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them." Wow, not only do they lie to Pharaoh, but they even dare to suggest to him the superiority of Hebrew women over their Egyptian counterparts. Well, if you're going to lie, you might as well be as brazen as possible. And so what happens to these early ministers of disinformation? "So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty." (Ex. 1:20)

But that's just the beginning. Joshua 2:4-6 relates the adventures of Rahab the harlot, and her creative approach to harbouring Hebrew spies: "Yes, the men came to me," she truthfully tells the king's minions, "but I did not know where they were from." So much for truth; now check this out: "It came about that when it was time to shut the gate at dark, that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them." Uh, sure, Rahab. Send the goon squad on a wild goose chase while the Hebrew spies hear the whole spiel from their hiding place on the roof. Don't you know what God does to liars?

Rahab didn't know, since she had never read the Bible, and there was no pagan scruple in Jericho about deception tactics. The real truth was that God was on the move, and Rahab knew that nothing would stop Him. Clarifying this principle during World War II, Sir Winston Churchill said (referring to the many counter-intelligence programs used to protect the D-Day invasion), "In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." In keeping with this principle, the oft-maligned Pope Pius XII directed his bishops to issue fake baptismal certificates to Jews seeking to escape the death camps.

I'm not saying that we should look for ways to lie, or to justify lying. For a highly principled person (read: not Rahab), lying may be out of the question for any reason at all. In Corrie Ten Boom's wartime classic The Hiding Place, in which Corrie and her family are sent to a Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews from the SS, Corrie's sister Nollie finds herself face to face with Nazis who demand to know the whereabouts of a young Jewish girl suspected to be hiding in the Ten Boom household. Nollie stands her moral ground and defiantly tells the Nazis yes, she is here, and God will protect her! "The truth shall set you free," Nollie believed wholeheartedly. The Nazis retreat, confused. Of course, later in the story, the Gestapo rounds up the Ten Boom family and some of the Jews they hid, and only Corrie ultimately lives to tell the story. Suffice it to say that God clearly honors Nollie's refusal to lie under any circumstances (the Nazis released her within days, and the Dutch Resistance freed the Jewish girl), and we are left to contemplate His unfathomable goodness and power.

My moral is simple: God is not limited by our theology of truth, nor is He honored by a pedantic death grip on factuality. I remember playing guitar in the pit orchestra in a production of Godspell, when "Jesus" accidentally skipped a verse of the song we were performing. The band caught on right away and followed him (oops, sorry, "Him"!) All, that is, except the bass player. A good reader, he stubbornly stuck to the written score, plowing grimly through to the end of the song, in glaring contrast to what the rest of us were playing. He chose to put technical "truth" (i.e., we're supposed to be on measure 64) over a higher truth (i.e., Love, which covers a multitude of sins and bears each other's burdens). And I can't even judge that bass player, since I myself would often rather be right than nice. Mea culpa maxima.

This is true freedom. Anybody who's listening to the Holy Spirit (or even his own conscience) will eventually find that a Pharisaical devotion to factual truth (i.e., "I 'm sorry, but I really can't stand you!") will lead eventually to the loss of one's own soul. The highly enlightened and principled bishop in Les Miserables who tells the police that he had himself given the silver to the wayward ex-con Jean Valjean (who had in fact stolen it from him) is used by God to bring Valjean to Himself. The unprincipled Tom Sawyer likewise saves Becky Thatcher, guilty of tearing a page of the teacher's favorite book, from a cruel thrashing with his heroic (albeit untruthful) outcry, "I done it!" And this at the time when she least deserved his sympathy. Tom puts his own tail on the line, literally, and scores innumerable points with Becky, and with the reader.

"I am the Way, the Truth (emphasis mine) and the Light", says the Savior, but His word also says that "God is love" (not "Love is God"). So let's tell the truth, as long as love lets us. I doubt whether many of us will ever really be able to justify doing otherwise during our lifetimes. Meanwhile, we'll leave such circumstances in His supremely capable hands.


Blogger Kristi said...

Blake ... Love your writing. Keep it comin'!

1:48 PM  
Blogger Chuck said...

Hey Blake,

I've just read through your last few posts - great stuff! I'm quite impressed by your writing - it's both witty and deep, refreshing and thought-provoking. I think you're not only a whole lot smarter than me, you're probably a better writer.

So if I write for a living, you're wasting your talent posting this stuff for free. My suggestion: get thyself to a writer's conference with your best idea for a manuscript. show it to a few editors there and see what God does with it.

Blogging is just how I got my start as a full-time writer. (so I guess I just contradicted myself that it's a waste.) A published author who read my stuff ordered me to a writer's conference, and it changed the direction of my life. You never know what might happen.

so here's me passing along the favor.

Enjoyed getting to know you at lunch today. Let's do that again sometime, shall we? I'll have my people talk to your people.


Chuck Holton

6:24 PM  

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