It’s a question often debated and the discussion typically begins with a challenging situation where lying is thought to be the lesser of two evils. The classic example is during the time of Nazi Germany. Would you lie to German soldiers who have come to your house in order to protect Jews hiding in your attic? What about a present day scenario where a neighbor frantically runs over to your house seeking help fleeing from an abuser and minutes later the alleged abuser shows up at your door? These are the types of roads that lying as the lesser of two evils travel.
What about all the examples of lying and deceit in Scripture?
There are many examples of lying in the Bible and some of the most well known involve Jacob and his family as found in the book of Genesis. For instance, Jacob deceiving Isaac to ensure he receives the blessing, Laban deceiving Jacob by giving him Leah for a wife instead of Rachel (so he had to serve another seven years for Rachel), and Jacob cunningly getting revenge on Laban. Then there’s Joseph’s brothers deceiving their father Jacob by showing him the fake animal blood on Joseph’s coat of many of colors, and Potiphar’s wife falsely accusing Joseph of making unwanted advances when it was the other way around. Two more examples from Scripture include Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, who pursued Naaman and asked for money and garments deceitfully after Elisha said he wouldn’t take anything (2 Kings 5:15-27), and in the New Testament we have Ananias and Sapphira lying about their giving (Acts 5:1-9).
What if God meant it for good?
In the above examples the lies and deception recorded produced fruit of frustration and loss, the consequences of heartache and damaged family relationships, or brought judgment and even death. Now in the story of Joseph, we learn at the end of Genesis that God ultimately used the terrible circumstances for good (Genesis 50:20). And here I want to acknowledge that God has the right, the wisdom, and the power to redeem any sin and turn it for good. However, it doesn’t mean that He always does this for every sin, and when He does do it we may never have the satisfying privilege of learning about the positive outcome like we find at the end of Genesis. It also doesn’t reverse the initial consequences experienced by those involved. What the Bible teaches us is: His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-11), He is Sovereign and Omniscient and we are not (see Job), and we can trust Him and His ultimate good purposes (Romans 8:28). However, we are still responsible for our actions and we have to work through difficult circumstances while trusting a Sovereign God (Philippians 2:12-13). This leads down many theological pathways regarding God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility (helpful sermon here), and the problem of evil (helpful blog posts here and here), which is not the primary purpose of this post – so let’s get back to the main topic.
Two Positive Lies
The two lies in the Bible which are most like our first two scenarios above are when the Hebrew Midwives lied to Pharaoh to help save the Hebrew babies from being killed (Exodus 1:15-22), and when Rahab lies to help the Israelite spies before the fall of Jericho (Joshua 2). Many believe these are justifiable lies because they have a good outcome. For instance, the midwives saved many lives and Rahab helped Israel and protected her family.
Outside of a few favorable outcomes Scripture never tells us explicitly that it’s okay to lie, but it overwhelmingly reveals to us that it’s wrong. This was covered in a recent post entitled “What does the Bible say about lying?“ However, in difficult scenarios where lying is either a last ditch effort or a calculated response to thwart a greater evil, these examples show it may be justifiable or considered okay. Note: If there’s time for calculation I would recommend you seek wise Godly counsel. Finally, there are two more things which must be noted, one is these situations are rare and most people will never face choices like this, and two, those who do, and decide to lie, must be willing to accept any consequences caused by the lesser evil.