Why people lie

Unsplash/Ashkan Forouzani
Unsplash/Ashkan Forouzani

Simply put, people lie when they find the truth threatening.  

The truth might threaten to expose a person’s evil actions or it might jeopardize the chance of someone getting what they want, keeping what they already have, or furthering their agenda. The truth, if learned, will cost them and so they lie to counter the threat.   

Remember that no one teaches us to lie. We start early and it comes naturally as do all other sins. Even the youngest infant will lie with no hesitation when they understand the truth endangers them in some way.

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And just how often do people lie? One study found that the majority of the population lies once every 10 minutes in some way during social interactions. USC psychologist Jerald Jellison determined decades ago that we are lied to about 200 times a day. In our digital age and era of fake news, it’s now likely more than that.

As an example, an NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City ran a story quoting one doctor as saying gunshot victims and other patients were being turned away from local emergency rooms because they were overrun by people who had overdosed on ivermectin (a supposed COVID-19 cure). When the facts were later checked, the hospital system the physician was associated with said that not only had its ERs not been overrun, it had not treated a single case of ivermectin overdose, and the doctor hadn’t worked at that location in two months.

Or take the recent lie that border patrol agents were “rounding up Haitian refugees with whips”, which does an amazing job of delivering two lies with six words.  

Matt Taibbi, a former Rolling Stone reporter who now writes for Substack and is by no means friendly to Christianity, says we have seen “innumerable other media shipwrecks in the last five years. These include everything from wrong reports of Russians hacking a Vermont energy grid, to tales of Michael Cohen in Prague, to the pee tape, to Julie Swetnick’s rape accusation, to the Covington high school fiasco, to Russian oligarchs co-signing a Deutsche Bank loan application for Donald Trump, to Bountygate…and dozens beyond: the media business has become a machine for generating error-ridden moral panics.”

The truth doesn’t matter to those propagating lies, says Taibbi, as long as they believe they’re aimed at “deserving targets”.  And the objective is simple: “the goal of every broadcast is an anxiety-ridden audience provoked to the point of fury by the un-policed infamy of whatever wreckers are said to be threatening civilization this week: the unvaccinated, insurrectionists, Assadists, Greens, Bernie Bros, Jill Stein, Russians, the promoters of ‘white supremacy culture,’ etc.”

Because the truth threatens to stall their agenda, steal their spotlight, or strip their worldview bare, they lie. Rather than support the truth, these outlets unethically manage information to support their falsehoods and view anyone who doesn’t follow them as crazy. As poet Thomas Gray wrote, “Where ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise.”

Doubly hated by God

Proverbs 6:16-19 says, “There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.”

Isn’t it interesting that the seven sins mentioned are really six? Matthew Henry says in his commentary on Proverbs, “There are seven things that God hates and lying involves two of them; He hates it and doubly hates it”.

Scripture tells us that “you shall not bear false witness” (Ex. 20:16) and “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 12:22); that “a righteous man hates falsehood” (Prov. 13:5) and “a lying tongue hates those it crushes” (Prov. 26:28); that liars’ mouths are “an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving” (Rom. 3:13) and “a worthless person, a wicked man, is the one who walks with a perverse mouth” (Prov. 6:12).

The fact that our entire political establishment seems corrupt at times shouldn’t surprise us because it begins at the top with presidents and leaders who lie: “If a ruler pays attention to falsehood, all his ministers become wicked” (Prov. 29:12).

To be sure, living in a culture bathed in lies can make a Christian feel helpless at times. But there are things we can do.

We can start by examining our own lives and ridding ourselves of lies. Like Mark Twain said, “A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.”

This being the case, a request to add to our daily prayers is, “Remove the false way from me” (Ps. 119:29) so that we become people who “hate and despise falsehood, but love Your law” (Ps. 119:163).

Next, even though we will get opposition from the world when we counter its lies with the truth, we must still publicly speak it. Because the aim of the world, as David Wells wrote, is to “make righteousness look strange and sin look normal” it will lie in hopes of accomplishing its objective. We may paint targets on our backs when we object to those lies, but it’s what we’re called to do: “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Eph. 5:11).

So, why do people lie? It’s because they find the truth threatening. All you have to do to confirm that is re-read the biographies of Jesus and notice how the liars of Jesus’ day murdered Him because they found the Truth (John 14:6) threatening.  

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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