One Sunday morning, during his sermon I heard the minister say: “God cannot Lie.” The purpose of the statement went right over my head and I was stuck, startled, by the statement “God cannot lie.” What about lying for good reasons—little “white lies”? Ministers are encouragers, admonishers, and defenders of the faith. They say what will help motivate the believer’s faith and what is needed to keep the believer walking in the way of faith. They are not critics or thinkers outside the box of faith. In this case, I might have said “God does not lie,” but, now as I think about it, not even that statement quite rings true.
On the other hand, it is true that there are numerous passages in the Bible depicting God as hating lying and falsehoods. For example, in the Decalogue: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod 20:16; Deut 5:20) and on numerous other occasions throughout the Bible (for example, Lev 19:11; Num 23:19; Prov 12:22; Prov 19:5, 9; Rev 22:15). The writer of the Apocalypse even asserts that liars have no right to the tree of life for they are outside the holy city New Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:2, 10). Liars, on the other hand, are “outside the gates of the city” along with “the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolators and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev 22:15).
In the Bible the only passage I can recall where God is depicted as deliberately lying is 2 Thess 2:11: “Therefore, God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false.” There are also two other biblical writers who portray God as commissioning lies: 1 Kgs 22:5-23 and 2 Chron 18:4-22.
Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, “I will entice him.” And the Lord said to him, “by what means?” And he said, “I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” And he said, “You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go forth and do so.” Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has spoken evil concerning you (1 Kgs 22:21-23).
In the light of these three statements, the minister’s assertion that God does not lie demands modification in some way, or at least the clash with what is generally believed about God’s behavior demands explanation, for in the view of three biblical (inspired?) writers God can lie and apparently has indeed done so. Hence, it seems that those who “trust” the Bible to serve as their principal guide to truth and a guide for living must change their views about the Bible and/or change their view about God’s character.
The truth is God does what s/he wants. God (if God there be) is neither male nor female but is sui generis; that is, of its own kind—in other words God is unique, and hence unlike human beings. It is also true that God is a grand idea and our ideas of God derive from what we read, from what others tell us, and from the personal testimonies of those who claim to have “experienced” God. The “experiences” people claim to have of God, however, occur only in their minds and from interpretations of their own life experiences. God is not palpable or tangible. God cannot be touched, felt, or handled. Some claim to have “sensed” God, but it is not like sensing the palpable presence of another living creature in a dark room. The “sensing” in the case of God is mental, not physical; it occurs in the mind. In my experience God cannot be seen, although some may claim to have “visions” of God. Such visions do not register on the retina of the eye; they are brought about by mental imagining.
In regards to God’s visibility an interesting disagreement exists in the Bible as to God’s accessibility by vision. In Exodus 33, the writer vacillates between views as to God’s visibility: in Exod 33:11 The Lord is accustomed to speaking face to face with Moses, as a man speaks with his friend; in Exod 33:20 Moses is told that he cannot see God’s face and live; in Exod 33:23, Moses is only permitted to see God’s back. In the New Testament it is claimed that no one has ever seen God (John 1:18, 6:46; 1 John 4:12).
In short, God exists in our minds as mental image and God is, as each of us thinks God is.*
Missouri State University
*Hedrick, Wry Thoughts about Religion Blog: “God does not exist,” May 17, 2016: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/2016/05/god-does-not-exist.html Or in later in revised form: Unmasking Biblical Faiths. The Marginal Relevance of the Bible for Contemporary Religious Faith (Cascade, 2019), 168-70.
In “Why Religion Matters” Hulston Smith writes, “We do well to follow Rainer Maria Rilke’s suggestion that we think of God as a direction rather than an object. That direction is always toward the best that we can conceive….” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the Life….” John 14:6. Definitely a direction, Lots to ponder there.
In my 79 years I don't recall hearing the suggestion that God be considered "a direction." What a wonderful thought! Guess I should have read Huston Smith more carefully. Don't recall reading Rilke.
All I know of Rilke comes from “The Ninth Elegy.”
Praise the world to the angel, not the unutterable world;
you cannot astonish him with your glorious feelings;
in the universe, where he feels more sensitively,
you're just a beginner. Therefore, show him the simple
thing that is shaped in passing from father to son,
that lives near our hands and eyes as our very own
I think this is about finding something praiseworthy, perhaps divine, in the everyday, the quotidian.
Sorry: I’ve gotten off topic.
Anthropomorphic representations of gods probably tend to mouth the viewpoint of their creators, so they would have no misgivings about lying. Some religious sects see the Bible as literally authored by God or the authors coached & coaxed by God, as “totally true and trustworthy,” as the Baptist statement I read put it. There are, however, more false, and untrustworthy statements in the Bible than one can “shake a stick at,” to use a familiar expression of bygone days.
But, if the forced veracity of God (“can not” implies lack of ability) is the belief of the pastor, it actually makes his god a bit less than omnipotent and a god without any creativity... But that’s another matter!
Dennis Dean Carpenter
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