Ever tell a lie? I mean a little white lie, like telling someone they look fantastic in an outfit you wouldn’t use to cover your dog’s behind? Sure you have. In fact, there may be no proper way to answer a woman’s query “do I look fat in this?” without lying*. I think this is the entire reason the Apostle Paul never married.
My preschoolers will lie their little innocent heads off to avoid punishment. They will lie about putting their fingers in the cake frosting while sucking the frosting off their fingers.
Do you think you’re a basically truthful person? You don’t cheat on your taxes. If you see a twenty dollar bill on the ground, and pick it up, then a panicked woman walks up and asks “have you seen my twenty?” you tell her the truth and give it to her. When the cop pulls you over for speeding and asks “do you know how fast you were going?” and you know you were going 50 in a 30, you…hmmm, well maybe you lie, because the cop is going to write you a ticket anyway and everyone lies to cops. Or maybe you tell him the truth. He probably knows if you’re lying.
But what if your friends all think you bowled a 300 game once, or hit a hole-in-one, only you didn’t. You just never bothered to correct them. What if your best friend got blamed for tearing up the neighbor’s yard when you were both drunk in college, but you knew it was you. You just let him get in trouble because he didn’t remember either way. What if that girl you said digs you but moved away really told you to get lost? Nobody’s the wiser.
Why do we lie? What makes a liar?
Liars lie mostly because they feel they get away with it. The white lie, the little lie, the exaggerated story, stretching the truth—most people just believe the liar’s words because it’s too much work to challenge everything everyone says (plus that turns you into a person nobody wants to talk to). If you lie and they look at you a bit funny, it’s the grain of salt they have to take to swallow the story, but if it’s entertaining and harmless, they let it go. A liar perceives a lack of challenge as encouragement to tell the lie again and again, each time moving further from any possible recovery to truth. Soon the lie becomes fact, a way of life.
The old saying “oh what a tangled web we weave” is absolutely true, and for that reason, liars are some of the most intelligent people on the planet. They have to keep track of a thousand threads of a thousand lies while weaving new ones, all trying desperately for you to believe them. It’s only when confronted with the naked truth that they have to back up. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
One of the most frightening passages in the Bible is Revelation 21:8, which says “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Are you kidding me? All liars are going to the burning lake of fire and brimstone? That basically covers most people on the planet. We all lie at some point. If there’s really a lake of fire, then there’s also really an all-powerful God who knows liars from truthful people. If you’re a liar, the jig is up. You can’t convince the all-knowing you’re not a liar if you really are one (so stop trying).
What’s the difference between telling a lie and being a liar?
A liar protects the lie, builds on it, maintains it, and feeds it. A liar practices the lie, retells it, refines it, and makes it bigger. Everyone tells lies, nobody is perfectly truthful all the time. But liars stop feeling their conscience tug when they tell one; they don’t feel the urge to correct it with the truth. Their purpose becomes getting you to believe the lie and the next lie and the one after that. Liars are failures, and the only way they can feel successful is gaining validation when someone believes their lies.
Pursuing that feeling, liars lie about the stupidest, most pointless things sometimes. It’s like a drug to them.
Speaking of drugs, that’s one of the biggest reasons people lie. They lie to avoid punishment. Yes, officer, those are my drugs, and that’s my drug paraphernalia, and I used my car to drive over to my dealer’s house and that’s my money too. Go ahead, seize it all. I’m sure it happens all the time, right? Like the drug dealer who called 911 to report a customer stealing their drugs and their money, just to get some 17-year-old arrested. They were all lying. Hint: police think everyone is lying. They’re one of the few professions, along with criminal lawyers, trained and practiced at spotting and uncovering lies.
Liars also lie to gain an advantage. In Atlanta, they uncovered an entire cheating ring, where teachers helped students cheat on standardized tests, so the teachers would get better evaluations. The motive for this monstrous lie is pretty simple: keeping their jobs. Lots of people lie to keep their jobs. Faking time sheets, faking reports (known as “pencil-whipping”), and especially faking resumes.
When I was in college, I majored in business administration, minored in economics, and took every computer science course I could get into. I had enough computer science classes and credits to minor in CS, except that business school students couldn’t earn a minor in CS at my school. You had to be an engineering or math major (which I decidedly was not). I experienced quite a bit of pressure to just put “CS minor” on my resume—as in getting the highest paying jobs—but I didn’t. I wasn’t a saint, I just thought I wouldn’t get away with it. The school told me I could use the word “concentration” so I wrote “concentration in computer science” on my resume. It likely cost me many a job interview. But it wasn’t a lie.
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, got her job because of a lie. Not her lie, but previous CEO Scott Thompson’s lie. Thompson succumbed to the same lie I didn’t commit, adding a CS degree to his resume from Stonehill College (disclosure: I did not go to Stonehill College, I went to UNH about 100 miles north). Thompson compounded his lie by blaming a headhunter for the error. Finally he was caught in his lie and booted from the corner office. This is a pretty common story. Resume fraud among C-level executives (public company CEO’s, CFO’s and other executives, who are supposed to provide trusted data to the markets, no less) is not as rare as you imagine. Most of them simply haven’t been caught.
Some pad their credentials for notoriety’s sake or to be “cool”. TV chef Robert Irvine cooked up a serving of lies and exaggerations about his knighthood, his Scottish castle, and paling around with Prince Charles. None of it was true. The lies go deep. He’d been spinning these tales for years, and people were buying it. Content to be a bon vivant at parties, the tales begat more tales, which begat incredible stories, which begat monstrous lies. You might ask, hey, who did it hurt? The guy is an awesome chef. I haven’t personally tasted Chef Robert’s food; I’m sure it’s good. But isn’t being a good cook enough? Why lie about all the other stuff? Irvine said:
When I first came down there and I met people down there with all this money, it was like trying to keep up with the Joneses. I was sitting in a bar one night and that came out. It was stupid.
For a man with a military background (Irvine was in the Royal Navy, and that’s no lie), it’s pretty shameful to see such a lack of discipline. Loose lips sink ships, and careers too.
Some of the worst liars are those who pretend they’ve had military service. It’s especially egregious and hurtful for people who have never served a day in the military to wear the uniform, ribbons and insignia of the service where others have given their lives. It’s disgusting, as well as illegal in many states. Michael R. Schrenk was arrested for wearing a Marine dress uniform at the Erie County Fair. Apparently he liked going out in public in the snazzy white-gloved getup with the shiny globe-and-anchor belt buckle. The man never so much as entered a Marine barracks in his life.
Real Marines make it their business to uncover such frauds, as well as Army Rangers and Navy SEALs dealing with their poseurs. For some reason, nobody wants to pose as an Army mechanic or Navy ship serviceman rate (the sailors who wash endless loads of laundry and cut endless heads of hair). Before you fake being a SEAL to real SEALs, you should make sure your health insurance is paid up and your deductible is met. You’ll be needing a hospital visit.
Why do it? To be cool? Your family and friends know, for God’s sake, that you never served. Why try to fool anyone? I can’t understand why people do that, it’s a lie with no purpose at all.
Lies to make people feel sorry for the liar, and lies with no purpose at all are the dirtiest lies of all.
Of the lowest, filthiest liars, fake cancer survivors take the cake. Martha Nicholas faked cancer to collect charity donations from strangers. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison, all of which was suspended, and placed on probation, not for her despicable lie, but because she lied to get other people’s money. They are attributing it to mental illness. I wish I could believe that. If it were possible to sentence someone who faked cancer to actually get cancer, I’d give it to them in a heartbeat. Don’t ever fake having Ebola or AIDS, at least not with me as your judge.
The most purposeless, senseless, below the belt lie has to be cheating to win a road race. To runners, this vulgar act is worse than the smell of running shorts after a marathon. Tabitha Hamilton ran the Chickamauga Marathon in Chattanooga and recorded a finishing time of 2:54:21 to win the event. Except that the second place runner, Lillian Gilmer, never saw her pass. Gilmer finished 27 minutes later, and figured that Hamilton must have passed her earlier in the race. But then she heard Hamilton’s post-race comments to The Chattanoogan: “I was running really slow in the first half, but I threw the hammer down in the second half.” What, is she driving a NASCAR or something? People don’t sprint the second half of a 26-mile run.
When race officials checked Hamilton’s split time, they found that she ran the second half (13.1 miles) in just 47:30. Her finish time means she ran the second half of a marathon at a sub 4-minute per mile pace—just stupefying. If you’re going to tell a whopper, at least make it the teensiest bit believable.
Just finishing 26.2 miles is a major accomplishment. Why this woman couldn’t be happy with that is beyond the veil of sanity. When confronted with her impossible split time, she insisted the time was wrong, although she never finished a past marathon in less than 4 hours. The split time Hamilton claimed would have placed her within 5 seconds of Gilmer, who never saw her during the race. Maybe Gilmer saw her wave as she drove past.
Instead of building others up, liars build themselves up at the cost of others. Someone who lies about military service diminishes those who actually served. A lie about education or experience on a resume diminishes someone who actually took the classes and did the work. A lie about sickness diminishes the real pain of those who are actually sick. Cheating on a test or a marathon diminishes those who honestly studied or ran a good race. Whether they are found out or not, lies hurt, and liars aren’t really building themselves up, but rather ripping great chunks of their own souls and flinging them into the lake of fire.
I was brought up hearing that honesty is the best policy. It really is. Nobody wants to be lied to. Telling the truth to a liar is nearly impossible, since they only hear lies from you—if they lie about everything, they think you must be lying too. Lying creates a mental trap which prevents truth from entering. People who repeatedly and intentionally lie have no way to break out of the prison of their own lies. I think this is what “all liars” means in that verse in Revelation. If you become a liar, you can’t hear the truth, and it’s the truth that sets you free.
Reader, if you are seeing this and you know you’re a liar, there’s a really easy fix to that. Tell the truth. Just get it off your chest and things will get a lot better. Pick up the phone, call the people who’ve bought the most lies from you, and tell them “I’m a liar, I’ve been lying to you for a long time.” Then tell them the truth. There’s going to be consequences, but like pulling a band-aid off a hairy arm, just do it all at once, and let the wounds heal. You have to do it, for the sake of your own soul. Nobody else can set your lies straight, only you.
And if you seriously can’t bring yourself to tell the truth, to stop telling lies, there’s a place for you. Yeah, the lake of fire—eventually that will come, in due time. But right now, there’s a place for you. If you’re an incurable liar, just become a politician and run for office.
That way, at least we all know.
*I don’t mean that all women look fat when they ask the question, but if they ask it, they think they look fat, and therefore answering the question starts a conversation in which a lie becomes inevitable, because murder is the only other option.