Question: I've recently reviewed a website1 teaching that says God lies, and I've begun to worry that what they say is true. Is that true? Can God lie? They seem to have some good reasons for believing so. Can you tell me if what they are saying is true?
Answer: No — the claims of this site are not true; they are merely the conclusions of the authors. The details that they give from the Bible are true, of course, (that is, the data is accurate) but their analysis of that data is illogical, unwarranted and anti-biblical. In fact, this single article has more problems than I can reasonably address in this Q & A venue, so let me give you my conclusion right up front: This website is a waste of your time. Never visit it again — and here is why.
First, the notion God might lie is absurd — but that is this article’s premise. The idea that God might lie contradicts his nature, and any such notion should never enter into any credible discussion about God… except, as we are doing, to evaluate it for dismissal. So, please… do dismiss it.
Strangely though, this site purports to uphold God — and its statement of beliefs is fairly orthodox. But it totally dismisses God’s word. And since God’s word is where we either get or test all our information — from the theoretical to the practical — I considered everything on this site to carry the germ of unfounded speculation. So, if you do revisit the website against my recommendations, please wear a brain condom.
Now, not only does this website dismiss the Bible as downright harmful to the Christian, the authors have a strange understanding of how words work… and I’m not talking about God’s words in particular… I’m talking about any words. They put an untoward burden on the meanings that words carry and a similar burden on the style of communication. Let me demonstrate.
The article in question uses the example of God’s declaring the destruction of Nineveh as his telling a lie because it didn’t happen. (See what I mean?) To be fair though, their reasoning is a little deeper… but not much.
“Now at the time that God made this prophecy, He knew that He had no intention of fulfilling it. He knew that the people would repent and that He would pretend to have a radical change of mind brought on by a desire to be merciful. But of course God knows the end from the beginning, so He didn’t really change His mind about destroying Nineveh—He never intended to destroy Nineveh in the first place. He just lied to scare people into repenting of their sins.” (Emphasis mine)
Okay – let me get this straight: just because certain words came out of God’s mouth, he is locked-in to performing the action that a discrete and literalistic interpretation of those words would require? And when he does not perform the actions exactly in the way that his words literalistically indicated (because, unlike us, he is God — and he can indeed do those things) he is shown to be a liar? Who thinks language works this way! This is a gross misrepresentation of how words work now — let alone in the ANE (ancient Near East) 2700 years ago.
Broadly speaking, God’s burden in creation is twofold: first, he has to deal with us, and second, he has to record the lessons for posterity. So, how does and omniscient and omnipotent God deal with the Ninevites in a way that will satisfy both his justice and his mercy while maintaining their free will? He wakes them up and saves them!
Now, he could have opted to send a memo like this one. But I (for one) am glad that he chose the biblical method.
To whom it may concern in Nineveh:
Since I know the end from the beginning, I have decided not to destroy your city. But, since you would not know that I spared you from an otherwise imminent fiery destruction unless someone told you — this is me telling you.
cc. Jonah; the New Testament Church.
Don’t these web authors realize that when God is communicating with humans that he is bound to the rules of human language — and that he therein binds his self-revelations to anthropomorphisms? This is really basic stuff. After all, God is a spirit being who wants to talk to a human being — and to do this, he not only uses human language, but he uses standard communication techniques like the storytelling of the ANE. Does the following seem somehow unreasonable? Here is my bare-bones version of the Nineveh’s salvation:
In scene one, God set-up the tension with his promise to destroy Nineveh. In scene two, the Ninevites repent. In scene three, God responds in mercy. Yeah, God!
But the fact that God knew the whole story before it started does not make him a liar… and especially when he used that day’s standard to communicate — he used the idiom of a story. Again… I’m flabbergasted that those authors put out so many words without such a basic understanding of how any story works.
These authors also show no cognizance of how an omniscient God might deal with counterfactuals. A counterfactual is a hypothetical situation that can play out different way depending on its variables. For example, “If the hurricane turned east, my tree would still be standing.” Even we humans can understand the usefulness of these kinds of sentences in evaluating different possible outcomes. Now picture this in the hands of an omniscient God who can sit either before an event or outside of time altogether:
“If I let Nineveh continue unchallenged, they will infect the entire world with their sin. So, I would have to destroy them to achieve optimal salvation in the world.”
“If I tell Nineveh that they will be destroyed in 40 days, they will repent. Then, I will not have to destroy them — and the world will have respite.”
An omniscient and omnipotent God can evaluate an infinite number of alternate scenarios like the ones above, and he can choose to actuate the exact ones that would optimize the redemption of humankind. When God actuates one of the scenarios that he has reviewed, the humans involved still act with their full and libertarian free will. God is choosing them because they already chose.
In Nineveh’s case, the king and all the people chose to repent… when they could have chosen to pump their fists at the sky and curse God. Now, it is true that God knew the outcome ahead of time, but such “unavoidable” knowledge does not constitute a deception by God… and certainly not one that spirals down to lying! On the contrary. God’s response to his essential omniscience is a wonderful provision for us… and yes… I’m still flabbergasted!
To be fair to this article, their being anti-biblical is a non-issue; they teach that believing in an authoritative Bible militates against God. In fact, this website calls depending upon God’s word idolatry! (See underlining) Now, read this for yourself to prove that I’m not kidding, then un-bookmark this site! Because, anyone who makes such assertions is too far afield to host any credible discussion about God doing anything, let alone lying.
“It isn’t going to take you long to realize that our view of the Bible drastically differs from the view of the mainstream Christian Church. The Church teaches you that the Bible is a flawless extension of God which you can blindly trust. The Church also teaches you that the Bible is a higher authority than God, since He is bound by its contents and “can’t ever contradict His own Word.” The Church is delusional, and her idolatrous view of the Bible outrages God.”
“On this site, we teach you how to get closer to God. This requires aligning with His truth and His values. God detests idolatry. God hates it when His people depend on an object instead of on Him for guidance in life. If you stay in alignment with the popular view of the Bible, you are going to be massively hampered in your relationship with God….” (Underlining is my emphasis).
The first problem with this section’s conclusion is that it is self-refuting. The authors are incongruent by believing that the Bible’s words are true enough to set up their arguments (indeed, they quote tons of Scripture) but then redefine them as anti-God-stuff when it comes time to make their conclusions. That is a big no-no in the world of arguing for and against things. If you hop aboard the Bible-bus to develop a thesis, you cannot hop off of it… and then make your conclusions — and their stand against biblical inerrancy is indeed a hopping-off of the Bible-bus. Alternately, if they are setting up a thesis from the point of view that the Bible is not trustworthy — but then make an argument that relies on the trustworthiness of its words (as they do with God’s “lying”) — that is an absurd exercise… and those are your choices with this article: it is illogical and absurd. So don’t bother with it.
There are other problems, too, like whom or what is “the Church” in the above quotation? They use the phrase as if it’s a worldwide ecclesiastical organization with conspiratorial tendencies — like a holy version of Big Brother. Now, the Bible does indeed speak of the Church, which is the Body of Jesus Christ, composed of all true Christians through all time (Eph. 4:11-12), but this body is not an organization of any kind; it is an organism of which Christ is the head (Col. 1:18). As such, there is no “Church” as this website presents: a puppeteer — using the Bible to control the non-enlightened masses.
The following quote shows the website’s misunderstanding of other basic truths. Note in particular their understanding of how we view the Bible.
“…the Bible is a flawless extension of God which you can blindly trust.”
First, the Bible is one of God’s works; it is not an extension of his person. Second, good churches subscribe to biblical inerrancy… which is not biblical flawlessness — and I suspect that this single misunderstanding drives much of the website’s error.
Any person who purports to know what Christians-at-large believe about the Bible’s documents and veracity should be conversant with The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) — and these authors show no familiarity with this important document.
Furthermore, what church (or what logician) would teach that the Bible is “higher” than he who created the it — and that he, the God who created the universe out of nothing, is thereby bound by his own words… but as a person who could somehow write mistaken ones… or somehow rails against the right ones… or somehow be led around by the nose… but by mere words — his own invention and the servants of us all? This is preposterous on more levels than I can list! And the alleged idolatry would be even worse under their point of view since God himself would be guilty of making obeisance to a created thing — a lesser entity — and this would make him a cheat as well as a liar!
Also, for a website whose “thing” is to bring people closer to God by dismissing the Bible, it displays an astounding ignorance of natural theology; the God they postulate is no better than a God from classical mythology — bigger than us… but far from perfect. In fact, the God they postulate either cannot create an uncorrupted communication… or he created one that is messed up… yet he is bound to it. This is nuts! God is the greatest possible being — and here’s the thing with a greatest-possible-being: he wants for nothing. Therefore, God has nothing to gain by any of his actions, and therefore, what would he possibly gain by lying? Someone has not thought this through.
It is true that God cannot lie. But this is not because he is bound to anything external — and this includes the Bible. God cannot lie because he is himself the Truth — and he communicates that truth through nature, through humanity and through the Bible. These three creations reflect his perfection. But of these creations, only the Bible is the touchstone — and we must rub everything against it to separate the gold from the pretenders. So, how about God? Do we have to rub him against the Bible to test him for truth? That sounds silly because it is silly. He who created the touchstone needs no touchstone. The touchstone is for us... it is only for us.