For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about telling the truth. We’ve looked at a couple of passages in Paul’s letters where he admonishes the believers to stop lying. We might chuckle just a bit when we read these verses, since such advice presumes that the saints in Ephesus and Galatia were in fact lying and probably doing so habitually. If they were anything like we are, we have no problem imagining that this was the case and that Paul’s warnings were quite justified.
Our own tolerance for the “little white lie” is evident from our discussions in class. Let us leave aside for the moment the questions whether a “little white lie” can ever be justified or whether one who is hiding Jews from the Nazis is justified in telling the would-be murderers that he or she does not know the whereabouts of any Jews. Let’s take away the absolute extremes and work from the proposition, amplified by Jordan Peterson in his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, that we – most all of us, really – are far too casual about lying and far too willing to ignore the effects of lies – both on the speaker and those to whom the lie is spoken.
Peterson writes that we have a long list of reasons for telling lies. We may twist the truth a little bit –or a lot – to make ourselves look better; to avoid the shame for what we might have done or, the reverse, to give ourselves credit for the good work of others. We might lie because we are lazy – because it seems to us in the moment that telling the truth would require more work and more explanation than we are willing to give.
Peterson writes that telling the truth may often cost us something. That truth telling may be a kind of sacrifice: we give up something immediate – our present peace or rest or reputation in the mild cases, perhaps even our physical or financial security in other cases – for the hope of some future benefit.
Peterson writes that there are lies of commission – out and out statements that are deceitful and deliberately misleading – and lies of omission. The lies of omission are those where we remain silent about something when we really ought to speak.
He argues that the lies of omission are every bit as morally destructive as lies of commission and that the lie of omission might be the more common and more devastating in the modern world. He says that it is the willingness of the common man to keep silent in the face of wrongdoing that has allowed the great tyrannies of the twentieth century to flourish and that it was the willingness of a very few brave men – Alexander Solzhenitsyn among them – to stand up to the tyrant and speak the truth that actually began the process of loosening the grip that communism held on half of the world in the 20th century.
With all of that in mind, let’s go back about three thousand years and examine a social and governmental situation that existed in the empire of Persia during the period of the exile