Sometimes this Commandment is a tricky one. I’ve seen people lie online about the Catholic Church but claim it’s okay because the prohibition is only for bearing false witness against their neighbors and Catholics, being members of the Whore of Babylon, are not their neighbors.
That’s a sleight of hand I don’t think will work come Judgment Day.
At the other extreme are those who think any untruth is a sin. But if that’s the case, you would be sinning when you miscalculate on a math test. And what if you say something you think is true but then it turns out not to be? What if, for example, I tell someone my husband is in the kitchen but, unbeknownst to me, he’s gone into the garage? I don’t think we’d call that a sin either.
When it comes to this Commandment and the subject of lying, often scenarios are put forth like Nazis coming to the door and inquiring about Jews hiding in the attic.
That’s the sort of hypothetical question theologians love to bandy back and forth. Having to tell an untruth to save a life almost never comes up in real day-to-day living. Any Jew-seeking Nazis ring your doorbell lately?
Except it happened to me. I actually found myself in such a pickle.
First, a little background. My elderly mother was diabetic. Taking care of her was challenging. My father set his alarm to go off every two hours during the night so he could check that her blood sugar wasn’t so low that she had slipped into a diabetic reaction. If her skin felt cold and clammy, he knew he had to get some sugar into her right away. Brain damage could be occurring if he delayed. Worse yet, she could go into a coma, one from which she might not recover.
She also had a skin condition. Her skin was so frail that she could bleed just bumping against an object.
And all this is where I ran into a problem when my mother came to stay with me while my father was in the hospital. I got up in the middle of the night to check her. Sure enough, her arm was cold and clammy. I knew I had to get her some sugar into her immediately.
So I scooped some ice cream into a bowl and woke her up. But she refused to take it. Because of the diabetic reaction, she wasn’t thinking clearly.
You see, under normal conditions, my mother knew she was not supposed to eat food with sugar in it. Despite my pleas, she tightened her lips and folded her arms in defiance. The way she saw it, I was trying to feed her poison.
So what then? Quickly I went over my options:
- Do nothing. Go back to bed and hope she doesn’t die. The problem here, of course, is that this fulfills all the requirements of a mortal sin. (Yes, I rejected this idea immediately.)
- Force the ice cream down her throat. But she had that skin condition, and I also knew, from a similar experience my sister had had, that Mom could kick like a mule.
- Call the paramedics and have them force the ice cream down her throat. This didn’t seem better than option #2. In fact, it would guarantee a delay, and brain damage could be occurring during that time.
- Convince her the ice cream is sugar free.
Well, what would you do? Remember, brain damage is happening while you’re spending time thinking it over.
I went with #4. It worked, and my Mom was okay.
Later, to my surprise, someone online told me I had lied and therefore sinned. In fact, she told me I had no option but to sin.
Really? God allows situations in which sin is your only choice? Is that what this Commandment is all about?
There’s the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. We must always obey the spirit of the law.
But sometimes the letter does not apply any more than it did when the Pharisees complained that Christ’s disciples were breaking the Sabbath. This point was important enough that it appears in all the synoptic gospels (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28, Luke 6:1-5).
This Commandment was made for us, not us for it.