Lying and the unforgiveable sin

Joseph F. Smith said in General Conference in the wake of difficulties and stresses of the US government’s opposition to LDS plural marriage:

I stand before you today, my brethren and sisters and friends, on the ground that I have tried to be true to God, to the utmost of my knowledge and ability; that I have tried to be true to my people, to the utmost of my knowledge and ability; and I have been true to the world in every pledge and promise that I have made to the world, notwithstanding there have been men who have shown a disposition to make it appear that I was a hypocrite, that I was two-faced; that I was one thing to the world and another thing in secret. I want it distinctly understood that those who have conveyed such an idea as this to mankind have been wilfully injuring me, wronging me, and falsifying me and my character before the people, and I want it distinctly understood those things must stop. They must stop at least among men who profess to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I can endure to be maligned and persecuted by my enemies, who are also enemies of the Kingdom of God, but I do not want to be maligned and belied by men who profess to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, neither intentionally nor otherwise. Now, I trust that you understand clearly what I mean. I do not know how I can make it much plainer or clearer, with the knowledge that I have of language.

–          Conference Report (October 1910): 2–3.

It is an interesting thing to note that lying and liars come under such condemnation. They get grouped with murderers, adulterers, idol worshipers and the like. We are warned against presuming that a little lie can be excused or winked at. Even lying to counter the suspicion that another lies is forbidden. Indeed, the ultimate fate is frightening:

Wherefore, I, the Lord, have said that the fearful, and the unbelieving, and all liars, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie, and the whoremonger, and the sorcerer, shall have their part in that lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (D&C 63:17).

Such folk have a telestial destination, ultimately:

These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie. These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth. These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work; (D&C 76:103-107)

It is particularly sobering to note that President Smith also reproves those members who lie about him “intentionally…or otherwise.” Thus, to even unwittingly spread falsehood is a grave matter—particularly, one suspects, when with a little interrogation one could know better. “Lying” in the Church is forbidden, and it is perhaps no surprise that it is coupled with “backbiting” and “evil speaking”—when one intends to disparage or reduce the influence of someone, speaking behind their back and shading the truth become more attractive (or, as President Smith suggests, may incline us to too readily believe the worst of someone, or repeat falsehoods).

Why is lying so serious? I love the description offered by Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, a Canadian Roman Catholic priest. In discussing “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost,” he glosses a part of what Jesus may be cautioning against:

Be careful not to lie, not to distort the truth, because the real danger it that, by lying, you begin to distort and warp your own hearts. If you lie to yourself long enough, eventually you will lose sight of the truth and believe the lie and become unable any longer to tell the difference between truth and lies. What becomes unforgivable about that is not that God does not want to forgive, but that you no longer want to be forgiven. God easily forgives all of your weaknesses and will always forgive anyone who wants to be forgiven, but you can so warp your own conscience that you see God’s truth and forgiveness itself as a lie, as Satan, and see your own lie as truth and forgiveness. That is the only sin that truly puts us outside of God’s mercy, not because God refuses to extend mercy further, but because you can look mercy in the eye and call it a lie.

–          Ronald Rolheiser, Seeking Spirituality: Guidelines for a Christian Spirituality for the Twenty-First Century (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1998), 215.

Perhaps this is why Sherem is so alarmed at his state at having risked the unforgivable sin—because he “lied unto God.”

John Gee at BYU recently wrote some kind things about me, and some other people he had worked with. I don’t know all the people he mentions, but I do know some of them well. I can endorse what he said about them. And, I would add one other thing—those that I worked with (and I include Gee here) were a pleasure to work with because they were scrupulously, bend-over-backward honest. They never dissembled, and were always frank.

It is so much easier to work and relax around such people, for one always knows where one stands. Like Gee, I’m grateful for my association with them.