Why tell the truth?

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

The words were out of my mouth before I could stop myself. Sure, I was only 11 at the time, but I knew better than to take credit for work I hadn't done. And yet, the look on my mom's face as she read the poem on her homemade Mother's Day card - and then asked me if I was the author - somehow changed my "no" into a "yes."

As in many cases of lying, this one quickly spiraled downward. It wasn't that I had to add lie upon lie in order to maintain my story. But my mom's delight over the poem I'd allegedly written quickly led to compliments from the slew of friends and relatives to whom she had shown the now infamous card. And with those compliments came the ever-increasing weight of guilt.

I felt trapped. It seemed too late to tell the truth, but as the lie ballooned in front of my 11-year-old eyes, all I wanted was an opening, an opportunity to set the record straight. When my mom finally did find out I'd lied, it was a terrible moment. And yet, I was also relieved - and I vowed never to lie again.

I wish I could say that I kept that vow over the ensuing years, but lying can be a tricky thing. The belief that we gain something by lying or that making ourselves look good is, in the long run, more important than standing up for what's true, can be subtly compelling. Seductive, even. Of course, there's always the risk of what will happen if the truth does come to light. The uncovering of several major corporate scandals in the last few years is proof that ultimately lying doesn't pay. And yet, is the hope of avoiding fallout from a lie reason enough to eschew the practice?

In my own life, I've found that the desire for morality has dangerously shallow roots if it grows only from the seeds of fear, or even of human goodness. Either way, it's subject to the whims of human nature and the changing winds of society's definition of wrong and right. What does work, it seems to me, is honesty that springs from a genuine spirituality - out of knowing the nature of God, and thus the nature of God's creation.

Back in the Old Testament, God expressed and Moses transcribed this basic guideline for honesty: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour" (Ex. 20:16). "Yeah, yeah," I used to think when I read it. "No lying. I get it." But I didn't get it, because every so often I would lie - occasionally, it seemed, without even a second thought. Maybe, I realized, it was time to think more deeply about the "why" behind this commandment.

As I considered it more carefully, I came to see that this biblical demand for honesty isn't just about what we shouldn't do. Rather, it tells us why honesty is actually empowering - and why it's our freedom to choose truth over lies.

In her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy described God as Truth, and she called the man and woman of His creating the idea - expression or reflection - of God. It would follow, then, that God's creation must be the emanation of Truth - capable only of honesty, of godly thoughts and actions.

Truth-telling, then, is not so much about avoiding a worse punishment or even about being a good person. The power of honesty is that it reminds us of our connection to God, reestablishes the permanence of that indivisible relationship. By not "bearing false witness," we're actually staying true to more than just the facts. We're staying true to our nature as the children of a God who loved us enough to make us in His likeness. As we do so consistently, we'll find that honesty really is natural and compelling. How could it not be, since it has all the might of Truth, which is synonymous with divine Love, behind it?

"Honesty is spiritual power," wrote Mrs. Eddy (Science and Health, page 453). Love would never ask something of its children that they were incapable of doing. What's empowering is the discovery that we're never alone, never disconnected beings trying (but sometimes failing) to do what's right. Instead, Love, or Truth, has given us everything we need to live as His-Her image. And that's a fact.

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