When I was about four or five years old, my mother found the letter “F” scribbled in crayon on the hallway wall of our home. Since my brother would have been about three and my sister barely a year old, it was clear that I was the culprit, for I had been learning to write in preschool. Therefore, my mother asked me who wrote on the wall so that I might come clean about my misdeed.
I wish I could say I told the truth at the time. I actually blamed my brother, which was laughable as he did not yet know how to write. My mother probably scolded me in some way, but I do not remember.
No one has to teach a child how to lie. Perhaps the greatest experiential evidence for the doctrine of original sin is that the youngest child soon starts to hide from the gaze of his parents or tell an untruth when caught in the act of disobedience. We have to be taught how to be good, but we know instinctively how to be bad.
This remains true throughout our lives. Most of us are probably not outright, pathological liars, but how frequently do we only tell part of the story when we are asked about something? We do not even necessarily have to be covering up some sin; sometimes we do not want to convey the whole truth out of petty jealousy or just to spite another.
Adam’s reluctance to confess the full extent of his wickedness when God first confronts him in Eden (Gen. 3:9–10) is the first half-truth recorded in Israel’s history. His son, Cain, soon went even further, lying to God directly and maliciously about Abel’s whereabouts after murdering him (4:9). No doubt his lying contributed to the false mythologies of ancient peoples. His lies to God could easily transform into false ideas about the Lord, such as Lamech’s arrogant presumption of divine protection (vv. 23–24).
Our propensity to tell half-truths and lies does not lessen as we grow older. In fact, it increases; our growth in knowledge makes us adept at covering up our sins. But we should know better. The Lord is never oblivious to our evil and He commands us to not be like Cain (1 John 3:12). Let us then seek not to advance our good name with a lie; rather, let us promote the honorable name of God by always telling the truth about Him — and ourselves.