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Liar, Liar

The thesauri—I’m presuming that’s the plural of thesaurus—have been overworked as the Mahon tribunal’s report has come out and writers, journalists, politicians and commentators search for words that mean liar or lie without actually saying it. We’ve been treated to deceit, dissimulation, equivocation, fabrication, falsification, invention, mendacity, misrepresentation of the facts, prevarication, perjury, and untruths—but not ‘lies’.

My favourite is mendacity—the most obscure and least used of the synonyms, allowing users to appear intelligent, avoid the ’lie’ word, and smooth over the ugliness of the facts. Early on in my preaching days a learned gentleman gave me some advice: English vocabulary, he said, stems from two sources—Anglo Saxon and Latin. Use the Anglo Saxon rather than the Latinate words—don’t say something has a noxious aroma, say it stinks. It will paint more graphic word pictures and resonate with ordinary people.

Oddly enough ‘mendacity’ comes from a Latin root, as does prevaricate, equivocate, perjure, and falsify. ‘Lie’ is Old English of Germanic origin—blunt, unsubtle and straight to the point. Why not use it?

I understand that there are nuances of deceit that prevarication and equivocation capture, but at the end of the day they are all efforts to avoid telling the truth. To play with words, to know what a person is asking and yet to answer in a way that avoids the question—even whilst being truthful—is deceitful.

God’s word is clear when it comes to our speech. The commands are clear—“Do not lie. Do not deceive one another” (Leviticus 19:11). God’s attitude to deceitfulness is clear—“The Lord detests those who tell lies” (Psalm 5). The outcome is clear, at the end of a list of sinful practices we read—“…idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur” (Revelation 21:8). And in a passage about Heaven, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is…deceitful” (Revelation 21:27).

God allows no leeway when it comes to our speech. We are not to be like the man in Proverbs 6—“A scoundrel and villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, who winks with his eye, signals with his feet and motions with his fingers, who plots evil with deceit in his heart”. This is a man who says one thing with his mouth but indicates to those in the know that he means something completely different—strikingly relevant in a ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say nothing, you know what this brown envelope is for, but I didn’t ask you to do anything’ culture.

We may fume that the Mahon tribunal hasn’t been hard enough, that the guilty have got away with it, but one day they will stand before Him who hates deceitful men, and there will be no wriggle room before the piercing gaze of him who sees all truth. Equivocation and prevarication will be swept aside, untruths will be seen for what they are—damnable lies. And justice will be done.

But what of us? We may disguise the ugly truth with a collection of euphemisms—only a little fib, a white lie—but we are all liars. Our lies may not have the same impact as those of people in power, but what we see in them is still a reflection of ourselves. And until we recognise the ugly truth of it, we will find ourselves facing the same judgment they face. Thankfully, if we go to Jesus we can find forgiveness even for the blackest of lies (John 21:15-17).