lying is bad

5 Ways People Justify Lying

Last spring, I read a book called Killers of the Flower Moon. Maybe you’ve seen the movie. It’s a true story that happened in the 1920s. The Osage people had been kicked off their land several times before finally being shoved onto a useless piece of rocky terrain in northeastern Oklahoma. In fact, the chief of the Osage was glad to know that they’d finally be able to live in peace because no one would want to live there. And then oil was discovered beneath them. The Osage people retained the oil rights and became wealthy. But when one wealthy Osage family began to get murdered one by one, it caught the FBI’s attention. In the investigation, the FBI discovered an elaborate plot to steal the oil rights from family and their wealth along with it. I won’t spoil the ending by revealing the mastermind behind the plot, but one of the perpetrators confessed, and the whole scheme unraveled. One of the most disturbing parts of the book is the attitude of the mastermind after he went to prison. He said, “If (the confessor) had just kept his mouth shut, we’d all be rich.”

How does a person get to a place where he or she is willing to throw away a human life so callously? I think it starts when we justify our bad behavior instead of repenting for it. And one of the worst behaviors we can justify is lying. Lying is bad. Whenever we tell a lie, an internal battle begins. That battle is resolved in one of two ways. Either the lie is exposed and faced or it’s explained away. While the latter is more appealing, it comes with deep, longer-lasting consequences, such as weakened moral strength and a seared conscience. We need to think about the ways we justify lying so we can choose a better direction. Here are 5 ways people justify lying.

1. We tell ourselves we’ll never do it again.

“It’s just this once.” Rather than being truthful and dealing with the consequences, we make a deal with ourselves that we’ll let this one infraction go and never do it again. So we get away with it, or so we think, but it becomes easier to repeat the same behavior. So we end up lying again and make another deal.

The Problem: It’ll catch up with us at some point. I don’t write this to scare anyone, but an important thought for our decision-making is something Jesus said in Luke 8:17—”For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” Being honest and confronting things in the open is the best way to change.

2. We minimize the damage in our minds.

One of the ways to satisfy our guilty conscience is to convince ourselves that it’s not that big of a deal. Thoughts like “what people don’t know won’t hurt them” or “everyone does it” are ways to soothe the heaviness inside. And if the lie is found out and people are hurt, we tell ourselves it’s small and that they should get over it.

The Problem: Lying is bad because it decreases our empathy and connection with others. Even if they don’t find out, we know, and even that creates distance. But if the lie is revealed, then trust is broken. Once trust is broken, it takes a long time to rebuild, and sometimes the relationship never fully recovers.

When we don’t maintain the integrity of our inner life, it’ll eventually show itself on the outside.

3. We convince ourselves it’s for a good cause.

If the end results are perceived as good, then we wonder how bad the actions could have been that led to it. But it is bad. It may feel good in the short term or take care of some immediate problems, but chances are, it’s going to lead to deeper, long-term issues.

The Problem: We don’t see the negative things that are taking place below the surface. Lying will weaken our integrity, character, and moral framework. Our decision-making process gets more and more murky. When we don’t maintain the integrity of our inner life, it’ll eventually show itself on the outside.

4. We tell ourselves that the people we hurt deserve it.

If someone has treated us or others poorly, we’re much less likely to want to do right by them. After all, if something bad happens to them, they had it coming. Maybe the lie was a good thing because it was the universe’s way of bringing justice or balancing things out. Some may even invoke the name of God into the justice equation.

The Problem: The truth that is lying is bad no matter what. Somebody else’s bad behavior will never justify your bad behavior in return. Wrong behavior is exactly that—wrong behavior. It’s never right, and as we’ve already discussed, it can change us into people we never wanted to be.

5. We convince ourselves that the lie is the truth.

Sometimes, the only way to relieve our souls of the guilt without repenting is to actually convince ourselves that the lie we told is the truth. This is the most dangerous way because we become lost.

The Problem: We lose our grip on reality. Then we lose the ability to recognize truth even when it stands in front of us like a monument. In John 8:32, Jesus says, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” If we can’t recognize truth, we end up in a prison, isolating us from our relationships, and making us fearful.

Sound off: What are some other ways people justify lying?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Why do you think we’re sometimes tempted to lie?”