God’s Sovereignty, God’s Truth: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 43

112. What does the ninth commandment require?
That I bear false witness against no one,1 twist no one’s words,2 be
no backbiter or slanderer,3 join in condemning no one unheard or
rashly;4 but that on pain of God’s heavy wrath, I avoid all lying
and deceit5 as the very works of the devil;6 and that in matters of
judgment and justice and in all other affairs, I love, speak honestly,
and confess the truth;7 also, insofar as I can, defend and promote
my neighbor’s good name.8
[1] Prov. 19:5, 9. [2] Ps. 15:3. [3] Rom. 1:28–30. [4] Matt. 7:1–2. Lk. 6:37. [5] Jn. 8:44.
[6] Prov. 12:22; 13:5. [7] 1 Cor. 13:6; Eph. 4:25. [8] 1 Pet. 4:8; *Jn. 7:24, 51; *1 Pet. 2:21,
23; *Col. 4:6; *1 Pet 3:9.

God’s Sovereignty, God’s Truth
Understanding the gravity of the ninth commandment requires recognizing that we are spiritual beings made in God’s image. God is a God of truth. He hates lies as the very work of the devil. When we lie, we attack the image of God and the sovereign rule of God over the universe.

A lie is an attempt to make reality different than what it is. If I tell someone else that I got a PhD from Harvard when I didn’t, I am trying to make my world one in which it is true, to some degree, that I got that PhD. If people think I did, then they will treat me that way. They will respect me. It will open career prospects. In all of these ways I can get many of the benefits of the PhD without actually doing it. I would get more benefits from actually having the PhD, but just convincing people that I did will get me many of those benefits with a whole lot less work. Doing this, then, is an attack on God’s sovereign rule of the universe, the reflection of a belief that I can make reality what I want it to be with my words, since in God’s universe I do not have the PhD at all. Likewise, if I tear someone else down and destroy their reputation with my words, then I can recreate a reality where the object of my envy and hatred is treated like someone who is what I say he is, rather than what he actually is. To some degree, I can mold reality according to my desires with the way that I talk about people. A man convicted and executed for murder based on perjured testimony is just as dead as one convicted rightfully.

When I lie about someone else, I attack their very nature. Because we are spiritual beings, lying about someone is every bit as real an assault as a punch in the nose. In fact, physical attacks are often much less damaging and easier to recover from than spiritual attacks. We all like to think we don’t care much about what other people think about us, but anyone who has been slandered knows this not to be the case. Lies about us hurt a great deal.

A man’s reputation is vital to him living in a community. What people think about you affects the way they interact with you at every level. It affects people’s willingness to do business with you, to employ you, to socialize with you. All of the vital functions of a community depend on what we think about others, and slandering others, even in the most seemingly harmless ways, can work to isolate and cut off a man from his community. A man’s reputation is vital to his life, and attacking his reputation is therefore a great sin.

But God is sovereign, and will not permit us to kick Him off the throne of the universe. He is sovereign; He is in control. When we attempt to distort reality with our lies, we will inevitably fail. God will not give His glory to another, and He will not turn the government of the universe over to us. Part of trusting God means accepting what is, and knowing that He is the judge and He will right all the wrongs, vengeance belongs to Him, and it’s not our job to make sure everyone knows what a jerk some other person is.

The Christian will therefore embrace forgiveness in Christ and repent of his sin of lying and slander. We can trust Christ completely to forgive us, to care for us, to preserve us, and to bless us richly and immensely. Because of that, we can stop trying to control the world around us, stop trying to dictate the way people perceive us and the way others are perceived. We can simply speak the truth, commit ourselves to loving others, being humble in our opinions of ourselves and others, and know that God will reveal all things in the end. If there is a wicked person in our lives, we should not fear that they are getting away with something. God always reveals the truth.

The cause of justice or the protection of the community does require speaking up on occasion. It is an evil thing to do to stay silent at the oppression of the weak and poor, the widow and orphan. But we should be sure we actually know that, not just that we suspect it or have heard about it from someone else. The value of reputation should drive us to be extremely cautious with other people’s good names. Just as we rightly condemn a man who drives a car while drunk (even if he doesn’t happen to get in a wreck that time) for being careless with the lives and property of others, so too we should never handle other people’s reputations carelessly. If we treasure the truth highly, as God does, then we will sooner keep silent than risk speaking lies.

A big part of being saved in Christ means that, in the context of forgiveness and assurance of salvation, we can begin to learn what it means to be fully human, and living in community is a huge part of the definition. Learning to guard each other’s reputations, to highly treasure the truth in all situations, and to trust God’s sovereign control of the world is all part of being conformed to the image of Christ, becoming what He intends for us to be.