James Warren, after the recent US election, cited President Obama as saying, “Trump understands the new ecosystem, in which facts and truth don’t matter.”
In the same week we learned that a widely circulated Facebook news item—about Pope Francis endorsing Trump for president—was a bold lie. And, elsewhere, news is now out that the Volkswagen auto emissions scandal was actually a broad conspiracy. And there’s plenty more.
So here’s our question for the week: is lying on the rise?
No. The Bible assures us that lying has been the standard human impulse from Eden onward. Lying, since Adam’s fall, is the grease that makes a human-life-apart-from-God work.
Let’s track this theme.
For one, the Bible points to “the serpent” as the source of falsehoods. He’s also called the Devil and Satan. Jesus referred to him as “the Liar.” But oddly, while Satan has a role in Scriptures he isn’t often in the forefront. Instead we see his main device in play: a single massive falsehood.
Abraham, for instance, is never seen to be fencing with the Devil as he emerges as the father of faith. And Moses has his face-offs with Pharaoh, not with Satan. And even in Job’s account Satan only has a pair of cameo appearances. God, in fact, takes over what Satan started and treats Job’s sufferings as a part of his own plan.
Even Jesus in the gospels seems relatively quiet about Satan. He doesn’t fall for the Devil’s temptations at the start of his ministry; or fixate on his adversary’s role in the many battles he faced. Instead it was Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and other humans who opposed and then killed him.
Yet Jesus does offer some sharp references along the way, as when he rebuked Peter (in Mark 8:33) when Peter resisted his brief on the coming crucifixion: “Get behind me, Satan!”
Peter, in fact, is a helpful figure in tracing how falsehood and Satan are tied together in the Bible. No Bible reader will ever come away from the text thinking of Peter as a minion of Satan. In fact soon after Jesus rebuked Peter, the chastened apostle was privileged to see Jesus transfigured. And in Acts Peter’s life cements his place as one of Christ’s very faithful servants.
But, still, we recall the interlude just before the crucifixion when Peter lied three times about being a follower of Jesus. A brief precursor to that nighttime episode came when Jesus warned him, “Satan has demanded to sift you” (Luke 22:31). The plural “you” pointed to a test all the disciples would face, but it was only Peter who was warned of his pending denials.
What characterized Peter’s sifting? Satan exploited his fear: the apostle was suddenly afraid to die, even though he had been swinging a sword to protect Jesus just an hour earlier. But, now separated from Jesus, he faced a servant girl’s charge—“This man was also with [Jesus]”—and the three denials followed.
It helps if we identify the ultimate basis for every lie: an ambition to recreate reality—to be like God.
One way to see this is to track the underlying Greek text in places where the Bible refers to “the Lie” as a singular reality. As in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He … does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he [speaks the Lie], he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of [it].”
The same use of a singular article “the” with “lie” is found in Romans 1:25—“they exchanged the truth about God for [the Lie]”—and in both Ephesians 4:25 and 2 Thessalonians 2:11. This Lie points back to the Devil’s invitation to Adam and Eve to “be like God”—which reveals the Devil’s own great ambition. He displayed it when he asked Jesus to worship him (Matthew 4:8-9).
Jesus, then, was Truth-focused rather than Devil-concerned in his ministry. There is only one God and he alone is to be believed and received in worship. And Jesus famously revealed himself as the tangible focus of this Truth in John 14:6—“I am the way, and the truth, and the life”—and later he set out truth as his purpose statement: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37).”
Then, in the same breath, he made a stunning claim: “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Because of God’s spiritual paternity. Earlier in John, Jesus sifted out some unbelieving “believers” from among his followers by declaring that real disciples are those who “abide in my word” and “know the truth.” When the pseudo-believers dismissed what he said Jesus responded, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here” (John 8:42).
Later Jesus reinforced a Trinitarian Truth connection when he promised the Spirit’s ministry: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).
This only samples the “Truth” versus “Lie” conflict. Do a Bible read-through and see for yourself.
So let’s conclude by returning to Christ’s rebuke of Peter—“Get behind me, Satan”—and to Peter’s three denials. In both cases Peter fell back into the human habit of reshaping reality. It was the fallen impulse to be god-like, to live by the Lie. Jesus said as much: “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33). Peter was still oscillating between the Truth and the Lie. Yet, as the gospel narratives unfold, Truth finally held him steady.
As an application, what does the American election suggest to us? Perhaps this much: there aren’t enough voters devoted to “the Truth” to elevate truth-devoted candidates to office. And, with that, the Lie continues to prosper.
But, thankfully, we know Jesus will prevail in the end. And all who love the Truth will be safe.