back to list

The Eighth Commandment

main image

The introduction to the eighth commandment from the Catechism of the Catholic Church begins, “The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. (CCC: 2464)” As I read this I thought of some smart aleck child reporting in confession that he “misrepresented the truth in my relations with others.” To which I would reply, “You mean you lied.”

The eighth commandment is “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” It means you should not lie. God could have saved some space on the stone tablets if he had just said that. Jesus spoke of truth in different ways. He, himself, is “the Way the Truth and the Life.” As his disciples, we are to live in him as Truth and in the truth. Living in the big Truth, means living our faith in Jesus. Living in the truth means leading a truthful life. So living in the truth is living in the absence of lying.

Why is lying so dangerous? First, let’s explain why lying is so attractive. One, we often get away with it. Nobody finds out we lied most of the time, and that makes lying at the next opportunity very attractive. Lying serves a purpose. We often lie for a reason. Sometimes we can even convince ourselves it is s good reason. How many husbands have stretched the truth to save their skin when asked by their wives, “How do I look?” We lie to avoid hurting another’s feelings, to protect something we know may be harmful if truth be told, or to save our own embarrassment that would reveal our “nakedness.” So, one could make up a fairly cogent argument that lying is sometimes acceptable and necessary. One could say that, but one would be wrong.

Here is the problem with lying. It is one of those sins which hurts our own souls. There are sins against other people and there are sins against ourselves. Gossiping, swearing, and lying are sins that dirty our own souls. Here is an example. I punch my brother because I am mad at him. I can have true remorse, apologize, and we are good. But if I lie, for whatever reason, I have violated a trust and a truth that Jesus expressly asked us to live in. If I am labeled a liar, where do I go from there? Anything I say is suspect, as after all, I am a liar. The loss of trust is very difficult to recover. Taken to a societal level, St. Thomas Aquinas says this, “Men could not live with one another if there were not mutual confidence that they were being truthful to one another.” That dictum applies to our society, our family, and our most intimate relationship. And as I think about it, it keeps us from God. Although we, in our head, know God sees everything, we consistently “lie” to God about our willingness to surrender to his will, our ability to forgive, and our attempts to see Christ in all. We consciously or subconsciously lie to the very person who knows everything already. And we often think we are clever at it as well.

We often look at Jesus as the Truth, and forget that we are called to live in the truth as well. This commandment also compels us to serve as witnesses to our faith. We are not to be embarrassed or unwilling to proclaim the Truth to others. The Catechism speaks of many offenses against the truth- CCC # 2475-2487. Suffice it to say, it incorporates gossiping, boasts, and rash judgment. This commandment also calls us to honor secrets we make, which speaks to the gravity of not accepting a secret in the first place. We often welcome hearing a secret as having some power over that person. They now depend on us to preserve their reputation or whatever lends itself to the cause for the secret. The commandment also calls for us to not ask for people to keep secret something which may compromise their faith or their reputation. Social media has opened an entire avenue of presumed anonymity and ease in destroying another person. We feel no remorse in aggravated accusations and conclusions which hurt other people. Many of us check our civility at the door when we turn on our computers.

On the positive side, sacred art and music are deep expressions of truth, and highlight what living in the truth feels like. My bottom line is that there is never, ever a reason to lie. Have I lied in my past? "Yes.” I have lied to save face, to get away with what I wanted, or to hurt other people. As I warned with the other commandments, you can get forgiveness from God, and re-establish your relationship with him, but when you lied over something that was serious, you never will forget it. Living in the truth, won’t guarantee you a smooth life, just a happy one.