What does our moral compass say about lying?

by Tan Huey Ying // March 6, 2018, 7:57 pm


Photo by Garrett Sears on Unsplash

“Aye, the compass doesn’t point North. But we’re not trying to find North, are we?”

Captain Jack Sparrow owns a special compass in the hit movie, The Pirates of the Caribbean. It does not point to magnetic north like regular, working compasses. Instead, the needle supernaturally points the owner in the direction of the object that he most desires.

Likewise in Faith And Work, A National Survey of Singaporean Christians in the Marketplace, one result in the section on ethical and moral beliefs threw up a disturbing statistic.

When asked: “What is your stand towards lying to employers, colleagues or clients?”, only 54.7% of respondents indicated that they believe that lying is “always wrong”. 

Surveys are so delightfully ambiguous.

If almost half the Christians surveyed believe that it is sometimes acceptable to lie, does Captain Jack’s compass resemble the moral compass of the Singaporean Christian?

A common understanding

Why do people lie?

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one” – The Screwtape Letters

The answers cover the full spectrum of motivations. Some lies are intentionally malicious. Others are shame- or fear-driven, or purely habitual. Yet other lies are told out of a nonchalant disregard for truth.

Most insidiously, though, we sometimes lie because we undervalue the weight of a “little” lie – this probably explains why lying seems to be increasingly acceptable today. Think faking an MC (I work a lot of overtime anyway) or gossip that goes too far (nobody takes it seriously). 

Fake news and misinformation is commonplace. Donald Trump even ran for the US Presidency based on statements that ranged from unfounded stereotypes to blatant lies

Behavioural economist and author of The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, Dan Ariely, found that “our sense of our own morality is connected to the amount of cheating (that) allows us to retain our self-image as reasonably honest individuals”.

This means that we rationalise our actions: Doing anything that makes us look like scumbags is unacceptable, but everything else that still permits us to appear as “decent” humans is deemed inconsequential.

In The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, Screwtape reminds his understudy Wormwood:

“You will say that these are very small sins … It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing … Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

The real issue 

Little lies, white lies, half-truths. Lying is not the root issue – integrity is.

The needle on our moral compass wavers as moral and ethical lines are being crossed frequently and flippantly.

Author of the MacArthur Study Bible, John MacArthur, has observed that contemporary society is gradually turning away from biblical moral standards in favour of expediency and pragmatism. Aren’t we Singaporeans well-known for being chop-chop? 

“Sorry! I’m almost there!” (Actually, I’m 40 minutes away, but better manage expectations, save face.)

Professionals and those in front-line roles will encounter the diciest situations over billable hours, sales targets and even kickbacks. It is a struggle! 

Culturally, we think of integrity as honesty.

Yet at its root, “integrity” is a combination of words: Integrité in Old French, meaning a consistent blamelessness and purity of character; and in Latin, integer which describes something whole and complete. There is an absolute-ness to the word.

In the Old Testament, “integrity” comes from tom or tummah which refers to wholeness – something perfect, upright.

“Integrity” in its original form does not occur in the New Testament. However, “its equivalents may be seen in ‘sincerity’, ‘truth’, the ‘pure heart’, the ‘single eye’. In the above sense of simplicity of intention, it is equivalent to being honest, sincere, genuine, and is fundamental to true character”, according to  WL Walker in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

In a way, integrity is not just a question of honesty (or the lack of). Instead, a closer reference would be a morally upright person – someone with character that is consistently blameless, pure, whole and complete. Sound like a certain Someone?

Jack Sparrow, swindler and crook, says: “Me? I’m dishonest. And a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly.

Jesus, however, was a man of complete moral integrity. He is Truth embodied, complete and whole in every sense.

As His followers, the narrow path is set clearly before us, just as much as the broad way beckons with its easy half-truths and white lies.

As Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias puts it: “Morality is the fruit of your knowledge of God, conscious or otherwise.”

Our testimony 

Lying is wrong – there cannot be any doubt about that.

The goal: To honour God by being people of integrity, imitators of the absolute pureness and goodness of Christ.

But the act of lying is secondary to the pursuit of Christ-like integrity.

Paul urges: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 With his famous zeal, you can almost imagine Paul shouting this as a rallying cry in his letter. 

God’s standards set out in His Son and His Word are perfect and exacting. 

Nonetheless, all of us who work in a fallen world will be subject to the temptation to lie and face this test of integrity.

Professionals and those in front-line roles will encounter the diciest situations over billable hours, sales targets and even kickbacks. It is a struggle! 

Occasionally, we will fail – we are humans, imperfect and fallible.

Still, that single-minded pursuit of integrity requires a functional moral compass that points us consistently to God and the standards that He sets in His Word. 

The bottomline: We must walk the narrow path and watch how we live in light of the One we claim to follow. 

The goal: To honour God by being people of integrity, imitators of the absolute pureness and goodness of Christ.

About the author

Tan Huey Ying

Huey Ying is now an Assignments Editor at Salt&Light, having worked in finance, events management and aquatics industries. She usually has more questions than answers but is always happiest in the water, where she's learning what it means to "be still".