Psalm 52: The Deceitful Tongue

“Everybody lies” – so says Dr. Gregory House from the popular TV series “House.” Cynical, yet it rings true, we all lie at times. It is a social skill first formed at the age of reason, seven, then developed over time. Anyone who insists they never lie is a liar.

Not all lies are equal. There are the socially acceptable lies we tell in order to protect others—so called “white” lies. Someone who told only the truth would be considered a social misfit. Sheldon, on TV’s “Big Bang Theory,” has to be taught to not blurt out precisely what he is thinking at any given moment. He has to be taught how to lie in order to fit into society—a statement about the society we live in.

Despite being so common place, lying can be a very complicated matter. There are “good” lies and “bad” lies. Good lies are told to protect from hurt, bad lies are told cover up misconduct or evil or to create intentional harm. However the distinctions are not always clear cut. The lies told to protect Jews from being found by German soldiers during World War II are considered commendable. Some lie by withholding information from others, thinking they are protecting them, when it is information they have a right to know.

Perhaps the most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves, refusing to admit to our blind-spots or errors, justifying harmful actions, covering up. We hold on to grudges and hurts, convinced that we are in the right, rather than admit we could be mistaken.

The lies addressed in Psalm 52 clearly fall into the category of “bad.” The person charged with lying in the psalm chooses evil over good, defaming others, seeking destruction rather than building up. “Why do you boast, O mighty man, of mischief done against the godly? All the day you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.” (1-4)

This person is so caught up in lies that he no longer knows the truth; he believes his own lies. One of the signs of an addict is they lie even when it is easier to tell the truth. They are so caught up in the lifestyle of lies that they know no other way of being. “Oh, what wicked web we weave,” as Shakespeare tells us.

In a pre-literate society where all you had was the spoken word, lies are particularly destructive. My word is my bond, as a form of contract, has no meaning if your word is a lie. In Psalm 12 liars are referred to as speaking with flattering lips and a double heart. They are hypocrites.

What is one to do in the face of such evil? The writer is clearly angry with this person yet he trusts that God will take care of the liar. “But God will break you down for ever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living.” (5)

“By their fruits you shall know them,” Jesus tells us. By their fruits we shall know the liars among us. The truthful ones shall be like olive trees, hardy and bearing much fruit, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God for ever and ever.” (8) Those that base their life on lies will not prevail.

Have you ever found yourself caught up in a web of lies? How about a “white” lie told to protect someone that backfired? How did you deal with these situations?

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