In an interesting discussion during our small group today, I posed the question, “why can’t God lie?”
There are a couple of verses that this notion stems from:
God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)
God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. (Hebrews 6:18)
As near as I can tell from the research I’ve done, there are a couple of different positions on why God can’t lie: ethical and ontological.
The ethical argument would run along the lines of God is good. Lying is evil. Because God is good and does nothing evil, then God will not lie. The main problem in the ethical approach to this concept is that God is capable of lying, and He just chooses out of His goodness not to.
Also this approach rejects some interesting things God does in the Bible that are deceitful in nature. He sends a lying spirit to Ahab to convince him to go and get himself killed (1 Kings 22:22-23, 2 Chron 18:21-22), and at some point God will “send them a powerful delusion so that they will believe a lie” (2 Tim 2:11). These acts are not lies per se, but in the ethical conversation, one would think that God would not be able to bring Himself to use such unethical tactics because of His goodness.
In the ontological way of looking at it, God cannot lie because He is perfect. In being perfect, He cannot do something that is imperfect. Lying is a false, hence imperfect, representation of reality. Therefore God cannot lie.
I do think this viewpoint does deal with the problems of God allowing/sending deception to influence events, in that His perfection works these things for His purposes. However, I think the ontological viewpoint is limited in its view of God’s being. While God is perfect, I do not think that perfection fully explains God’s inability to lie, as you could just as easily say, a perfect God could tell a perfect lie.
Neither of these explanations offers much surety in the honesty of God. He tells us that He chooses not to lie or that He’s perfect and thus can’t lie, but those could just be divine lies. And then what hope do we have in anything He has said?
I would posit a new theory for why God cannot lie. It is neither ontological nor ethical in nature. Rather it is cosmological, and I think it reflects the nature of God and why we can trust Him in His truthfulness better than the first two I presented. I think God cannot tell a lie because of His relationship to the cosmos in which we exist.
Our cosmos/reality is composed completely of the spoken Word of God. “And God said, Let there be light," and there was light. (Genesis 1:3) Anything God says must inherently come to be in reality. A lie is a deception that does not represent reality as it is. If God were to utter a lie, it would become reality, and then His statement would also become an accurate representation of that reality. Or if He lied it would instantly become true. Thus, in accordance with the statement in Hebrews, it is impossible for God to lie, at least in the sense that man lies as the verse in Numbers points out.
The question then becomes, does God change our reality like this? Maybe. What else are miracles other than a divine intervention in our cosmos/reality? We wouldn’t consider a miracle a lie, but they do not conform to reality as we perceive it either, but it might very well be that a miracle is a creative moment on God’s part in which He speaks something new into His creation. If God’s decrees in these moments did not occur in reality, He would have lied. However, God’s sovereignty negates this possibility, and He can only be, say, and enact truth.
In this cosmological viewpoint of God’s relationship with the cosmos as Creator, one could wholeheartedly accept that God’s word to them is true because His Word affects the cosmos’s very essence of being. Everything God said--every promise, every blessing, and every curse—has to come to pass. It would be impossible for it not to. And this is the foundation of hope that is offered to us so that we may be greatly encouraged (to paraphrase the Hebrews verse above).
To God be the glory forever and ever.