Telling the truth is easy when you have nothing to lose. There is little virtue in that kind of honesty. It's good, of course, always preferable to the lie, but such risk-free truth-telling is akin to a eunuch boasting of chastity. But when your career, job, marriage, freedom--your world--may be lost if the truth struggle from your lips, the lie is as tempting as food is to a starving man. And once a morsel is tasted, the whole meal is soon devoured. Last night, as my wife and I watched the movie, ''Flight,'' I was reminded of that hunger--that I too have experienced in full--and the ultimate starvation resulting from the food of falsehood. In the movie, the main character (played by Denzel Washington) is an alcoholic and an airline pilot, an explosive alliance he has kept intact for years by perfecting the art of lying. When called to testify about a crash during which he was pilot, he was being advised by his friend about how to answer questions about his addiction when Washington cut him off, ''Don't tell me how to lie about my drinking.'' He needed no help. He could deceive as professionally as he could land a plane.
As in the movie, so in real life, the more the lie becomes your god, the more the truth becomes your devil. It harasses you, stalks you night and day, and reigns as the supreme fear of your life. But to the lie you give your all--your time, your talents, your treasures...and your pleasures. And oh how freely it accepts the sacrifice, repaying it with the continuance of that fleeting happiness that the lie gives. Even when, in a moment of weakness, you tell a little white truth, the lie is quick to forgive, for it knows that in your heart of hearts, you remain devoted to falsehood.
But for how long? In the movie, Washington eventually reached a point where--in his own words--he had told so many lies that it was as if he ran out of them. His quota had been reached, and all that remained was the tortuously beautiful, painfully liberating truth.
One of my favorites teachers, Kenneth Korby, once reminded us that the only time a liar tells the truth is when he says, ''I am a liar.'' When that moment comes, the sick man takes his first step toward healing. For confession is the radical act of defiance against the idolatrous lie. The devil, gilded with divinity, is unmasked as the father of falsehood when his would-be son utters the truth.
There is forgiveness for the liar, but he will never be the same. Sin alters a man in ways in which he, only in a state of repentance and recovery, is acutely aware. He knows now, from his own experience, not merely from the Bible, the profundity of his own weakness, the depths to which he is willing to descend to protect his petty ego, the lies he is willing to promulgate in service to that which is his ultimate destruction.
The sad irony for such a man is that his greatest struggle becomes not refraining from the lie but embracing the truth that God forgives him. For the more keenly aware he is of his sin, the more incredible seems the love of God for such a man as he.
So he continues to pray what is possibly the most honest prayer in all the Scriptures: ''Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.''