Saturday, December 7, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: The Toils of Sin, Part 6

Many thanks to my readers for their patience for the past two months!

As a reminder after my long absence, our verses for this series of posts on the toils of sin are as follows:

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
  and he is caught in the toils of his sin. Proverbs 5:22

There are six things which the Lord hates,
  seven which are an abomination to him;
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
  and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
  feet that make haste to run to evil,
false witness who breathes out lies,
  and a man who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19

Today, we're focusing on the "false witness who breathes out lies." Earlier, the author lists "a lying tongue," but here, the lies are in a public setting. In the Ten Commandments, this is stated as "you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." What makes this sin any different from a lying tongue? False witness places a lie in the larger realm of community and results in larger injustice than a private lie. A false witness doesn't just lie; he convinces the community that he is telling the truth, and the members of the community become--often unwitting--perpetrators of the lie.

Community is poisoned by false witness.

My husband loves watching the Tour de France every year and I watched along with him (Well, parts of it. A wife's patience can only go so far.) I admired the racers for their skill and hard work and determination. I admired Lance Armstrong for his comeback from cancer and amazing repeat wins.

But with recent revelations about wide-spread doping, I admit to utter cynicism over the whole sport. When George tells me that someone won such-and-such race, I say, "Oh, he doped the best!" I have lost all faith in professional cycling in view of the conspiracy of silence and lies, and find that loss of faith leaking over into my appreciation of triathlon and other sports as well. George resented my snarky comments about the latest winners of the Ironman Championships.

He still has faith that his sport is clean. I do not.

So many people denied seeing the doping. So many people denied doping. So many people were doping. And millions of fans of international cycling were fooled. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

While the cycling scandal was an example of deliberate conspiracy to break the rules, how often might false witnesses believe what they say is true? How often might they merely spread rumors, taking gossip for fact and sharing it as such?

I think of all those urban-legend e-mails targeting Muslims after 9/11, political issues warped beyond recognition and perpetuated by false witness ("my cousin's best friend saw this happen!"), hate fostered by false witness in courts of law (the Duke lacrosse scandal, for example).

How often might false witnesses misinterpret what they see or hear, draw wrong conclusions, and speak those conclusions out loud? This is, I think, the most common form of false witness, the form of this sin that all of us--even the most honest and faithful--can fall into unwittingly. We trust our own judgment and we are wrong.

One way to fight this impulse to sin is to reserve judgment and habitually err on the side of compassion and love. This is a habit that can be cultivated through prayer, intentionality, and practice.

Trust in fairness and justice within community are destroyed by false witness. Have you ever seen this happen? Have you ever been in a family or church or business or group torn apart by false witness? Did you see it heal, or did the consequences of this sin lead to punishment through generations?