On lying in testimonies

Not long ago someone offered to “edit me.” In context it obviously meant “edit my writing,” but still it aroused a wild thought about something that would be quite a superpower: the ability to edit a person. I wanted to start with myself. Bad choices from 1997? Erased or amended. Faults? Smoothed over, like yesterday. Almost as quickly as the thought came forth, though, another thought arose and destroyed it, quietly but utterly. Everything on the record will stand; I am content in this, and regret nothing. Not because I’m “real,” or “raw,” or “I gotta be me,” but because the kindness of God moves me to repent and to be satisfied with His mercy. That satisfaction leaves no room for self-editing.[1]

St Paul told the truth both about the road to Damascus and what preceded it — but his conversion wasn’t a paradigm for every conversion that would follow.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the not uncommon sin of lying in testimonies.  Especially I’ve been thinking about the gravity of this particular sin.  If we cannot tell the truth about the work of God in our redemption, our lies not only reflect, but perpetuate and fix, distorted views of ourselves, of God, and of the world.  Lies here run perilously close to blaspheming the Holy Ghost, the sin by which we make ourselves unable to repent of anything.  Lying in testimonies is a kind of sickness unto death.  Left unchecked, it makes the formation of healthy life narratives[2] impossible.

To bring this to a point for those with a vocation of writing, since we cannot help but create what we know, lying in testimonies makes it impossible to tell good stories.  This is true no matter what kind of lie we tell in our own stories — whether we lie by whitewashing ourselves until we’re sin-free, by overdramatizing sin so we can overdramatize our subsequent conversion, by casting ourselves as innocent martyr, or by appearing as the “real” man, confessing sins and denying their sinfulness.  A man who cannot be honest in telling his own story cannot be trusted to tell the stories of his sub-creations.


[1] David Mitchel, Editing or Repenting? (June 14, 2013).

[2] Donald Williams, Healthy Life Narratives and How to Create Them (June 24, 2013).

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Posted on July 1, 2013, in Characters, Christianity, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Your comment about the honesty of telling his story reminds me of the movie _Big Fish_, which is all about a man telling his story as he saw it – over the top and full of impossible adventures and people. His son is beyond frustrated with his father because the son cannot see the truth of the stories behind the impossibilities.

    • I’ve not seen that movie, Rachel, but it occurs to me that a man who lies about his own story puts himself in the belly of a big fish.

      There are circles in which Jonah’s testimony would cut it, though, incredibly, some would insist that he call the prayer from under the sea his conversion, rather than an admission that, as a covenant child, he went far astray. And St Timothy’s testimony (2 Tim 1:5, Acts 16:1ff) would be right out.

  2. Excellent follow-up to my post, David. This is a huge problem. I knew a pregnant woman influenced by the word/faith movement who declared, “I am believing God for a painless childbirth!” “Wait,” I said to myself. “Weren’t we kind of *promised* the opposite?” (Gen. 3:16). “Shouldn’t ‘faith’ be based on the Word of God?” After she was delivered, I asked her how it went. She hesitated slightly, then recovered. “Oh, there was no ‘pain!’ I did have a little ‘discomfort,’ though,” she added in a sudden fit of honesty. And thus the meaning and the credibility of our claims for God die the death of a thousand qualifications and we cause the enemies of God to blaspheme.

    Writing a positive life narrative is not lying to yourself. It isn’t pretending that nothing bad or even tragic and devastating is going to happen. It is agreeing with God about the *meaning* of what happens in your life, good and bad. There is a subtle but critical difference. Good reminder, David.

    • I had enjoyed your post, Don, and the idea of cultivating a healthy life narrative — a process that is critical to cultivating a healthy life. I’m pleased that you found this a good companion piece.

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