Can God Lie?
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness — a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time…” (Titus 1:1-2).
Compare that to the following story from 1 Kings 22 (repeated in 2 Chronicles 18). This is Micaiah the prophet speaking to King Ahab of Israel:
Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’
“One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’
“‘By what means?’ the LORD asked.
“‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.
“‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the LORD. ‘Go and do it.’
“So now the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The LORD has decreed disaster for you.” (1 Kings 22:19-23).
They don’t teach this story in Sunday School! This is one of those “difficult” texts of Scripture. Though they are hard to interpret, I don’t want that fact to keep us from studying them and discussing them. I doubt a clear answer can be given in this story, but it is well worth investigating….
It is clear in the story of the prophet Micaiah that God put a “lying spirit in the mouths” of the prophets who told King Ahab essentially, “Go ahead, go into battle, you’ll be fine!” (he wasn’t – see 1 Kings 22:34-35).
So this leaves us with a few options if you believe in the authority and historical truth of Scripture:
1. Micaiah was making up the story about God putting a lying spirit in the mouths of the prophets.
2. Somehow in the mysterious paradigm of God’s sovereignty, He can choose to allow deception to carry out his ultimate will – and still not be a “liar” (if, indeed, we believe that the words of Titus are true).
The first option seems reasonable. But in the end, King Ahab did die in battle. Why would Micaiah want to make up a story about God causing prophets to lie? He was simply giving King Ahab a little “insider information” about his prophetic vision, perhaps to warn him out of compassion. King Ahab didn’t want to hear this bad news and instead took the bait and went into battle. Just to be cautious, he traded clothes with King Jehoshaphat, but Ahab was still struck with a random arrow and died.
I fall in line with the second option – that God in His sovereignty can allow deception to carry out his ultimate will. Does that mean that God can lie? Technically, in this story, he didn’t lie. He gave a spirit permission to mislead King Ahab in order to carry out his ultimate will of judgement upon Ahab.
Another New Testament verse (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12) is strikingly similar:
“The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickednes” (2 Thess 2:9-12).
Does God lie? No.
Does God employ methods of sovereign power and grace that cause us to scratch our heads? Yes.
The biggest head-scratcher of all is why would a perfect holy God die in place of me, a fallen-wretched sinner.
“…he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).