Abraham’s Character in the Book of Genesis
Is lying acceptable when the purpose is to fulfill a greater good, especially when there is a conflict between the faithful and unfaithful? The Bible explores this subject in the book of Genesis. First I will state the argument of the quotation reading (v. 3) in my own words. Then I will examine how the argument is developed (or not) from the rest of the reading followed by my conclusion. In Chapter 12, Abram (later Abraham), who had been chosen by God to be the Father of many nations, found himself in Egypt, to “sojourn there.” Knowing that the Egyptian Pharaoh would kill him – which obviously would prevent him from fulfilling God’s will – he told his wife Sarai (later Sarah), who was very beautiful, to lie to the Pharaoh and say that she was his sister. Abraham believed that the Pharaoh would take pity on his beautiful sister and spare his life. This is one example of how the Bible influenced literary traditions in the West—a conflict of character in the protagonist. Abraham, God’s promised one, lied. So, was the lie acceptable? I say no. Later on, I will reveal why I believe this is so, while exploring how this shapes our understanding of the concept of character in Western literature
By lying, Abraham openly denied the validity of the promise of protection made by God in trying to seek his own security. In chapter 12, verse 11 to13, Abraham told Sarah, “I know that you are a woman beautiful to behold; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, `This is his wife;` then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.” This statement clearly stated his first moment of conflict during his journey. His individuality arose promptly to rescue him. The same happened in chapter 20, but this time in Gerar. His reason in that chapter was how he thought that since the fear of God seemed not in that place, their king would seek to kill him to take his wife. It is logical to believe that Abraham thought the same thoughts in Chapter 12. His reasoning being: the ungodly would harm me so this justifies my lie. But the lie was still a lie, and though there weren’t any repercussions on Abraham, being God’s anointed, he brought harm upon another person—the Pharaoh. Great plagues descended upon Egypt because, according to verse 17, of Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Abraham compromised against his faith, and even worse, had known that that meant severe consequences for Sarah’s integrity and faith, too. But the purpose of the lie was to fulfill the greater good (as so many would argue)! But what needs to be understood is that God’s will (the greater plan) would be carried out regardless. Abraham’s lie served absolutely NO purpose.
Abraham was chosen by God and what he personally wanted was not important. He was just an instrument of God to be the patriarch of nations. His individuality did not matter. As a subordinate to God, he had to follow God’s will, not the Pharaoh’s or any other King’s. The most important thing to do was to fulfill the covenant no matter what. For Abraham, the best way to guarantee that promise was to take the situation in his own hands and tell a lie to Pharaoh. He demonstrated, with this act, the weaknesses of a human being. Abraham’s doubts were reflected in his actions even when he responded with faith and obeyed God’s request to come to the Promised Land. Sarah, in her obeisance, agreed with Abraham to lie even against her own sake, and her words conveyed the denial of God’s power to bring the promise to fulfillment. Although, I can understand the doubts that assailed Abraham (he was basically told by the Lord to leave a place of comfort, familiarity, and security for an unknown land in verse 1), his unquestioning obedience to the word of God would make anyone believe that he trusted God completely. Apparently not.
The patriarch’s conflict of character was between his faith and doubt. In chapter 17: verse 17, we see an example of Abraham’s inner conflict when he said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” Clearly, Abraham expressed doubt and insecurity at the improbability or maybe absurdity of the events, while trying to reaffirm his knowledge that he made a covenant with God. God’s demand to trust in His word weighed heavily against human doubts.
The magnitude of the demand was in itself an act of faith. However, Abraham showed in many ways that he had doubts in how these things could happen. He lived a life fighting between faithful and unfaithful thoughts. He constantly sought the balance between being God’s anointed and being a mere man. Lying was an indication that he had conflicts in his mind concerning God promise for him. Although, individuality was not important he listened to his inner-self, seeking concrete answers. When he acted faithfully he was a model for his people. But when he acted unfaithfully, it was his own issue, for his own peril.
Abraham voluntarily surrendered to God’s will and lived in accordance with His laws. In exchange, God blessed him and cursed his enemies as we saw in chapter 12 and 20. In the end, the incredible and the impossible occurred to Abraham and Sarah, and the faith solidified. The nation of Israel is proof. It did not matter that Abraham acted unfaithfully on many occasions (he had only harmed himself) for it was God who initiated the covenant. It was God who had spoken.
Abraham’s character and his conflicts could be perfectly applied in modern times. We see corporations trapped between filling their coffers and the need to provide quality services to the public. We see governments lying in the face of enormous pressure. Men guided by their own instincts. So to reiterate on my stance the beginning of my thesis: Is lying acceptable when the purpose is to fulfill a greater good, especially when there is a conflict between the faithful and unfaithful? NO. Lies serve no purpose as God’s plan would still be upheld.