Gaslight, a movie starring Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten, is the story of a husband who tries to make his wife think she’s crazy. He dims the lights, makes noises, talks to himself and when his wife mentions it, he pretends like never happened and it’s all in her head. She knows she is seeing and hearing things — but her husband makes her question reality to drive her crazy. Gaslighting entered our lexicon to describe anytime someone purposely manipulates others to make them question their sanity by lying about a situation that is obviously happening. There was an old joke told in the U.S.S.R. that the future is known, it’s the past that’s always changing. The dissidents in Communist Russia knew they were being lied to but were powerless to do anything about it. How could you? In West Virginia, committing perjury will get you at least one year, and up to ten in the pen. Swearing falsely in court can cost you $1,000 and get you a cot and three square meals for a year.
Before I came to West Virginia, I had a book about lying and someone I knew asked if they could borrow it. They took the book and then I never saw them or the book again. I wish I had loaned a book about stealing. It was a fascinating book to pilfer. It was about a POW in the Civil War who was part of a conspiracy to escape. The plan hinged on deceiving the guards, however, one of the men refused. He said it was a lie and he wasn’t going to sin against God, even to escape. That set off a spirited debate (could you imagine being the one who came up with the plan!) in which the pro-escape party said there are justifiable times to lie, while the author held a lie was never justifiable. What do you think? The author finally did get out and decided he wouldn’t rest until he came to understand whether a lie was justifiable. He decided it’s worse to suffer than to sin.
Lying is something we all know is bad. Lying is universally understood to be wrong, especially when someone lies to you. A politician, whose bread and butter is spinning the truth and telling lies, will get furious when someone tells a lie on him. But, it’s the same with you. We think it’s OK to fudge the truth a little here and there to save us some pain or embarrassment. But woe until the unfortunate soul who lies against us. Lying hurts because too often, there is often no recourse once the lie has done its work. Lies can ruin lives, marriages, friendships, countries, and whole societies. It hurts, really hurts to be lied to. Often, the liar just gets away with it — no, strike that. The liar never gets away with it. “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape,” Proverbs 19:5.