Why Children Lie

Posted on August 13, 2008 · Posted in Godward Orientation, Lying

Then the LORD said, "I will surely return to you about this time
next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son."
   Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the
tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well
advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed
to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will
I now have this pleasure?"

Then the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will
I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? I
will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a
son."

Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, "I did not
laugh."
   But he said, "Yes, you did laugh."

Genesis 18:10-15

When children lie it is often tempting to see the reason for
the lie as a mystery. For example; “Why would my child lie about taking that
toy from his brother, when it is so obvious that he did do just that?” Then, deepening
the mystery, parents often ask, “Why would he make up such a far-fetched story
to cover up his actions? The lie and cover up seem so illogical and
unnecessary.” Thus, parents sometimes tend to treat the problem as one of logic
and intelligence; they puzzle over why their children would lie. Scripture
solves the mystery. Children are born
liars. When we sin, we lose the ability to be logical. We are blinded by
self-interest (Proverbs 4:19).

As I noted last week, lying is the extension of a
self-centered nature. Children tend to lie in two types of circumstances. First,
they lie when they fear a consequence so much they will do anything to avoid it,
e.g., punishment for hitting. Second, children tend to lie when there is something
they desire, and they see lying as the best way to get it; e.g., I am angry
with my brother, so I will make up something to make him look bad. In both
situations the reason for the lie is the same—a self-centered viewpoint.

Scripture provides insight into the human heart and motives.
Sarah’s lie in Genesis 18 provides a clear view of the deceit of the human
heart. Upon hearing that she would have a child in her old age, Sarah laughs.
There is more behind this laugh than biological issues. Remember that for
almost 24 years God had been promising Abraham a son. Her laugh demonstrates
her long-term disbelief in God’s promise. Years earlier she had become tired of
waiting for God to bless her with the child he promised Abraham, so she schemed
to have a child by her servant Hagar. But as you know, this birth had not made her
happy. Now, after her childbearing years are past, God comes and tells Abraham
that in the coming year he will fulfill the longstanding promise of a child to
him and to Sarah. Sarah’s laugh is one of doubt and disillusionment toward God.
God would not provide a child when her body was able to become pregnant, but now
she is to believe she will become pregnant after menopause??? It is this doubt
that God addresses when he says, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Sarah is afraid. The passage indicates that she laughed to
herself. She thought she was safe, that no one could know her secret thoughts. Then, in a stunning instant,
she hears her own thoughts repeated by this Stranger, the Lord. Rather than admit
her doubt, Sarah blurts out that she did not laugh. But the Lord forcefully
corrects her – you did laugh.

Sarah lies because she fears exposure. She thinks her
thoughts and doubts are hidden, and a lie is the best way to solve her problem.
She does not want to be exposed as a mocker and doubter to her husband and to God.
She is afraid—she lies. However, nothing is hidden from God.

Your children will lie for this same reason. Lying is an
indication that children are much more self-aware than they are often given
credit for. It is compelling evidence of their true heritage: original sin.
Children don’t have to be taught to lie, it comes naturally.

So when you hear your children lie, remember that one of the
elements behind the lie is fear—fear of being exposed for who they really are.
The answer, of course, is Christ. Even in the midst of hearing their lies, you
can have compassion for your children. Yes, they are sinful, unkind, and even
cruel with their lies. But at the root is a heart in need of Christ. Without
Christ, fear dominates. Fear can make one stupidly deny the truth, just as
Sarah did.

When your children lie, or even when you think they may have
lied, you always want to remind them that God knows their hearts and thoughts
even better than they do themselves. You want to call them to repent and trust
in Christ, for he alone can help them overcome the fear of self-exposure. Only
the power of the Gospel can free them from the tyranny of lying. You can and
should confidently tell them that God knows whether they have been truthful or
not. Discipline for lying must come from compassion for a lost heart. Yes, your
children have offended you with their lies, but more importantly, they have
offended and mocked God. Help them to see this reality. It is sometimes
difficult to realize that a child who is defiant and seemingly unfazed by lying
may actually be dominated by fear. Yet this is often the case.

Ephesians 4 says that the opposite of lying is truth-telling.
The way to expose lying for what it is, is to tell the truth yourself. If you
make your children’s lies primarily an issue between them and you, you are
actually distorting the truth. A child must be right with God before he can be
really right with parents. Lying is a deeply personal sin of the heart. Only
Christ can address this issue. You want to point your children to Christ to
address this sin. More on this in the next few posts.

As always, let me know your thoughts. A special thanks to
Don Fields for his comments. We will take a look at those soon.

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