My family tend to see me as a defender of George Dubya Bush, even though he long since departed the Oval office. In response to this perceived aberration, I have been reading the account of Dubya’s Press Secretary for many years - Scott McClellan, who wrote his account of "What Happened," a 2008 New York Times bestseller. (1)
Two truths stand out as prominent in McClellan’s account. First, Dubya’s determination to invade and remove Saddam was directly inspired by his intention to free the Middle East from tyranny and to establish democracy. The supposed fear of WMD (2) was an afterthought, something he could ‘sell’ to the American public. Bush, he says, believed very few Presidents achieve greatness, and those who do, usually do so because they have waged some significant war which allows them to shape and reconfigure national and international life, at home and abroad.(3) Secondly, Bush ‘bought’ into the methods of secrecy and evasion, which were characteristic of the modus operandi of his close colleague Dick Cheney [and Donald Rumsfeld, though perhaps less obviously]. These methods were learned during the days of ‘Tricky Dickie’ and Watergate. The reliance on deception to keep the journalists at bay meant that Bush was more easily susceptible to self-deception. (3)
To quote Scott McClellan,
“’The media won’t let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors,’ I heard Bush say [in 1999]. ‘You know, the truth is I honestly don’t remember whether I tried it or not. . .’ I remember thinking to myself, How can that be? How can someone simply not remember whether or not they used an illegal substance like cocaine? It didn’t make a lot of sense. . . . I know Bush, and I know he genuinely believes what he says. He isn’t the kind of person to flat-out lie, particularly when speaking to a supporter or friend. So I think he meant what he said in that conversation about cocaine. It’s the first time when I felt I was witnessing Bush convincing himself to believe something that was probably not true and that, deep down, he knew it was not true. . . . In the years to come, as I worked closely with President Bush, I would come to believe that sometimes he convinces himself to believe what suits his needs at the moment. It is not unlike a witness in court who does not want to implicate himself in wrongdoing, but is also concerned about perjuring himself. So he says, ‘I do not recall.’ . . . In other words being evasive is not the same as lying in Bush’s mind. The former is acceptable, but the latter is not. I’ve seen it happen during other private moments, around people he trusted, as well as at times during press availabilities and news conferences. Self-deceit is a human quality, and we all engage in it at times.” (4)
What McClellan describes here must be a sign of split-level thinking, and certainly not worthy of a professing Christian. No doubt, we’ve all done it at some time or other. Is there such a thing as a white lie, anyway? In theory, a white lie is a lie told for the good of someone else, for someone else’s benefit, rather than our own. But, who decides on whether the criterion applies in any particular case? Could not Dubya have said, “Well, OK, it was a lie, but I considered it was better for my American neighbour to have me winning the presidential election, rather than have some other loser getting into the White House! Had I told the strict truth, it may well have finished me as candidate for President.”
A belief in the white lie is endemic to the post-modern mindset. All is relative, and there is absolutely no absolute. But, if there is no ‘God of truth’ who revealed His nature and attributes in the Bible, and expects the truth from us - then anything goes. However, Jesus laid every lie at the door of the Devil, whom he knew from experience was very real and existed:
“Ye are of your father the devil . . . . He . . abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” (KJV John 8:44).The Psalmist said,
KJV Psa 86:11 Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.
Or did he? The NIV rendering of this verse is:
NIV Psalm 86:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
Compare the two phrases emphasised. Which verb did the Holy Spirit use (in the Hebrew)? Was it “give,” or was it “unite”? He used the verb yachad in the imperative, meaning ‘unite.’ Says Derek Kidner, “[David’s] concern is not with unifying his personality for its own sake; the lines meet at a point beyond himself, the fear of the Lord:”(5)
Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers , with all their might,
In thy sole glory may unite. (6)
The prayer “Unite my heart” focuses not on the person, but on God. It is in the act of prayer that we experience a new and a whole heart. Without prayer we soon find we have a divided heart. The prayer “Give me an undivided heart” focuses on the therapeutic effect of such a prayer, on its human result. In contrast to this, when I pray “Unite my heart,” the line of my mind on the one hand, and the line of my will on the other - these meet and unite at a point beyond myself. I am aware in the event that God is hearing my prayer, and that He is more important than the prayer, more important than me. I am accepted and loved in the Beloved; I am forgiven for every divided moment; I am healed.
There is no room for any lie (white or otherwise!) in the healed heart, united in the LORD. If we know we are prone to distort the facts, or resort to spin, or hide behind the phrase, “I don’t recall,” we should pray daily, as David did,
KJV Psa 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
(2) Weapons of mass destruction (e.g. biological & chemical weapons, nuclear material)
(3) What happened, pp. 129 – 131; 72-73.
(4) What happened, pp. 48 – 50.
(5) Kidner, Derek, (1975) Psalms 73 – 150. Leicester: IVP.
(6) Hymn by Thomas Ken, ‘Awake, my soul.’