Double First Cousin to an Outright Lie
By Sam Collins
When I was growing up, testimony times were a regular feature of Wednesday and Sunday evening services. In those days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and new Oldsmobiles still traveled the highways, folks would be invited to recount their Christian conversions, share their experiences of healing, or simply highlight what God was doing in their lives.
Many of these testimonies were inspirational. They had the ring of humble, understated authenticity and gave hearers a taste of the variety of ways God can work among everyday people.
Other testimonies seemed about as believable as a carnival sideshow barker’s spiel at the entrance to the Gecko the Lizard Man exhibit. The temptation to rejigger and amplify details and impress the congregation seemed irresistible to a few individuals. The removal of a hangnail would become the miraculous healing of a malignant cuticle tumor. A co-worker’s stifled yawn would be characterized as a sinner’s attempt to swallow tortured tears of conviction in the face of the testifier’s compelling Christian witness.
There are exaggerations—and then there are EXAGGERATIONS! Some are harmless and actually useful in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Our Lord, for example, made use of a form of exaggeration known as hyperbole. Jesus often employed intentional, transparent, carefully calibrated exaggeration for effect. That’s why we read that he sometimes sent a camel sliding down an esophagus or shimmying through the eye of a tiny, sharp sewing implement (Matt 23:24 and Mark 10:25).
Unlike those who reach beyond pulling the wool over our eyes in an attempt to encase our entire skulls and upper torsos in mutton fur, Jesus never pretended that his amplifications were meant to be taken literally. His hyperbolic statements sought to playfully, pointedly open the door to truth; by contrast, disingenuous overstatement is more often focused on personal advancement and self-aggrandizement.
That’s an important distinction for us church folks to keep in mind as we share the gospel and what we say God is doing in our midst and through our lives. Whether we are local preachers, national or regional leaders, or individuals offering a testimony in a gathering that could comfortably fit inside a photo booth, we must resist the urge to overstate in an attempt to make ourselves or our achievements seem more impressive.
Playful, nonliteral embellishment—with a nudge and a wink—is one thing. It’s a time-honored communication device that’s been used since back before Methuselah got the world’s first AARP card. But the inflating of facts, the distorting of details, and the reworking of reality in order to hoodwink the hearer into believing what sounds too good to be true (because it is too good to be true), that is something that is awfully close to being the double first cousin to an outright lie.
The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Church of God Ministries or, at points, even the writer, but are written with tongue firmly planted in cheek to hopefully provoke a leavening bit of laughter and a smidgen of thought.