THE LIE UNDERNEATH
It wasn’t the first time she had been asked a question underneath a question.
The grandmother sat on the couch half-listening to her granddaughter chatter on about school and how much luckier all her friends were than her.
“My best friend at school is going to Disneyland, but Mommy won’t let me go with her.” She glanced across the room at her mother, who was sliding frozen pizza into the oven for dinner.
Her mother sighed, “Honey – we talked about this.”
“Yeah, but why can’t I go? Carol’s parents are letting her go!”
“Yes dear…but, you know. Disneyland isn’t actually all that much fun. It’s actually pretty boring.” She suddenly shot Grandma a look. “Grandma’s been there, she can tell you. Isn’t that right, Grandma?”
Isn’t that right, Grandma?
No, it wasn’t right. Disneyland was fun. Everyone knew that. The question was silly. Its answer was obvious. Of course Disneyland isn’t boring. Not to children, anyway.
But, of course, she wasn’t asking Grandma whether Disneyland was boring. She was asking a different question.
She was asking her to lie.
It’s just a white lie. Grandma told herself. I’m just helping.
But she knew better.
She remembered a time when she was a little girl playing teatime with her older sister. They had been using their mother’s expensive china without permission and were horrified when a cup fell off the table and shattered. When their mother got home, the older sister had told her: “It fell off the shelf and broke by itself!” And shooting her little sister a glance, added, “Didn’t it, sis?” Not wanting to be punished, she had responded in the affirmative.
They had been disciplined – not for breaking the cup, but for lying.
Another time, when she was in high school, a guy she had been dating was taken into custody by the police. She was shocked, and even more surprised when, as the policemen led him out of the school building through the lobby, he called out, “Hey! She can tell you! I wasn’t up to anything last night! I was on a date with her!” He looked at her with pleading eyes. “Wasn’t I?”
It wasn’t true. She hadn’t been on a date with him last night. But she stuttered, “Uhh, yeah! Yeah, I was with him last night.”
Next thing she knew, the police were taking her downtown for questioning.
Years later, when she was married, her husband had a job working as a clerk for the manager of a large firm. The manager would often try to lure potential customers with the reassurance that “Our clients are always 100% satisfied with our work.” Then, turning to his clerk in the corner, “Wouldn’t you say so?” Scared of losing his job, he would always answer yes.
But he went home with a heavy conscience.
Early in her marriage, she had worked as a public school teacher teaching world history. Sometimes, she allowed her strong opinions to filter through. One day, some of the students’ parents complained to the principal that she was indoctrinating their children. The principal called her into his office in front of the upset parents. After explaining the situation, he asked her, “Now, honey, I am sure you didn’t mean to say anything that would be controversial. In fact, I am sure you repudiate these ideas altogether, as any tolerant person would. Isn’t that correct?”
No, it wasn’t correct. She firmly believed the ideas she had expressed in class. But…she didn’t want to lose her position, so, looking at her shoes, she responded, “Yes…yes sir.”
But she felt deeply torn. Would she not stand for what she most deeply believed in? The disloyalty of it stung her in the heart.
As Grandma sifted through these memories, she wondered how she should answer in the current situation…
…A question underneath a question…
In this grandma’s inward struggle, we see many memories – many incidents. And in those incidents – questions. Questions that act as masks – cover-ups for a deeper question, that is, “Will you lie for me?”
Questions like these are not designed to uncover information – the questioner already knows the true answer just as well as the respondent does. No; these questions are not to seek out information, but to prove a point to some other party – whether that be a daughter, mother, policeman, customer, parent, or anyone else. To prove this point, they ask a third person – such as the grandmother in the story earlier – to vouch for its truthfulness. If the point really is true, well and good. But if it is not – if the questioner is asking the third person to support their point regardless of its validity – then the questioner is asking the respondent to lie. The respondent could answer truthfully and brave the wrath of the questioner, or they could answer according to the questioner’s wishes and become a link in his web of deception.
In the story of grandma’s dilemma, we see questions such as these – questions that hide deception. But there are many other ways to mask your true meaning with a surface question.
“Have you stopped beating your wife?” is a classic. It assumes that the person being questioned has been in the habit of beating his wife when, in fact, no such thing has been proven. It is a question built on unproven premises – a loaded question. It hides many questions under the guise of one.
“Honey, do you think I am fat?” a wife asks her husband as they prepare to go out for the evening. Can he truly respond to this question in the affirmative? Does she actually want her husband to answer, “Yes”? Of course not! The wife does not really want to hear her husband’s true answer, she wants to hear a resounding, “No!” This is not a straight question, but a question meant to nudge her husband towards the answer she wants to hear. It is a manipulative question that hides her “suggested answer” underneath an apparently neutral question. A suggestive question.
Questions underneath questions.
Man’s first evil deed was sparked by a deceptive question asked by the Father of Lies himself (Genesis 3:1) – and ever since that first dawning of darkness in the human heart, we have used questions to get our way. We deceive and trick, trap and ensnare; and we often do it through shrewd asking. We phrase our questions carefully, asking in them more than meets the eye – showing in them only the tip of the iceberg, underneath which lie deceptions, unfounded assertions, assumptions, manipulations, and many other hidden undercurrents.
Too often, our questions are not straight but crooked – not designed to reveal truth, but rather to obscure it. We ask in service to our own goals, not in service to the Truth that sets free. And here lies the nub – God gave us the power to ask as a tool to reveal – to search out truth in the darkest corners of existence. But instead, we twist our God-given ability to communicate through questions into a tool to accomplish our own ends; which are all too often selfish and immoral. Only by returning to a proper use of questions in service to the Truth can we use the great power of asking for good instead of evil.
The grandma in our story knew all this. She had seen the powerful dynamics of asking play out many times over the course of her life.
The mother’s question echoed in her mind.
“Grandma’s been to Disneyland. She can tell you – it’s not actually much fun. Isn’t that right, Grandma?”
It seemed like the smallest of white lies. After all, it was intended to help, not hurt. But Grandma knew from experience – hiding the truth never truly helps in the long run.
Mother looked at Grandma expectantly.
Grandma looked down at her little granddaughter. “Well, no… I can’t say it was boring.”
Mother’s face darkened.
“But… I do know something that is even more fun – going to see a movie with Grandma!”
“Yes! Yes!” Shouted her granddaughter. “Can I, Mommy? Can I?”
“Yes, dear. You can go with Grandma.”
Mother shot Grandma a grateful smile.