I have been a fan and faithful viewer of NBC News Anchor Brian Williams for the last decade. Throughout the recent controversy, I continue to hope that some new revelations will explain his actions and even exonerate him. But I am also sobered by the tragic downfall that has resulted from Williams’ apparent violation of God’s commandment not to lie. I think all pastors and teachers – all of us who traffic in a lot of words and story telling – should be shaking in our shoes. The wisdom of the Proverbs tells us:
When words are many, sin is not absent,
but he who holds his tongue is wise. (Proverbs 10:19)
Whenever we are given the privilege of speaking, a temptation lurks with every illustration and story we tell. We can alter the story to be just a tiny bit more funny or dramatic or bizarre or painful. We can exaggerate that blistering hot summer day to be 101 degrees instead of the actual 90 degrees. We can alter the dialogue exchanged with our child to make a punch line punchier. We can even adjust the small details of a story to make ourselves look just a little more noble or wise or kind. And because many of us tell our stories in more than one setting, over time the telling can morph slowly until what we communicate is no longer close to the original story. Worse yet, in deceiving others we can also deceive ourselves into believing our new, shinier version of the story is actually the truth!
Pastors and teachers traffic in a lot of words. When words are many, sin is not absent. It’s impossible to completely “hold our tongues” when we are charged with the task of preaching or teaching. But we can be sober minded. We can take much greater care in the writing and telling of events. We can prayerfully ask the Spirit to convict us when we alter the details. I also recommend the accountability of a spouse, good friend, or colleague who will periodically ask us with love, “Is that how it really happened?”
Deception is one of the Evil One’s most wildly successful tools. Whenever we embellish the truth with the goal of managing our image, we are liars. Rather than judging Brian Williams, I am choosing to seek to learn from his experience and turn the mirror of God’s truth on my many words.