Is Ethical Deception a Fiction? (Part 3 of 3)

By Mac Deaver

On September 22, 2013, Gary Summers presented to his reading audience his third installment critiquing my article on ethical deception. In my final piece here, I wish to say a few things about his last article.

I find no fault with most of the article. Gary gives great attention to word study and treats us to passages that surely show that, generally speaking, the concept of deception is usually a negative one. It is true that in most passages where the concepts of deceit or deception occur, that they are condemned or discussed so as to imply divine disapproval. That is certainly so, and I would not argue against such at all.

But Gary knows, as I do, that if only one passage uses the concept in a favorable way, then that changes things. In fact, I submit that the word itself does not have to be found used in a favorable way as long as the concept is plainly advocated.

Now, most of us realize that the word “lust” is usually used in the New Testament in a negative sense. That is, it is something that is evil (cf. Ps. 78:18; 81:12; Matt. 5:27, 28; John 8:44; 2 Pet. 1:4; 1 John 2:15-17, etc.). I would assume that most of us Christians upon hearing the word “lust” normally think of it as unauthorized or impure desire. However, that is not always the case, as Summers surely knows.

First of all, let me observe that the locating of one thousand passages that condemn “lust” is not sufficient to disprove one passage that uses the word in an innocent way. But notice, please, how the New Testament does use the concept of “lust” in referencing an authorized activity in the mind of God. We do not usually think in terms of God’s lusting after or against anything, do we? The word “lust” is not a normal word that surfaces in our minds when we think of God’s mental state. However, please notice that in Galatians 5:17 Paul wrote, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh….” The word for “lust” is explicitly used with reference to flesh and is implicitly used with reference to the Spirit. The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit lusts against the flesh, but when Paul wrote of the tension between the two, if he wrote by inspiration (and he did; 1 Cor. 2:12, 13), then he expressed it in the exact way that the Holy Spirit wanted it to be written, and so we find that Paul implied that “lust” was going on in the Spirit rather than his explicitly saying so.

Summers will not dare to deny that the Spirit lusts against the flesh (Gal. 5:16-18)! The context disallows his viewing “Spirit” in verse 17 as merely human spirit. But even if it did, the human spirit would be then lusting against human flesh, and the legitimate and innocent use of “lust” would still have to be maintained. And, as Summers well knows, the concept of “lust” applies to good desire as well as to evil desire. It is simply the case, that the word in the New Testament is used almost all of the time in referencing evil desire.

Second, when we think of Jesus in his life on earth, we do not normally consider the fact that he lusted. Because of the way that the New Testament usually treats on the concept and then because of our usual mentally negative response to the word “lust,” we do not usually associate the activity with the Lord. However, as Summers knows, the Lord lusted. How does Summers know this? He is well aware of the nature of temptation as described by James. James tells us that “each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed” (Jas. 1:14). Now, according to Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus was certainly tempted (cf. Heb. 4:15). Well, if a man’s temptation begins by that man’s being drawn away by his lust, then obviously Jesus lusted. He certainly did not allow it to conceive (Jas. 1:15), because when lust conceives sin occurs. So, the Lord’s lust ceased before sin was committed (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22).

But my point is that not even in the case of Jesus’ own temptation was the word “lust” ever explicitly used, even though the activity itself is most certainly implied. By deduction we know that “lust” occurred in Jesus.

My point is that the normal negative connotation of a word because of its usual use in Scripture cannot and does not of itself negate the fact that the word or the concept referenced by the word can be used in rare instances where the word or concept is innocent.

Now, as before stated, I find nothing wrong with most of what Summers in his final article says about deceit. But “most” does not cover everything. He takes us to many passages where deceit is obviously wrong and condemned. But then Summers admits three passages for consideration where he says, “There are three verses that assign deception to God, which someone might cite in a misguided effort to establish that on occasion deceit is acceptable. Such could be attempted, however, only by ignoring the context.”

The first passage is Jeremiah 4:10 where we find, “Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! Surely thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul.” Summers responds by going to Jeremiah 14:13 and concluding that “Since the false prophets spoke lies while God spoke the truth, then it may be that in Jeremiah 4:10 that Jeremiah is actually lamenting—not that God had deceived the people –but that He allowed the false prophets to deceive the people.” My response is:

1. True or False? When God allowed the false prophets to deceive the people, he in some sense was said to be deceiving them himself.

2. True or False? When God allowed the false prophets to deceive the people, he in no sense was said to be deceiving them himself.

If we take Summers’ explanation to be basically accurate, we still have to look at the way the language appears. It is rather like the case of God’s hardening Pharoah’s heart. While different verses ascribe the hardening to (1) God, (2) Pharaoh, and (3) the plagues (Ex. 7:13, 14; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 14, 34; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8), still we know that the whole arrangement was set up purposely (not merely allowed to take place) by God as both Moses and Paul report (Ex. 3:19-22; 6:1; 7:4, 5; Rom. 9:17, 18). Either God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in some sense or he did not. The Bible says he did. You cannot read the whole context attentively without receiving the impression that God wanted Pharaoh to resist the demands Moses was giving him until the land was destroyed. So, at least in this case, the mere idea of “allowance” won’t work.

Now, if the historical situation in Jeremiah 4:10 is not like that in Exodus, and if we allow the concept of mere “allowance” (per Summers) to work in Jeremiah 4:10, since, however, we are told that it was God who had deceived the people, still in some sense the deception is clearly being ascribed to God. Summers rightly contends that God cannot lie and that God cannot sin, but he nowhere in his analysis proves that God can in no sense deceive! This is the very point that he must prove to sustain his accusation against me, and yet it is the very point for which he gives no proof! Listen to him: “God, of course, can neither sin (1 Pet. 2:22) nor lie (Titus 1:2). But He can give Satan the liberty to do certain things, as in 1 Kings 22:22.”

Yes, but where is the passage that declares that God cannot in any sense deceive? And where is that in light of the fact that in the very passage that Summers is trying to explain, the text plainly says that the inspired writer claimed that God had deceived? Again I point out that Summers has a tendency to conveniently rewrite Scripture to support a contention that is his. Consider:

1. True or False? According to Jeremiah 4:10, God in no sense deceived the people.

2. True or False? According to Jeremiah 4:10, God in every sense deceived the people (this would include lying).

3. True or False? According to Jeremiah 4:10 God in some sense deceived the people.

First, Summers’ own comments show that he does not believe that God deceived anyone but that he merely allowed deception through lies that the false prophets told. But this contradicts what Jeremiah plainly affirmed in the passage. Second, since “deception” is plainly ascribed to God by Jeremiah, then Summers would have to answer the above True-False questions by saying that #1 is true (in outright contradiction to what Jeremiah by inspiration affirmed), and that #2 is false (and I would completely agree), and that #3 is false (again in complete contradiction to what the passage states). I affirm that #1 and #2 are false and that #3 is true.

Next, Summers takes us to consider Jeremiah 20:7 where we find, “O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me.” Here to explain this passage, Summers first suggests that—

it is a highly emotional passage, the one in which Jeremiah says he will no longer make mention of God or speak any more in His name, although he could not go through with that intention (Jer. 20:9). What Jeremiah says here, therefore, comes from frustration and depression; therefore, if the KJV gave us the best translation of the Hebrew term, we could easily understand how that Jeremiah’s perspective on things was a little skewed.

Dear reader, did you follow that? According to Summers, inspiration is no assurance that the truth is being spoken by the alleged inspired man! Do you believe that? My response is that this passage is no example of the writer’s merely telling us that he is feeling low (which he certainly could have done if the Holy Spirit wanted that simple fact to be reported), but the writer is actually making what is, if not true, a false accusation against God. In other words, God by inspiration, is moving the writer to make a false accusation against the One by whom the writer is being moved to write. Believe it who can! If such were so, that would be a case of God (by the Holy Spirit) lying, the very thing that both Summers and I know he cannot do!!!

Then Summers suggests that we have no information to show that God had ever deceived Jeremiah. But do we have to have more than we have in the passage? No. Then Summers says that according to Gesenius, the word means “to persuade anyone,” but that it also can mean “to entice, to seduce, and to deceive.” Summers opts for “persuadeth” as is given in some of the translations, but he fails to comprehend that whether “deceived” or “persuadeth” is used, he still must face the fact that Jeremiah is saying that the Lord had made the impression on the people that they would have peace, whereas what they got was the sword. The chosen new translation does not remove Summers’ difficulty.

1. True or False? Jeremiah 4:10 says that God either “deceived” or “persuaded” the people.

2. True or False? Jeremiah 4:10 says that the devil “deceived” or “persuaded” the people.

3. True or False? Jeremiah 4:10 says that false prophets “deceived” or “persuaded” the people.

Clearly, the Holy Spirit could have written the passage another way had he chosen to do so. But Summers’ challenge is to explain the passage so that #1 is retained as true.

Summers’ final passage on—what might first appear to a reader to be—divine deception is Ezekiel 14:9 where we find, “And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.” Summers then likens this passage to 1 Kings 22:22 and then says,

God will allow the false prophet to say what his heart is inclined to say, but He ‘will stretch out His hand against him and destroy him also.’ God is not verbally lying to such men, He is simply allowing them to do what it is they want to do anyway—just as He allowed Balaam to follow the inclination of his covetous heart. Then He destroyed him (Num. 31:8).

But did you notice, dear reader that in his comments Summers grants what no one denies. God does not lie! He and I and you all know that! But that is not the issue!! The passage says that God claims that in some sense and somehow he will deceive the prophet. He does not say that he will lie to the prophet! Summers concludes that God merely allows something to occur, but the text does not say that, does it? The text affirms that God is in some way behind the deception. Read it again, “…I the Lord have deceived that prophet.” So, again, Summers refuses to accept the language, attacks the concept that God can lie, and says that it is another case of God’s merely allowing something to occur.

But why can’t it be the case that instead of (1) God’s merely allowing something to occur that it is rather the case that (2) God in some sense actually contributes to the deception that the prophet had experienced. That is what the passage plainly states. Doesn’t God know the hearts of all men? If such a prophet had turned away from God, why couldn’t God provide that prophet with circumstances conducive to his further reception of more falsehood? God’s providence is being affirmed in this case. Clearly, the text states that in some sense God was deceiving somebody God wants it known that when false prophets do their work, he is still in complete control of the situation, and not simply by “allowance” but by a positive arranging of circumstances that somehow conduce to the prophet’s reception of his own deception! The passage takes no responsibility away from the false prophet and certainly takes no responsibility away from the devil involved in temptation, and it takes no responsibility away from those who believe the false prophet’s lies. But the passage still is claiming divine involvement which Summers’ explanation does not admit. This is no way to handle the Bible! Consider the following True-False questions:

1. True or False? According to Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord wants the false prophet’s own personal deception in some sense attributed to him.

2. True or False? According to Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord wants the false prophet’s own personal deception to be attributed only to and completely to the devil.

3. True or False? According to Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord wants the false prophet’s own personal deception to be attributed only to the false prophet.

Or we could simply look at the matter this way:

1. True or False? According to Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord claims to be in some sense responsible for the false prophet’s own personal deception.

2. True or False? According to Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord claims to be in every sense responsible for the false prophet’s own personal deception.

3. True or False? According to Ezekiel 14:9 the Lord claims to be in no sense responsible for the false prophet’s own personal deception.

Again, if the reader reads the text, he can plainly see that #1 is true and that #2 and #3 are false. Summers must—to maintain his position on ethical deception—deny the truth of #1. He contradicts what the text plainly declares. Obviously, the text does not say how God will accomplish such, but God is not under obligation to explain himself. Since we know he cannot lie, we know that any deception that can in any sense be attributed to him must be a non-lie deception.

Summers says, “ God does not deceive any more than He lies,” but Summers rewrites Scripture in order to support such an erroneous position. The Bible teaches that God can deceive but that he cannot lie! There is a difference which Summers simply does not admit.

Summers claims that I have used the Bible wrongly. “Perhaps it is deceitful, but not ethical, to use the Word of God the way Mac has in his article.” Well, I ask the reader, “Is it ethical to rewrite Scripture so that a passage that plainly affirms that God deceived someone in some sense actually means the contradiction of the affirmation?” Now that would have God lying!

1. True or False? I the Lord have deceived that prophet (Ezekiel 14:9).

2. True or False? The Lord never deceived anyone (Gary Summers, period).

Gary takes this position on the alleged grounds that all deception is unethical, (1) a position that is not Scriptural but (2) a position which Summers desperately wants to be true. Surely, the reader can see the logical contradiction that obtains between statements #1 and #2.

Near the end of his article Summers makes some remarks that, in my judgment, do not require a response, given all that I have already written. He simply indicates his continuing failure to ignore plain Bible statements that simply do not suit his purposes. But let me, as I near the end of this piece, comment on a New Testament passage relevant to our study.

Summers did refer in his final article to 2 Thessalonians 2:11 while he was discussing Ezekiel 14:9. I present here verses 11 and 12: “And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

We know from verse 9 in this very context that Satan is the direct agent behind “lying wonders” or “wonders of a lie.” They are also described as “powers” and “signs.” They contain “deceit of unrighteousness.” These are events which cause wonder and which are in support of a lie. The lie believed causes those believing to perish. These people to whom Paul refers “received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” He doesn’t say they didn’t know the truth. He does not even say that they did not believe the truth. He refers to some who simply did not love the truth. Now, we know from other passages that God himself in behalf of truth has in the past supported truth with wonders (cf. Heb. 2:4). But in 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12, another thing is being affirmed.

People have two very important categories of information to consider. We will accept “the lie” (v. 11) or “the truth” (v. 11, 12). Definite articles appear in reference to both cases. The point being made is not simply that (1) the devil supports the lie while (2) God supports the truth, but we are being informed in this very important passage that since God is in complete control of the total situation involving man and his salvation or damnation, that he is the one (and certainly not Satan) who has the upper hand. Man cannot be saved without the gospel (Rom. 1:16; 1 Tim. 2:4).

And God alone is in position as the controller of all things to arrange means and circumstances for the circulation of truth and for the promotion of error to those who do not love truth. We are informed that God will send “an operation of error” or “working of error” (a work in behalf of error) to those “who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Surely, anyone who knows Scripture knows that the devil is the father of lies (Jno. 8:44) and that God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18; Tit. 1:2). But God can providentially act so that lies are circulated where men who want them can have them. Will Summers deny this?

Of course “the lie” (all doctrine in contradiction of the gospel) is something that God cannot say or write. And a lie is certainly one form of deception. But God as the omnipotent and omniscient One even controls in his marvelous providence the circulation of all lies. And he knows who wants them (cf. 1 Jno. 4:5, 6). So consider the following argument:

1. If (1) God sends a working of error to those who are perishing that they should believe a lie, that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness, and if (2) God cannot lie, then God without lying contributes to the deception of those who believe the lie.

2. (1) God sends a working of error to those who are perishing that they should believe a lie, that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:11, 12), and God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18: Tit. 1:2).

3. Then, God without lying contributes to the deception of those who believe the lie.

If the reader has paid attention, he should comprehend the following easily:

1. True or False? God in every sense contributes to human deception (False; because lying is a form of it and he cannot lie).

2. True or False? God in some sense contributes to human deception (True; 2 Thess. 1:11, 12).

3. True or False? God in no sense contributes to human deception (False; 2 Thess. 1:11, 12; cf. 1 Kings 22:22, 23).

Gary Summers means well. And I appreciate his sending me his articles wherein he critiqued my article, “Ethical Deception.” But Gary’s response, while well-intentioned, amounts to an attack on the providence of God. And I have already been in public debates that entailed a discussion of prayer and providence. And I have listened as my opponents unknowingly and unintentionally have attacked the very concepts of the effectiveness of prayer in its relationship to providence. And I have listened as they have denied that God does anything in answer to prayer in a direct and personal way. So, while granting that Gary’s critique of my article on ethical deception is well-meaning, it amounts to an unintended attack on the providence of God. Gary does not mean for it to be, but it is. The providence of God is not attacked by Gary in the same way that some of my debate opponents have attacked it, but it constitutes an attack anyway. It is a new approach in our brotherhood or, at least, new to me.

I would caution Gary, however, because it does seem to me that if he handled Acts 2:33 in a way that is consistent with his handling of Bible passages that clearly identify divine deception as a feature or aspect of providence, he will have to conclude that Peter in that passage (1) did not identify any positive contribution that God actually made for our salvation at the cross, but that (2) God merely allowed certain things to occur.