Cost of Discipleship: Part 3 -Oaths

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Author of Cost of Discipleship

“Trust me”, “take my word”, “I promise”, “I swear”…

Words like these we so often here in our world today when someone is trying to emphasize their truthfulness or perhaps convince you that they are being truthful. Our court systems make you swear on a Bible to ‘tell the whole truth, nothing but the truth’ before witnessing in any case.

Oaths, as we will call them, seem like a good thing. It’s an assurance of truth. But I would beg to say, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer would agree, that there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea of oaths.

As Bonhoeffer writes “the very existence of oaths is a proof that there are such things as lies”. It’s an odd thing to think about, but the very fact that we have to say ‘I swear’ or ‘take my word’ only goes to admit that sometimes we shouldn’t take someone’s word. For “If lying were unknown, the world would have no need for oaths… But it goes further than that: for there, where alone the oath claims final truth, is space in life given to the lie, and it is granted a certain right to life.”

In other words while we say, “I swear” you are in a way also saying, that there are instances outside of this occasion, in which lying is permitted. Because by saying that in this instance you are not lying, you are admitting that your telling of the truth, is not something that should always be granted.

But “Jesus destroys the lie by forbidding oaths altogether”

“swear not by heaven or by earth…let your yes be yes and your no be no” Matthew 5:35

G_d is declaring that His followers must act in such a way as to tell the truth to the same level throughout their lives. That when you say ‘yes’ even in the most informal circumstances, that you must act as though you had sworn to it. If you cannot hold your ‘yes’ to such a standard then do not say ‘yes’ at all. Your ‘yes’ is always ‘yes’. Not just when it is convenient, not just when you desire it to be so, but in every circumstance. The same is to be said of your ‘no’.

Truthfulness is to become the norm rather then the special circumstance when accompanied by an oath. “It means that every word they utter is spoken in His presence, and not only those words which are accompanied by an oath… since they always speak a whole truth and nothing but the truth, there is no need for an oath”

This plays into the last blog which dealt with the Call of Discipleship and being real with G_d and His people. For “only those who are in a state of truthfulness through the confessions of their sin to Jesus are not ashamed to tell the truth wherever it must be told. The truthfulness which Jesus demands from His followers is the self-abnegation which does not hid sin. Nothing is then hidden, everything is brought forth to the light of day”

So we are left with a choice. Do we continue to even allow lies a breath by continuing to make oaths? Or do we decide that our lives will be run on complete and open honesty. To tell the truth, the whole truth or nothing but the truth?

It won’t be easy. It is our natural tendency not to tell the whole truth when we confess our sins, or at the very least paint the whole truth in some sort of rose colored hue. But this is not what Jesus has asked. He as commanded us to tell the whole truth… every detail. even the uncomfortable.

I know I struggle with this. I know I’ll continue to struggle with this. But I know one of my first steps will be determining that when someone asks me about something that I give them the whole story… As if I had just sworn upon a bible.

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