National Geographic has become profoundly interested in moral issues lately. Earlier this year they did a cover story on transgenderism. Just a few weeks ago they released an issue with a cover story on the issue of truth-telling. Their interest in the latter seems related to all the talk about “fake news” and how people can know the truth when so many people are committed to lying.
The larger part of the story is given over to explaining the problem of lying in our world. One way they demonstrate this problem is by relating a research study about children and lying. The study documented the large number of children who behave dishonestly at a very early age, and how children get better at lying as they advance in age. The researchers report that the increased facility older children have with dishonesty is related to their ability “to put himself or herself in someone else’s shoes.” They call this ability the theory of mind and describe it as, “the facility we acquire for understanding the beliefs, intentions, and knowledge of others.”
Though National Geographic is engaging in fairly straightforward reporting of this phenomenon, there is a painfully sinister reality about this idea that they cannot see because they do not have the lenses of Scripture to correct their blurred moral vision.
Without meaning to National Geographic is describing a profound reality of life in a fallen world. Part of our existence in a world marred by transgression and death is that sinners use their God-given ability to observe the interests and intentions of others to advance their own interests and intentions through dishonesty. This is the opposite of the biblical law of love, which does not insist on its own way (1 Cor 13:5). In a way that no secular author can see, dishonesty is a manifestation of our sinful rebellion against God, and desire to advance our own interests above others.
This is the reality that Jesus came to change. After explaining the work of Jesus Christ to save lost people, the Apostle Paul encourages believers in him to “Lay aside falsehood, and speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25). This is a powerful teaching.
Secular reporting can describe the carnage of dishonesty, but they cannot chart a better course. The Bible encourages Christians away from dishonesty and towards the practice of truth-telling. More than that, it provides a rationale for truth-telling, namely, that we are members of one another. With this profound statement the Word of God takes the teeth out of the sinister logic of dishonesty and redeems what secular people call the theory of mind.
It is the work of Jesus Christ to bring peace to members of a sinful human race who exist at enmity with one another. In bringing this peace, Jesus joins believers into his own body, the church, where we exist as a united whole. This destroys the logic of lying. Sinners lie as a hateful exercise in advancing their own interests above others. But now, in Christ, because we are one, the interests of my brother or sister, are my interests as well. This means I have no incentive to lie, advancing my own interests, but instead am free to tell the truth, advancing the interests my fellow believer.
And this redeems the theory of mind that National Geographic talks about. Because Jesus has united our interests through his shed blood, I am now free to use my God-given ability to understand your interests and put them above my own (Phil 2:4). In this way the theory of mind can be used for the purpose it was intended all along, to love God above all, and to love our neighbor even as we love ourselves.