Have you ever been accused of saying one thing, when in fact you said the opposite? Been accused of believing one thing, when in fact you believe the opposite? Accused of doing one thing, when in fact you did the opposite?
I’ve got to admit I was pleased to read the news item this past week about a jury awarding Procter & Gamble $19.25 million for a false rumor that has circulated for decades, to the effect that the company’s logo – a man-in-the-moon image facing 13 stars – concealed a satanic secret. A more recent version had the company’s CEO telling a TV audience that P&G gives money to the Church of Satan.
Rumors like that thrive on people’s trusting nature, especially Christians who are rightly concerned about pernicious influences in society. Turns out the P&G rumor was helped along by some people with a financial interest in another company that, like P&G, sells household cleaning products. (There’s a bit of insight there about why some people would deliberately circulate falsehoods, if you care to dig it out.)
I had my own experience as the target of a malicious falsehood, years ago in my first career position. Our ministry organization was in a precarious situation financially. We devised a strategy to overcome the challenges facing us – and it involved my leaving for a couple of months to get some training. A co-worker who was uneasy about my close working relationship with our boss told him, in my absence, that I had said it wouldn’t be long until he was gone and I had his job. When I returned from the sabbatical, my boss had decided he wanted me gone.
What followed was the most intense experience I have ever had. I struggled with anger and bitterness toward that co-worker, my boss, and the Lord. We had to empty the retirement fund to tide us over until I could find new employment, and then one of our two local newspapers closed down, dumping dozens of other journalists into the job market. On top of that, all the stress triggered a debilitating illness that deepened our financial difficulties and kept me from finding a career placement for another three years.
Fifteen years later, I can say that time was the most profound period of spiritual growth I have ever experienced. My Lord became more real than I had ever known. I was walking, literally, in “the valley of the shadow of death,” and I found freedom from fear because “thou art with me.”
The experience changed my outlook on everything, and I had a malicious falsehood to thank for it.
F.B. Meyer, the great British pastor, had some excellent advice for anyone who is the target of malicious falsehood: “We make a mistake in trying always to clear ourselves. We should be wiser to go straight on, humbly doing the next thing, and leaving God to vindicate us. … There may come hours in our lives when we shall be misunderstood, slandered, falsely accused. At such times it is very difficult not to act on the policy of the men around us in the world. They at once appeal to law and force and public opinion. But the believer takes his case into a higher court and lays it before his God.”
Sometimes a criticism calls for a direct response. The Lord promised that his followers would be dragged into court – it might be a church business meeting or it might be the court of public opinion. But he said not to worry about what we would say in our own defense. He promised to provide the right words at the right time – and they will be the Holy Spirit’s words, not our own. (Mark 13:11)
But the apostle Paul wanted to be sure that he never stooped to the level of those who made outrageous accusations against him: “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men.” (Acts 24:16 KJV)
His advice was even more specific when he wrote to the church at Rome:
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible. Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, “I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it”, says the Lord. Instead, do what the Scriptures say: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you.” Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:17-21 NLT)
Sometimes we don’t get to see how God acts on our behalf to bring about justice when we are falsely accused. I know of one pastor who resigned when he was falsely accused – even though he had information about his accuser that would have silenced him. But the pastor had received the information in confidence from the man who now accused him, and he refused to break confidence, even to save his job.
That’s a Jesus thing, for sure. No way any of us has the strength to do that on our own.
But even if the pastor had raised his voice in his own defense and launched his best assault on his accuser, it would have prevented the Lord from executing a far better judgment in his own time. I don’t know what happened to this pastor’s accuser, but I know what happened to mine. I had neither the imagination nor the connections to engineer trials remotely as difficult as the ones my former co-worker had to endure.
When the judgment came, I sensed God’s justice in it but, unexpectedly, it gave me no pleasure. Instead, I was overwhelmed with sadness at the price we all paid for my co-worker’s fear, insecurity, and deceit. It strengthened my resolve to never stoop to that level, regardless of what I might face from someone who has made himself my adversary.
All of us will be falsely accused sooner or later. For some, like the pastor I mentioned, it’s an occupational hazard. But one of the apostles – the one who knew a thing or two about impetuous, emotional responses – gave us the best advice: “Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak evil against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.” (1 Peter 3:16 NLT)
Ray Stedman, who taught the Bible for more than 40 years at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, Calif., echoed that wisdom: “Don’t return in kind. Don’t strike back. Don’t curse, don’t revile, don’t attack, don’t try to get even, don’t avenge yourself; but walk with God. Those who revile your good behavior will be brought to shame, brought at last to the place where they are ashamed of themselves.”
Lies cost enough to begin with – for the liar as well as the accused. Compounding that price with childish revenge is foolish.
Leave vengeance to the Master.