THE screaming headlines have it daily. The drama or circus (depending on whose side the onlooker takes) surrounding the detention of celebrity or non-celebrity PDAF scammers continues to take the country by storm. Some protest the special treatment they receive; others cry instead for the improvement of conditions in jails to level up to human dignity; still others simply shrug their shoulders, saying, “Serves them right for stealing us blind.”
To me all this simply raises the question of the consequences of dishonest living. Even the Scriptures speak of them.
1. For instance, the NT speaks of the wounding (or severance?) of communion. Tying honesty with the life of communion in the Body of Christ, Paul urges truthfulness among Christians, with communion as motivation: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph 4:25). While we should refrain from reading in the text what isn’t there, this exhortation’s interesting implication is unavoidable: that a disciple’s dishonesty wounds our life of communion in the Body of Christ somewhat like a lying child’s wounding of family unity, hence that child’s earning ostracism from other family members. Let’s put it this way. Being “members of one another” or being in the communion of the Body of Christ, according to Paul, should motivate us to be honest with one another; it follows that a dishonest act, especially one involving millions or even billions of pesos, seriously violates this communion, either wounding it or causing the dishonest person to separate himself from this fraternal fellowship.
2. There is also the scandal of discovery. In direct language, obviously intended to warn its audience, the book of Proverbs contrasts the consequences of honest behavior and its opposite: “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out” (Prov 10:9). For reasons relevant to the Philippines, this ageless observation appears to have anticipated the present scandal that has been generated by the Commission On Audit’s unearthing of a cancer. That is, several lawmakers, both from the Senate and from the House of Representatives, had for many years embroiled themselves in the illegal transfer of public money into fake Non-Government Organizations or aggrupations. With the power of print and social media as well as that of television exposing whatever dishonest dealings or transactions in and out of government and disseminating the information with the speed unknown or unheard only a few years ago, the impact of any dishonesty-related scandal could be devastating and lasting.
3. Rottenness comes from rottenness as corruption is reaped from corruption. Again we considerer Paul. He categorizes dishonesty among the expressions of our unredeemed nature or of our human nature outside the influence of, or in a state of rebellion to, the Holy Spirit. This he terms “flesh”. Says he: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that he will also reap. For the one who sows for the benefit of his flesh will reap corruption and death from the flesh, but the one who sows in the spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal 6:7-8). It is not too difficult to link dishonesty to the flesh as understood in Pauline theology. For a person who does not submit to the influence and guidance of the Spirit or who ignores the Spirit’s guiding light will more readily give in to dishonesty and wrongdoing. And neither is it difficult to see two more upshots. One, the accumulation of wealth and power comes with the intended beneficiaries being deprived of services and essential benefits due them. Two, dishonesty also comes with habitual flight from responsibility and ultimately corrupts or even damages the dishonest person’s character and life. Of course, this is just the icing of the bitter cake. The real death Paul speaks of is the essence of sin itself which is separation from God, the very anti-thesis of God’s program of eternal life.
4. The dishonest do a disservice to God’s name. This may be an understatement of Paul’s denunciation of fellow Jews. He takes them to task because, though well-versed in the Law of Moses, they conduct themselves in various shades of rebellion against it. His words apply equally to Christians who live dishonest lives: “While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law dishonor God by breaking the Law. For as it is written, ‘The name of God is despised among the Gentiles because of you’” (Rom 2:21-24). We are all extra sensitive when our family’s name is dragged into some scandal. We forget the truth of faith that we all bear our heavenly Father’s name in virtue or in vice: in virtue we give it glory; in dishonesty we disgrace it.
5. Finally, there is the believer’s greatest agony: being barred from true riches. Jesus himself sees the link between dishonesty and being excluded from true wealth of God’s Kingdom. In the context of the parable of the crafty steward he draws lessons relevant to the question of honesty: “He who can be trusted in little things can be trusted in great ones; he who is dishonest in slight matters will also be dishonest in greater ones. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling questionable money, who could entrust you with true wealth? And if you have not been trustworthy in that which is another’s, who will give you the wealth which is your own?” (Lk 16:10-12). The unmistakable message is simple: A disciple who engages in dishonest dealings on earthly or temporal wealth also proves himself untrustworthy of heavenly treasures. No tragedy could be greater or worse.
Sometimes we recoil at Scriptural language as too harsh or too crude for our modern ears.
But there is another side of the coin: why should we sugarcoat the harsh reality of dishonesty?