I can still remember one of the first times I was tempted to steal. I was very young - couldn't read yet - and was in a grocery store with my mom. When we passed a candy bin, she pointed to a sign: "FREE SAMPLE. TAKE ONE." She handed me a candy, explaining that when this sign was out, customers could try one piece. This was delightful to me.
The next time we shopped in that store, I lingered behind my mother, checking the candy bin to see if the sign was still there. It was gone. But the temptation was too much; I took a piece of candy anyway.
Just a kid thing? Apparently not. People are obviously tempted to be dishonest very often. Now it's easier than ever to buy college term papers on the Web. Businesses pad expenses and shortchange clients; maybe they feel it's the only way to compete in a global marketplace. And governments are convinced that many people underreport their taxable income.
Back in that supermarket, even as a child, I knew right away I was stealing. And afterward, the feeling of having been dishonest plagued me for weeks. To this day, I'm still struck by the vividness of that experience. It showed me the naturalness of honesty. It's hard to live comfortably with yourself if you're not truly honest.
So, is there a way to have that natural honesty without losing out? Yes, through God's power. God is Truth.
The freedom to be honest comes mentally. Each one of us has freedom from dishonest thinking and actions, through understanding the truth of God. Through satisfying the need to find out about God's nature, which leads to seeing our own nature.
One writer in the Bible characterizes God as "a God of truth and without iniquity" (Deut. 32:4). God made us in His image - the image of Truth. And so truthfulness is innate in the actual identity of each of us. Dishonesty is the exact opposite of Truth, and of our nature as God's children. You could say Truth is our Parent, and gives us the spiritual intuition to discern right from wrong, as well as the strength to obey God's laws.
"Honesty is spiritual power. Dishonesty is human weakness, which forfeits divine help" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 453). Much dishonesty springs from the assumption that at least a little deception is needed in order to keep up with the competition in business or in school, to be financially successful, or to achieve some other goal. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
A friend of mine saw the spiritual power of honesty a few years ago. She'd begun to accept that her identity was the child of God, and had discovered the lines just quoted. She loved the idea of honesty being power. She resolved to prove this power more fully in her own life.
As income tax season approached, she took into account some additional money she'd earned doing short-term jobs. Once this was added to her tax return, she found it had bumped her up into a higher tax bracket. Instead of the usual, fairly substantial refund, she would now receive almost no refund at all.
At first she was shocked and angry. She'd been counting on a refund to bolster her savings. Telling the truth, it seemed, was resulting in nothing but a financial burden. Given her relatively small earnings as a part-time worker and student, she felt it was all unfair.
But she had come to the conclusion that acting honestly was natural - intuitive to her as Truth's child. She prayed. And she became convinced that she couldn't possibly suffer by aligning her thinking and action with honesty - with God's law. Then my friend's fear of losing out financially by reporting that extra income disappeared.
Soon something totally unexpected happened. Some relatives decided to make a gift to each child in the family. The amount of her gift? Enough to cover what she had "lost" by reporting her full income.
When you decide to be honest in any given situation (whether or not you receive a surprise gift), there will always be a permanent reward - the knowledge that you've come home to your true nature.