According to the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, when Chairman Ken Lay got ready to bring on Jeff Skilling, (the man who would turn Enron into the giant company it became) Skilling gave him an ultimatum. He insisted on using an accounting method called “mark-to-market” which allowed profits to be booked the day a sale was made, rather than when the money actually comes in. This allowed Enron to report future earnings at any time, pushing their stock value up independent of the true health of the company. As the documentary aptly points out, this gave the company carte blanche to cover up failing divisions by inflating earnings whenever they wished. The result was a scandal that shook the corporate world in 2001. Ultimately, the Enron executives were guilty of creating their own reality, which in the end wasn’t real at all! Shock waves of distrust continue to reverberate throughout the marketplace today.
When we read about fraud and corruption like this [unfortunately, I could have used recent examples from business, politics, and the church], we shake our heads and wonder how anyone could let something like that happen. Didn’t the Enron board and executive team realize the consequences of what they were doing? Perhaps, Jeremiah 17:9 best explains the real problem: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick: who can understand it?” Ouch! Couldn’t Jeremiah have smoothed off the edges a little? No. The truth is, for us to understand our deepest problem, we must go straight for the heart–no amount of external regulation, structure or accountability can account for the untrustworthiness found inside each of us.
King David deceived himself into thinking he was above the law, until Nathan the prophet exposed him as an adulterer and murderer (2 Samuel 12) . . . but let’s look beyond others. This pattern of dishonesty is usually driven by pride, jealousy, greed, lust and other forms of rebellion against God and man. We often fail to account for the rationalizing self-deception with which we soothe our consciences. “My intentions are good.” “No one will be hurt.” “I’ll pay it back before anyone knows.” “I only slightly misrepresented my associate—he’s never done anything to help me.” “My wife doesn’t really understand me like you do.” “It’s not my responsibility to tell all I know in order to make the sale.” Once, again, we are masters at creating our own reality. That is why Jeremiah didn’t just say that our hearts are dreadfully “mistaken” or “fallible”.
The challenge to walk in truth, rather than in lies or futility, is a real challenge in the marketplace and in life. Temptations come at us from all sides, even when we least expect it. A few days ago, I was looking into the opportunity to get a lower interest rate on a debt I’m trying to pay off. All I needed to do (besides paying a fee) was to indicate that my income was lower than it really is. We must remain on guard even when it seems that if we tell only a “small” untruth, we won’t really hurt anyone else. Walking in truth is an important part of walking in faith in the One who already is working for our best reality.