Growing up I was constantly told to “always tell the truth” and keep any promises I had made, even to my own harm and detriment. And generally speaking, these were and are words of great virtue and goodness.
However, as I have grown in wisdom and understanding, it now occurs to me that some promises and vows were meant to be broken. Some of the things that we say should not be held onto fastidiously.
This fact came home to me powerfully the other day when a friend insisted that he would “not apologize” to someone when I confronted him about his need to do so. He spoke it with a conviction and determination I have seldom seen in the most sincere of men. His staunch refusal was virtually a vow and a promise he had made, and one he had made foolishly in haste. As Proverbs 20:25 tells us, “It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.”
The holy thing to do in this case was ultimately to repent of and repudiate this foolish vow. I am reminded of Jephthah in Judges 11 who should have known that God would not be pleased with a human sacrifice—the life of his daughter no less—and so should rather have repented in shame and remorse for this rash and thoughtless promise.
The fact of the matter is, humility and forgiveness often require and demand turning away from and renouncing certain ungodly vows and promises we have made. In such situations, not to do so—to remain truthful and a promise-keeper—would actually be a bald expression of arrogance, unforgiveness, and depravity.
In short, in God’s economy of goodness and grace, some promises were meant to be broken.