In psychoanalysis, a “reaction formation” is a defense mechanism. Shakespeare used it in a play within a play. Gertrude recognized it in the character playing her in The Murder of Gonzago. “The Lady doth protest too much methinks.” That was the tell to Hamlet that his mother was complicit in the death of his father because she protested her innocence too much when confronted with her guilt. The disciple Peter insisted that under no circumstances would he ever forsake Jesus and later went over the top in denying Jesus when a servant girl busted him as one of Jesus’ disciples. Cookie thieves tearfully insist they never put one little finger in the jar despite the crumbs on their faces.
God watches us and must say to himself, “All these sinners do protest too much methinks.” Our denials in the face of evidence of guilt are sound bites of history. I never had sexual relations with that woman. Really? No collusion. No collusion whatsoever. Oh, yeah? Honey, I swear on a stack of Bibles I would never ever lie to you. Ever?
These are red flags. That’s why Jesus said, “Don’t say anything you don’t mean. . . . You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk. . . . You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong” (Matthew 5:33-37 MSG)