Monday, June 11, 2018

The Big Cover-Up

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

The word “covers” is in Greek kalyptō, meaning to “veil or hinder knowledge”. Absent the rest of scripture to balance it, a literal reading could easily be taken to suggest that the loving thing to do when we hear about someone else’s sin is to bury it deep and keep it from coming to light.

Two More Witnesses

We could go back to Proverbs (where the idea that gave rise to Peter’s quote probably originated) and cite it support our case if we wished:
“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
And we could jump over to Paul’s famous “love” passage to provide us with a third “witness”:
“[Love] does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.”
Here “resentful” is literally “thinks no evil”. The sense is that love does not bear grudges and meditate on sins past. They do not come into its considerations.

Don’t repeat it, bury it. Everybody’s better off, and the Bible says so.

Too-Convenient ‘Covering’

Not so fast. The “hinder knowledge” interpretation is indeed a linguistically enticing possibility. In fact, our rationalizing minds are quite drawn to it in no small number of circumstances, which ought to make us pull up sharply and ask why that might be.

When one is, for instance, the member of a board of directors of an institution, and some alleged misconduct comes to light for which one is individually or collectively accountable ... well, you know, “love covers a multitude of sins.” What would truly be gained by airing dirty laundry in public? The justifications for keeping silent write themselves, and may have nothing to do with love at all. They may be monetary. They may be related to fear of negative publicity. They may present themselves under the guise of concern for all the good works that will not be done and the people who might be stumbled in their Christian walk if the truth comes to light.

But our example need not be so obvious or institutional. What if the offender is your child? After all, it is your parenting skills that will almost surely become the talk of the town if his or her misbehavior becomes public knowledge? It might be love that seals your lips ... then again, it might be injured pride.

Back from Wandering

But when we take into consideration all that the scripture has to say, it becomes evident that the sort of “love” that prompts us to paper over unconfessed and unrepented sin is not worthy of the name. James too talks about the “covering” of a multitude of sins, and shows us how love behaves in such a situation:
“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Real love goes out and brings back the sinner from his wandering. It is not content to enjoy a spicy bit of gossip; rather, love goes and attacks the problem. It reaches out to the offender and appeals to him to change his ways. It is only at this point — once sins have been confessed and repented of — that it ever becomes appropriate to “veil or hinder knowledge” of them.

Love That Refuses

It should be clear that concealing knowledge of a genuine criminal offense is flouting both the law and the authorities God himself has put in place. A Christian should never be involved in such a thing; to make Peter say so forces the apostle to contradict himself. But crimes apart, no useful purpose is served by picking through the sordid details of Christian (or even pre-Christian) moral failure once the sin itself has been rejected, the appropriate confessions made and forgiveness sought.

Under these circumstances, love absolutely refuses to indulge the curiosity of fellow believers even if their interest is prayerful and well-intentioned, refuses to reexamine the specifics of forgiven sin, and abjectly refuses to allow itself to use repented sin against the fallen believer at a later date even when it might win an argument or make a perfectly valid point.

If we genuinely believe what the Lord taught about forgiveness, then “You ALWAYS do that” should be no part of Christian vocabulary.

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