Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Love's Cover-up: Hiding Sin?

Love's Cover-up: Hiding Sin?

Several verses in the Bible describe a radical, extreme level of love, requiring Christians to love others despite the other person's sin, even to the point of covering up or hiding their sin.

"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them." Luke 6:27-31 (ESV)

I am to love my enemies, doing good them who hate (detest, persecute) me.

I am to bless (speak well of, to thank, to pray for good) them that curse (condemn me to doom).

I am to pray for those who abuse (insult or slander) me.

Even for one who strikes (repeatedly hits me with a stick) me on the face, I am to remain near, not retaliating nor even defending myself.

For one who takes my clothing, I am to allow it, even to the point of giving more than is taken.

I am to give to every one that begs for help, without requiring repayment.

I am to put myself in the position of others, imagining myself as needing what they lack, and doing for them what I would need done for me.

"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins." 1 Peter 4:8 (ESV)

I am to intently love others, stretching myself, extending out beyond comfort and self-content, in doing good for others, not regarding their sin, seeing only their need.

"Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends." Prov 17:9 (ESV)

Love for others will move me to cover their sin, refusing to make it public, in the hope of maintaining a close relationship.


The notion of covering the sin of others, hiding it from public view, treating them with love and kindness despite their sin, even the sin of theft or violence, seems to me to be over the top, an extremely unbalanced love without reason or caution.

What am I missing here? How can covering up the sin of others glorify God? How can hidden sin bring peace and comfort, to myself or to another?

The reference to striking on the face (Luke 6:27-31) seems to refer to a violent, forceful insult. My immediate reaction to the idea of allowing this to happen, without attempt to defend or hinder, is to reject it immediately. I cannot imagine allowing someone to wrongfully slap me.

I have the same objection to allowing someone to take my clothing.

I have no desire to give money or food to someone who seeks it deceptively, pretending to be in need, or someone who is lazy.

Why don't these biblical references allow for self-defense and reasonable caution?

Covering the sin of others seems to be most repugnant to me. If I imagine a friend coming to me, asking for money for food and shelter because they lost their own money by gambling or waste, I could not respond blindly, giving what I have, without considering their sinful actions.

When I see someone begging by the road, how can I simply hand over money, without knowing what brought them to this point, or knowing why they are not working for their own support?

Define "Covering Up"

The only way in which these verses seem to make sense to me, is if "covering sin" is defined differently.

Look again at the last verse that I referenced:

"Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends." Proverbs 17:9 (ESV)

The context of Proverbs 17:9 is limited to a close relationship, and the offense is one committed by one friend against another. Once the offense is committed and recognized by both friends, love must rule the response to that sin. Love will move the one offended to restore the relationship, regardless of the offense. Covering the offense means forgiving the offender. Covering the offense means giving up the desire for retribution or punishment. Covering the offense means seeking the best for the offender, no matter what the offense was.

COVERS: kasa (to plump or fill up, implying to cover as clothing or secrecy)

The word in Hebrew means to to view the sinful offense of another person through the filter of love, seeing only the good that the other person needs, rather that seeing the punishment they deserve.

Let's imagine a worst-case scenario. Imagine a friend has taken advantage of your friendship and stolen $1000 from you, or worse, has violently hurt you in an attempt at gratifying selfish desires.

Hatred for this friend's sinful offense would move you to punish them. Hate would drive you to attempt to have them to feel pain and loss. Hate would imagine them dressed in rags, chained in prison, doomed to punishment or execution.

Love, however, will imagine them dressed in undeserved comfort, resting safely, grateful for forgiveness, overwhelmed with repentance for their sin, intent upon living a life of value and goodness.

Love would move you to do all you could to see this friend satisfied with good, rather than punished with bad.

And what might this sinful friend need? Most urgently, most importantly, they need to admit their sin against you, they need to repay what they took, and they need to accept whatever consequence is required by human law and God's revealed will. This most likely would require you to testify against them in a court of law. Whether they accept responsibility for their offense or not, whether they demonstrate repentance or not, is not within your province. Their repentance is not what YOU require, it's what THEY require, and that's what you pray for and that's what you urge for them. Without that repentance, your sinful friend indeed is doomed to bitter guilt and condemnation, although not from you.

Covering the sin of one who has offended you does NOT mean restoring the friendship or pretending that the sin has not happened. It means seeing clearly what would be best for the offender...and not only seeing what would be best, but desiring intently what would be best.

Best for a a sinner is always repentance and humble dependence upon God's grace. Without this grace we are all doomed to punishment for our sin.

Definition of "covering sin": desiring what is best for an offender, without desiring punishment or doom.

If we define "covering sin" in this way, the other verses make better sense.

"But I say to you who hear, "want the best for" your enemies, do "what is best" to those who hate you, "speak of the best thing for" those who curse you, "ask God to do what is best" for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, "offer what is best", and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold "what is best" either. Give "what is best" to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not "desire retribution or repayment". And as you wish that others would do to you, do "what is best" to them." Luke 6:27-31 (author's version)

"Above all, keep "desiring what is best for" one another earnestly, since "the desire for what is best" covers a multitude of sins." 1 Peter 4:8 (author's version)

"That which is best" does NOT mean "turn a blind eye to". It does NOT mean "be nice to all".

When responding to someone's sin, "that which is best" means urging them to repentance and humble dependence upon God's grace, without a desire for retribution or punishment. God most likely will allow human courts or circumstance to bring punishment to a sinner. He may even allow the sinner's hard heart to continue into death and destruction. God's response to sin is entirely His own province. Our response to sin must be entirely based upon love: the desire for what is best for others.

I think clothing may best illustrate this concept of "covering up" the sins of another person, meaning the forgiveness of their sin against me, and my pursuing their good rather than persecuting their punishment.

Imagine that clothing were to represent the level of affection and trust I had in someone. Whenever I looked at a friend, they would appear to be dressed most becomingly, very stylish and attractive. But were I to look at an enemy, they would be dressed in rags, or worse, with nothing at all, showing all their blemishes, weaknesses and ugliness.

Imagine that my friend sinned against me, taking something of value from me or hurting me. Now when I look at my friend with hatred and bitterness, I see them dressed in stained, torn rags of clothing. The more I rehearse their offense against me, the more I wish for their punishment, until they appear to me naked, with wrinkled, drooping, flabby, crusted skin.

But love changes how I see them. When I release my anger I no longer seek their humiliation and destruction. My heart softens, remembering how completely I've been clothed in the sight of others against whom I have sinned. And now, with love rather than hate, my heart looks at my friend and clothes them. Perhaps at first I clothe them only in a simple wrap that covers only part of them. Perhaps for many years their appearance to me is only tolerable, but it at least allows me to wish for them the best. Perhaps the scant clothing that my heart allows them is still not sufficient for me to renew the friendship completely, but at least I pray for them, at least I seek the best for them, and I steadfastly refuse to try to punish them or humiliate them. At least when I look at them I no longer hide my eyes or punch the wall. And perhaps in time, my sight will begin to clothe my one-time lost friend in nicer dress, more attractive, more understanding.

I have forgiven them.

Image courtesy of Heather Sorenson.