The Covering of Sin - a biblical response to hidden abuse
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
When individuals within ministry or even entire ministries conspire to cover up sin; or when they turn not just the other cheek but a blind eye also, does the psalmist really regard these people as blessed? How can we understand God to be a God of Justice if that is so?
To Obey is Better than Sacrifice
Salvation history is full of people who have attempted to engineer blessing without obedience - it’s simple human nature - it’s why God has to repeatedly remind his people that he wants them to return to him, not just to burn stuff at an altar. (“I desire steadfast love, not sacrifice” says the Lord in Hosea 6; What are your sacrifices to me? he asks in Isaiah 1, “I do not delight in the blood of bulls”.) These sacrifices were there for various reasons, one of which was to atone for sin.
But time and time again, Israel, rather than presenting their sacrifices as penitence, treated sacrifice as the cost of sin, that is to say, a cost which they would weigh up - adultery, murder, rape - how much will that cost me? Again and again they would do this, and we still do. And what now that Christ has fulfilled the sacrificial system? This is then treated as a carte-blanche - we can do what we like.
But, of course, we know that cannot be what is meant by the covering of sins - the Psalmist offers some clarification in vs 5 “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did NOT cover my iniquity”.
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" the psalmist says as he confesses his adulturous rape of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband.
Covering up sin - not confessing it - is the opposite of the Lord covering your sin. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive them, says John (1Jn:9)
Beautiful & Ugly Consequences
That forgiveness is the most beautiful thing in the world, but it would not be beautiful if it pretended that sin did not matter - there are consequences to evil. Even in the New Creation, the Lamb bears signs of having been slain (Rev 5:6) - Jesus will have his beautiful scars.
There are consequences here and now, too - and those who are forgiven by Christ must submit themselves to the consequences of sin - whether that be financial as with Zacchaeus, or judicial, or relational, or otherwise. In Acts 19, it is a mark of conversion that many new believers came forward to confess and divulge their practices - do we really think that the anti-Christian Ephesian authorities wrote off those crimes!? Surely not - there were consequences! (In fact, they are encouraged to bring legal challenges against Christians as an antidote to rioting later on).
Sometimes the consequences affect a ministry, as in the recent SBC case. These consequences are good - they highlight how vile and insidious sin really is. The Lord may well allow individual ministries to fail as a result of sin, but he does not lose his own - his sheep hear his voice (Jn 10:27).
The Lord has no time for moral pragmatism - No one’s ministry merits a free pass, and no one’s suffering at another’s hands is rendered inconsequential by the ‘good deeds’ of their attacker. The Lord will forgive confessed sin and punish unconfessed sin. And while we await his return, he allows and appoints earthly authorities to punish crimes.
Some basic takeaway principles
1. If you know of crimes committed by ministers then you can do no eternal damage to their flock or anyone else by reporting it - the Lord is greater. Salvation belongs to God (Rev 7:10) not to any minister. Vengeance belongs to him also (Deut 32:35)
2. If you are not a victim and know of crimes committed by yourself or other ministers and cover them up, you place yourself in grave eternal peril - Hebrews 10:26-31
3. We follow a crucified God - a God who loved his people too much to abandon them to their own mess, and who hated sin enough that he would not let it go unpunished.
Here are the words of Rachael Denhollander to her abuser, whom she brought to justice against all odds and human connivance — offering her determination to see him punished, and offering him a hope he could never deserve:
“The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”
If ever you wonder how justice and mercy could co-exist, read those words, then think on Jesus on the cross.
The bare bones of it all
If I were hungry, I wouldn’t ask YOU for food says the Lord in Psalm 50 as his people offer up more burnt stuff.
Do we think the Lord delighted in his crucifixion!? Sacrifice is a consequence, not a fetish.
Those who follow the foolish God on the cross know that in his eternal wisdom he despises and destroys evil.
Hide it at your peril; confess it to your salvation.