The Covering of Sin
In a refreshing declaration, an Old Testament writer affirms:
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psa. 32:1).
In stark relief, another biblical writer says:
“He who covers his transgressions shall not prosper...” (Prov. 28:13).
The former passage commends the covering of sin; the latter one condemns such. How are these two inspired oracles to be reconciled?
The solution to this seeming difficulty is quite simple actually. In the former text, a blessing is pronounced upon him who has his sin covered by means of God’s forgiveness. On the other hand, the writer in Proverbs is addressing the state of one who attempts to deal with his evil in a human fashion, rather than seeking Heaven’s pardon.
Generally, man is a rebel. He does not seek to do the will of his Creator, hence, he is ever involved in wickedness. Jeremiah indicts haughty humanity as follows: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?” (17:9).
It is hardly a wonder that human beings, stubborn as they are, should seek, in their vain imaginations, a variety of methods by which they might avoid facing the responsibility for their violations of divine law. In this article, we will review briefly several of these attempts.
One method of dealing with evil is simply to deny its reality. Atheism argues that sin does not exist. Humanists reason: There is no God. If there is no God, there is no objective code of ethics. If there is no code of ethics, there can be no transgression. Therefore, there is no such thing as sin.
French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre contended that whatever man chooses to do is right; we can, he affirmed, “never choose evil” (279). And so, the skeptic covers his sin by contending that it has no basis in reality.
Sigmund Freud characterized it as a mere “illusion.” What a convenient way of addressing the problem of human evil! It is much like the case of the deluded patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal malignancy. In denial, to his physician he says: “Do not be concerned, doctor; I am fine. I do not believe in cancer.”
For centuries man has entertained the idea that he can hide his wickedness. If others do not know, what’s the difference? The difference is: wrong is still wrong, whether others are privy to it or not.
Adam and Eve sought to hide their shame from the Creator, but the effort was for naught (Gen. 3:8ff). After the battle of Jericho, Achan hid the forbidden spoils of battle beneath his tent, but God brought the rebellious deed to light (Josh. 7:20-22). A few years back, a country music song, “Slipping Around,” typified the modern attitude.
Concealment can be but a temporary respite. The day will come when that which has been done in secret will be shouted from the housetops (Lk. 12:3). God is the revealer of the secrets of men (Rom. 2:16).
Another ploy in dealing with evil is the alteration of vocabulary. Somehow we labor under the illusion that if we can but find a less emotive term by which to designate our vices, the evil has disappeared.
And so, drunkenness becomes “alcoholism,” adultery is merely an “affair,” sodomy is “gay,” and pornography is “adult literature.” But, as Shakespeare once noted, “... a rose by any other name smells as sweet.” And so it is —sin, under any alternate appellation, is still its vile self.
Rationalization is the mental process whereby one justifies his actions by assigning to them a motive that appears to legitimize the conduct. A student throws trash on the schoolroom floor and defends his act on the ground that if the janitor did not have work to do, he would have no job, hence no income with which to support his family!
King Saul of Israel disobeyed Jehovah and refused to destroy the livestock booty taken from the Amalekites. He excused himself on this basis: “... the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice unto Jehovah your God” (1 Sam. 15:15).
America is expert in the art of rationalization. A student cheats on his final exam and feels no guilt because “others are doing it,” and he “must make the grade curve.” After all, a future job is at stake. We abort our babies and defend the atrocity on the basis that we must not produce millions of youngsters who will not have adequate medical and educational facilities.
Rationalization is a soothing lotion for dull conscience.
Another way folks cover their sins is to appeal to the license of civil law. The claim frequently is: “Well, it’s legal, isn’t it?” A man sits in front of his TV and guzzles beer. Whose business is it? It’s not against the law. A woman divorces her husband because she no longer finds him attractive. Subsequently, she marries a former boy friend. So what! It’s legal.
What many obviously do not understand is that civil law is human law, and not infrequently it is in direct violation of the will of God.
Substitution is the idea one can engage in the vices of his desire, but it really doesn’t matter, because he does plenty of other things to balance the account. Good deeds are thought to gloss over base conduct. This is the common philosophy of many within the Roman Church. One is free to pursue almost any lifestyle, provided he rattles off the appropriate number of “Hail Marys.”
Human attempts to cover disobedience are futile. The wise person will let the Lord handle the problem —in his appointed way. In the divine plan of redemption, Jesus Christ becomes the “covering” (“propitiation” —Rom. 3:25) for sin. By virtue of the Lord’s sacrifice at Calvary, and our reponse to his will, our sins can be covered.
- Sartre, Jean Paul (1966), “Existentialism and Humanism,” in French Philosophers from Decartes to Sarte, Leonard Marsak, Ed. (New York: Meridian Books).