“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
(I Peter 4:8 ESV)
During a conversation with my confirmation class a while ago, I read 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” I can’t be sure what the topic was for that night, we were either discussing the love of God for us in Jesus Christ, or perhaps the topic of forgiveness and grace. That’s when the perfect question was asked, one that made me look at this text anew. “Isn’t it a bad thing,” one student innocently asked, “to cover up sin? Isn’t that like hiding it, rather than dealing with it?”
Immediately I knew exactly where she was coming from. I remember as kids, my brother and I shared a room. We both had twin beds on opposite sides of the room, and two big shelves that ran the length of a wall filled with toys. Well, let me rephrase that, the shelves were built to hold our toys. They never did. Instead, the toys were scattered across the floor, on the beds, spilling out of the room.
When Grandma came to visit, my brother and I went furiously to work. Grandma would come and give an inspection of our rooms, making sure the toys were put away, the clothes folded neatly in the drawers, and the furniture dusted (I swear she once brought a clean white glove). As boys, rather than putting everything where it belong, we’d usually shove all the toys, clothes (dirty and clean), and anything else that was in our rooms under the bed. Then we’d straighten the top cover of our beds – making them would be too much work – allowing the blanket to touch the floor hiding the mess under the bed. If you just looked in the room from the doorway, it appeared clean.
But Grandma never just looked in from the door. The first place she’d look was under the bed. One by one she’d pull toys and clothes out of their hiding place, while my brother and I begrudgingly put them back on the shelf where they belonged. We were then lectured on the importance of cleanliness and tidiness. We played this game just about every time Grandma came. We were boys; we didn’t learn very quickly.
If this is what is meant by “covering sins,” then yes, I can see where this would be a problem. Hiding a person’s problems, covering them up, sweeping them under the rug as if they never happened, helps no one. Unconfessed sin, unaddressed sin, un-dealt-with sin will fester and grow, affecting everything you do. Eventually you will have to deal with the problem, the sin, whatever it might be, or else it will result in death. To cover sin, either with lies and excuses, or by saying it isn’t a sin at all, will only compound the sin itself. This isn’t what the scriptures mean.
When the scriptures talk about covering sin, the image is more of bandaging and healing rather than hiding. When wounded, a bandage is applied, not so much for hiding, but to foster healing. Ointments are applied, the area is cleaned, the wound is bound so that to prevent further injury and infection; it has been dealt with and covered.
This is what God’s love does for us in Christ. God cannot simply overlook our sin. Every sin is an offence to our Holy God and must be dealt with in righteousness and holiness. God, in His love for us, sent His Son to atone for our sins, to pay the redemption price for those who are slaves to sin, to bear the burden of our guilt of sin, to offer forgiveness from the offense of sin. In Christ, our sins have been covered, they have been dealt with, and when we trust in Him for our salvation, the healing will begin. Love does not tolerate sin. Love addresses it for what it is, brings healing and restoration, and puts on the way of righteousness.
There is also a sense in which covering the sin brings protection and comfort. When a wound is new and raw, your nerves are on edge and the pain is severe. But the wound can also bring shame and sorrow. A disfiguring scar, the loss of hair from therapy, the imprint of a wedding band no longer worn because of divorce; we want to hide our wounds, we want to soften the blow.
When love covers sin, it protects and defends, it covers the shame with grace and forgiveness. Love covers sin like the father who ran out to meet the prodigal son; he embraced his son, covered him with the best robe, placed the signet ring on his barren finger, and walked him back through town, covering him and protecting him from the accusations and scorn of the community he disgraced. Love covers the sins of the beloved. Love releases from bondage, turns away from sin, covers with righteousness, and shelters from the accusation of consciousness and community.
This is the love that our heavenly Father has for us. This is the love that Christ demonstrated on the cross. This is the love that we are called to share with one another.