Love Covers a Multitude of Sins
Christians talk a lot about love. We talk about the love of God and about how God in some mysterious way is love. We talk about the duty to love one another, and about how it is in the loving of our neighbours—friends and enemies—that we demonstrate that we love God. Of course, we are far better at talking about love than we are at consistently living lives of love, but I suppose that’s to be expected given our theological convictions about the pervasiveness of sin in the world and in the human heart.
And speaking of sin, Christians talk a lot about this, too. We talk about how sin separates us from God, about how Jesus died “for our sins,” about atonement for sin and how this works, about the “wrath of God” against sin. We talk about confessing our sins to each other, being sorry for our sins, forgiving those who sin against us, etc. Again, we are better at talking about these kinds of things than actually living them out. Again, this is probably to be expected.
One of the readings in my prayer-book this morning was from 1 Peter 4. I paused on a familiar passage:
Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.
If your week has been anything like mine, you have quite likely sinned and been sinned against. Not a multitude of sins, perhaps, nor even terribly grievous ones, but enough to cause a bit of irritation, regret, pain, confusion to accumulate. This is how our days go. And if you’re anything like me, your default response is to brood and to stew, to marinate in perceived grievances, to self-flagellate over mistakes and missteps, and to generally give the strong impression that human weakness, frailty, cowardice and stupidity win the day. Again.
Love covers a multitude of sins. These are good words for me to think on today. I didn’t do any heavy exegetical or lexical work on this passage, but it’s interesting to reflect upon what it might mean for sins to be “covered.” It doesn’t mean “atoned for”—we have other words and metaphors for that. Not “forgotten” or “judged” or “paid for” or any of these well-rehearsed biblical motifs. Those are all important aspects of how God deals with human sin, but I don’t think they communicate what Peter has in mind here. I think he might have had something else in view.
Love covers a multitude of sins.
I’ve been pondering this sentence all day, and a few images have come to mind. I have been thinking of love as a tent or a canopy that stretches out over all our brokenness, gently shielding and protecting we who don’t often understand why we do the things that we do from the harsh effects of our mistakes on others and ourselves.
Or a veil that blocks ours sin from full view, keeping it at least partially hidden, forcing it into the background with simple acts of love.
Or an umbrella, held up in the face of the storm.
Or… pick your metaphor. Love covers up the mess that we leave in our wake.
And I don’t think we’re talking about squishy, mushy, emotion-drenched love here, either. We are here in the realm of costly love. Love that lays aside its rights, love that pours goodness and kindness into difficult situations, love that chooses to see the best in others, even when they are at their most unlovely, love that keeps no record of wrongs, always perseveres, rejoices in truth. Love that forgives even (or especially) when forgiveness isn’t deserved. This, I think, is the love that covers a multitude of sins, preserving and protecting what is good, hiding what is ugly from view, repairing the damage that we do to ourselves and to others.
When we sin, our instinct, like Adam in the garden, is to hide what we’ve done, to explain it away, to make excuses, to, well, cover it up. Maybe what Peter is reminding us of in this passage is that the best way to hide our sin is to stubbornly persist in loving each other. Maybe the best way to cover up what we have done and continue to do to each other is to expose it for what it is: pitifully small, transitory, and ultimately powerless in the face of love, the strongest and truest thing our world has ever seen.