Tucked away in the deep recesses of your being is that dirty, little secret that you’ve been carrying around for years. At times you forget it’s there. Then a certain person’s name will come up, or the DJ will play that old song, or you’ll hear something on the television that triggers the memory. Then all of a sudden you’ll feel your secret reach out with two long-nailed fingers and pinch your soul, just to remind you it’s still there. On other days, your secret seems to have bonded with the beat of your heart, so that like Poe’s villain in the Tell-Tale Heart, the raging pulse of your secret seems manifest to everyone around you. Moreover, it can form a film around your eyes, so that everything is filtered and interpreted through it. When something bad happens, you assume it’s due to your secret. You tell others it’s bad karma, or bad luck, but you suspect it’s not. It’s the ghost of your secret, coming back to haunt you, to demand restitution, to carve out of your life that pound of flesh that is its due.
The Secret About Secrets
Here’s something for you to ponder. In fact, I suspect you already know this, but let me put it down here in black and white to confirm it: the secret about secrets is that they don’t exist. There is no such thing in all the world as a secret. You see, a secret is no longer a secret when two people know it. And even if you have been so careful as to hide it from the public, from your closest friends, even from your spouse, there is one who knows. He searches the hearts and minds of humanity. He brings out of the darkness what we have hidden; He places our secret sins in the light of His presence (Ps 90:8). God knows your secret, and because you know that He knows, you ought to just go ahead and admit the fact that you have no secrets.
What you do have is something that humanity has always struggled with: an insomniac conscience. A conscience that is still wide-eyed in the wee hours of the morning. Your pillow becomes like a cloud-based storage service, so that when your head hits it, all the data of past misdeeds downloads into the computer of your mind, and you spend hour upon hour surfing through the sins of your past. Or perhaps it is only The Sin of your past. That one so-called secret that bedevils you.
I want to talk to you about that, but let me do so by reminding you of a story—a story about a band of brothers who struggled with insomniac consciences of their own.
The Band of Unbrotherly Brothers
These brothers, the sons of Jacob, hadn’t seen their younger brother, Joseph, in over two decades. He was barely old enough to shave when they, fueled by jealousy and hatred, had sold him to slave-traders then covered up their crime by faking his death. For all they knew, Joseph was nothing but dust in the Egyptian wind by now, driven into an early grave by the rigors of servitude.
But dead or alive, Joseph was certainly a daily, living reality in the consciences of his brothers. Twenty two years after they’d tossed him into a pit, his cries for mercy were still echoing in the depths of their souls. Twenty two years after they’d sat around that pit and ate a meal together, they could still taste the bitter memory of their heartless deed. Their shared secret stalked them night and day.
So pervasive was its influence upon them that when trouble befell them, they traced its ultimate source to the betrayal of their brother. When, unbeknownst to them, they finally kneeled before long-lost Joseph in Egypt and he accused them of being spies and demanded they bring their youngest brother down to Egypt as proof of their honesty, they lamented to one another, “‘Truly we are guilty concerning our brother [Joseph], because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us,’” (Gen 42:21). In their minds, that dirty little secret from over two decades earlier was coming back to haunt them.
The Hand that Holds the Healing Medicine
I know how those brothers felt. I feel much more kinship with Joseph’s brothers than I do with Joseph, because I too have betrayed, hurt, lied, covered up, and then been haunted by my sin for years afterward. And if you’re one with an insomniac conscience, I bet you feel that same kinship. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve whispered in my grief, “Truly I am guilty concerning _______; therefore this distress has come upon me.” My dirty little secret, which was never truly a secret at all, only dirty, only unclean, became the touchstone whereby I interpreted everything from the failure of my marriage to contracting the common cold. Everything bad that happened to me was because of that bad thing I had done.
I wish I could tell you that I am all better now, that my life is completely transformed, and that dirty little secret never plagues me anymore. But that would be stretching the truth. What I can tell you is this: on a daily basis, ever so slowly, I am being healed. And I can also tell you this: on a daily basis, hour by hour, the great Physician of soul and body stretches out His healing hand to you as well, in which He holds the medicine that will indeed rock your world.
When that divine hand unfolds you’ll find a truth tattooed there that seems so shocking, so liberating that at first you’ll swear it cannot be true. It is a mere five words, but in these words are compressed five universes of hope, five galaxies of comfort, packed with promises the human mind cannot fathom. The words are simply these: Your Sins Do Not Exist.
What? How can that be? Your sins do not exist because He who called heaven and earth into existence, has called your sins out of existence. He who made everything from nothing unmakes your sins into nothing. He who formed man from the dirt of the earth takes the dirt of your sin and uncreates it, unforms it, undoes it. They are no more. Your Sins Do Not Exist.
Only God can do that because only God took possession of your sins and declared them His own. He took them away from you and He won’t give them back. He ate them. He chewed them up. He swallowed them, digested them, and in the acid of His suffering they were transformed into something that is not. On the cross He undid everything evil that you have done. Are you a murderer? No you’re not because Jesus became the murderer. Are you an adulterer? No you’re not because Jesus became the adulterer. Are you a liar, a cheat, a betrayer of family, a child molester, an abortion doctor, a combatant in ISIS? No you’re not because Jesus became all these and more when He was crucified. What happened on the cross of Jesus completely changed reality. God became the sinner, God became the sin, and we in that God, Jesus Christ, become the saint, the forgiven, the children of our heavenly Father.
The God who did all this calls you to repentance, to leave behind the world of unreality, a world of wallowing in that which only does you harm. Perhaps you have done this and still your sins bother you. Perhaps you have confessed a hundred times and still they plague you. These are the phantom pains, akin to those experienced by amputees, who feel that which does not exist in reality. That is why I said, in my own life, daily, ever so slowly, I am being healed. The phantom pains of guilt still resurface, so I continue to return again and again to that tattooed hand which reads, “Your Sins Do Not Exist.” They have been cut away. They are no more. There are no secrets, dirty or otherwise. God has brought that darkness into the light of His presence, and when He did, the darkness disappeared. When God’s light shines on us all that He sees in us is Jesus. In Him and in Him alone are we made whole.
The sons of Jacob, the brothers of Joseph, were eventually restored. Joseph told them, “Do not be afraid,” (Gen 50:21). He had forgiven them. Their sins no longer existed. So Jesus, the greater Joseph, says to us, “Do not be afraid. I have done everything for you. It is complete. You have no secrets. You have no sins. You have only me. And in me you have God. And in God you have everything and more. Your sins may not exist, but you do—you who are the most precious thing in the heavens and the earth to me.”
This is the good news, the ultimate good news for all of us.
If you were challenged or encouraged by this reflection, please take a moment to check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!
The poems and hymns in my book, The Infant Priest, give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. Here there is praise of the crucified and risen Christ, dark lamentation of a penitent wrestling with despair, meditations upon the life of our Lord, thanksgiving for family, and much more. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you may do so at this website or on Amazon.com. Thank you!