“The Cloak of Love”
The expression “to cover something with the cloak of love” nowadays makes people think of a cover-up, or even a cesspool. Everyone knows a story or two about all that was concealed, to the detriment of the victim. People are being pressured to keep quiet, when missteps have occurred, or an injustice or abuse. All of it due to — another one of these loaded terms — “keeping the peace”.
As church we do not have such a stellar name in this regard. I only mention the scandals in the Roman Catholic church in the United States, where priests for years were sexually abusing young boys without anyone doing something about it. Insofar as people have reasons to bring up these matters, we as church do well to take allegations very seriously.
Now it is not even exactly clear where the expression “the cloak of love” originates from. Most of the time people refer to the sons of Noah, who — walking backwards — covered the naked body of their father with a garment or cloak (Gen. 9:23). But 1 Corinthians 13:6 is also applicable. It says there that love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Subsequently it says that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
What Shem and Japheth do for their father is not the covering up of evil, but something entirely different. Here we have an embarrassing situation: father Noah is drunk and lays asleep naked. What was wrong about Ham telling his two brothers about this? Is it not correct to “open things up”? No, that is not necessarily good. And certainly not in this situation. Noah had not harmed or hurt anyone. Ham would have been better off if he had made sure that the shame of his father was not seen by anyone. But that is not what he does. And that is the point. He does not go to his brothers so that together they can end the self-humiliation of their father. The love of 1 Corinthians 13 would have done that.
But if others have indeed been harmed, what are we commanded to do then? Then we may not cover up what has happened. The “cloak of love” may not be used to put away sin and evil. It must be placed in the light of Christ. But that light is not coming from our searchlights, it is not the pillory of public opinion. It is the pointing to sin, to subsequently bring the perpetrator(s) and the victim(s) to Christ and keep them with Christ.
The Biblical word “reconcile” means literally “to cover”. When Christ reconciles our sins before God, then the sin is not hidden away, but blotted out. Out of that salvation mystery a new person is born, who understands to confess debt and to forgive debt.
It is extremely important that the church displays the difference between human cover ups and the biblical “cloak of love”. So that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not robbed of its truth and of its power.