In advance of yesterday’s recall election, the polling service FiveThirtyEight reported that 57.3 percent of Californians wanted Gov. Gavin Newsom to remain in office, while 41.5 percent wanted to remove him. They were close: 64.2 percent voted against his recall, while 35.8 percent voted for his removal.
In advance of Apple’s September 14 news event, the Wall Street Journal predicted that apart from camera improvements, the company would announce only “modest upgrades” to its iPhone lineup. They were right as well.
However, last week no one forecasted that Hurricane Nicholas would form Sunday morning in the Gulf of Mexico or that it would threaten the Texas Gulf Coast and the Deep South. Nearly two hundred thousand people in Texas and Louisiana are without power this morning; the National Hurricane Center is warning of “life-threatening flash flooding impacts” from the storm.
Why Columbus’ expedition was doomed to fail
It turns out, prognostication has always been challenging for finite and fallen humans.
A government document produced in the mid-1960s described what the Washington Post is calling “history’s most boneheaded predictions.” It starts in 1486 with the royal committee that advised the king and queen of Spain not to fund Christopher Columbus’ expedition, insisting that there was nothing between Europe and Asia but a vast, featureless ocean.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Sen. Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania wondered why Congress was being asked to fund the Smithsonian Institution. “I am tired of all this thing called science,” he protested. The March 1904 issue of Popular Science Monthly proclaimed that airplanes “are not to be thought of as commercial carriers.” In 1839, French surgeon Alfred Velpeau wrote that he saw no future for anesthesia, insisting that “‘knife’ and ‘pain’ are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient.”
We’re glad that each of these predictors got it wrong. However, here are two predictions by wise King Solomon that finite and fallen humans consistently refuse to believe: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
Why are his predictions so urgent and empowering?
Why do airplanes still have ashtrays?
Yesterday we learned that intimacy with Jesus is the key to defeating sin and creating transforming community. Today, let’s discuss an insidious enemy of such intimacy: private sin.
First, a cultural parable. Have you ever wondered why airplanes still have ashtrays in the bathrooms, given that passengers haven’t been allowed to smoke onboard since 1988? A flight attendant explained: “People will try and break the rules. We prefer that they use ashtrays to hide their cigarettes instead of causing a fire hazard by hiding it in a small corner.”
Such stealth doesn’t work, of course, since airplane bathrooms are all equipped with smoke detectors. But the offender might think they are successful at the time: rather than cause a sudden loud alarm that could provoke a panic, the detectors notify the staff instead.
What is true of airplane lavatory alarms is becoming true in other dimensions of life.
Axios reports that the TSA intends eventually to install 3D baggage scanners and full body imaging tech at every airport checkpoint so “passengers will be able to sail through a virtually invisible screening portal without stopping.” Stanford researchers have developed non-line-of-sight imaging so that a single point of laser light entering a room can see physical objects inside.
God is even more omniscient: “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). Our Lord “searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9). Moses said of God, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence” (Psalm 90:8).
Jesus warned us, “Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17). Scripture is clear: “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
Why Satan loves “private” sin
If God knows all our “private” sins, why do we need to confess them to him?
Earlier we noted Solomon’s observation, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper” (Proverbs 28:13a). The main reason we “will not prosper” is that so-called secret sin “grieves” and “quenches” the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). And the Holy Spirit is the means by which God empowers, leads, sanctifies, and prospers his people (Acts 1:8, 4:31; John 14:26; Galatians 5:22–23).
The debilitating power of private sin is one reason Satan loves to tempt us to commit it. We think that so long as no one knows, no one will get hurt. But God knows and is grieved, his Spirit is hindered in our lives, we miss God’s best for us, and our private sins enfeeble our public witness.
So, let’s believe Solomon’s prediction. And let’s claim the one that follows: “but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13b). Let me urge you to conduct a spiritual inventory today: get alone with God, ask his Spirit to bring to mind any private sins in your life, and confess all that comes to your thoughts.
Now claim the fact that he has cleansed you from “all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Your Father has separated your sins from you “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), casting them “into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19) and remembering them “no more” (Hebrews 8:12).
The doorway to gratitude for grace
You and I need such spiritual cleansing every day and every time we sin. Unconfessed sin is the cancer of our souls, metastasizing until it destroys all it touches. But confessing sin is the doorway to gratitude for grace, ministry to our fellow sinners, and worship that changes our lives and empowers our witness.
The Puritan Thomas Watson was right: “Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”
Is sin “bitter” to you today?