A friend of mine did smething really, really bad a couple years ago. Real bad. Not illegal bad, but...bad enough it's followed him, years later. It showed up on page two of a metro newspaper, a thousand miles away from where he did it.
I love this guy. He's fun, smart, and fairly new to Christian belief. He's accepted responsibility for what he did, and he's had to live with it every day. He told me the other day he was sorry even I was having to deal with it now. "I'm amazed how many people this has affected. One stupid, wrong decision I made and it keeps affecting so many people. My wife, my kids...it just keeps going."
And so it does.
We marveled at that, and, just stood there, quietly, just shaking our heads. Amazing? Yes. But not really surprising.
The older I get, the more convinced I am there is no private sin. They don't all wind up on page two, but the surface of the pond is never undisturbed by the pebble. The ripples move well beyond ourselves, and, in many cases they radiate through generations.
Or, another recent example: One day, you're a minister getting in a quick ego-stroking flirt, thinking you're in some kind of private soap opera...and soon, there are 300 people in a flourescent-lit room, on metal folding chairs, discussing what you did. And they're cautioning each other not to judge you, and then they talk some more about what you did.
And then, some little kid, one you don't even know, has to hear some stranger talking in church about how the pastor-guy won't be back, he did something called "sexual misconduct."
Yeah, your soap opera? It wasn't private.
Sins on the computer aren't private. Larry Ellison, from Oracle, said years ago: If you think he doesn't know what's on your hard drive, you're kidding yourself. Like the Huffington Post wrote recently: "Google knows you better than you know yourself." Don't kid yourself.
But even if they didn't know, the sins in your head aren't private. Mine affect my attitude. They keep me from being concerned about other people. They make me a jerk, in seemingly unrelated ways. ("Why's Brant a jerk?" "Probably something seemingly unrelated.")
There is no "private sin". Turns out few things have done more harm than the "do no harm" ethic. The as-long-as-it-doesn't-hurt-anyone-else construction of morality is built atop the swamp of affluence. We afford this lie, because affluence loves not only privacy, but the fantasy of it. But like the 77's said, "The lust, the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life -- drain the life right out of me."
And then, when the life is drained out of me... I'm not the person I'm supposed to be. I'm less creative. I'm less joyful. I have less social energy. My patience is gone. I care less about my neighbors. Let me make this clear: There is no sin that affects only you.
Private rebellion. Public consequence. And if it seems unfair that what my friend did was so horrible, but what you or I do in our minds is somehow not so horrible -- well, you agree with Jesus. There IS no difference.
The ripple metaphor works. There's a better one, really, for what our "private" sins do to one another, but I don't want to gross you out with a picture of a fan being hit by organic material. I have higher standards than that. Plus, I googled for a full five minutes and couldn't find one.