The Dangers of Rewriting (My) History

People sometimes go to great lengths to rationalize sin. That may even include attempting to rewrite history — at least one’s own personal history. A person may create for himself a new version of his past in order to make his present actions seem justified. He may fabricate an alternate history of at least part of his life and adopt it as reality, so that he can feel satisfaction instead of guilt.

For example:

  • After one brother’s sinful attitudes and actions lead to his falling out with another, he invents a revised account of the circumstances so as to make himself the victim and the other fellow the villain.
  • A woman rewrites her marital history in order to justify getting into a new marriage that Jesus defines as adultery (cf. Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18).
  • A rebellious disciple stirs up trouble in a local church, leaves unrepentant, and later shows up at another congregation across town (or across the country) with a sad tale about how the folks in the former group mistreated him.

When a person does this, it can create all sorts of problems for friends, relatives, and spiritual family alike. Even those who are somewhat familiar with the person’s past may feel uncertain enough about their memories of it (especially if much time has passed) that they’re reluctant to challenge the new version of events that he or she has adopted. (Make no mistake, this is exactly what the person is counting on.) Besides, any such challenge is likely to result in nothing but a highly emotional contest of battling narratives. Meanwhile, those who are relative newcomers in the person’s life are clueless. We want to be able to take people at their word, after all, and in fact most of the time that’s all we can do.

But such a situation also creates big problems for the person who is doing the rewrite. First and foremost, he is lying. And he is lying in an attempt to whitewash sin. In doing so, he has put himself in the company of King Saul (1 Samuel 15), Elisha’s servant Gehazi (2 Kings 5), and others who sought to cover up disobedience with dishonesty.

Perhaps even deadlier, this person may end up convincing himself that his own made-up version of the past is actually the truth. The human mind can work in funny ways, especially when one is trying to muzzle his own conscience. People can buy into their own lies if it means being able to sleep at night. And the more one immerses himself in his deception, the harder it is for him to be moved to repentance. His conscience becomes “seared as with a hot iron” and “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (1 Timothy 4:2; Hebrews 3:13).

King David committed adultery with a woman whose husband was gone to war (2 Samuel 11). When she became pregnant, David’s desperate cover-up effort culminated in his arranging for the man to be killed, then quickly marrying the woman himself. It’s not hard to imagine the cover story: how noble King David had honored a fallen hero’s memory by taking the man’s widow as his own wife in order to provide for her, whereupon God had blessed them with a child. How many times was such a tale repeated? How many months did David succeed in keeping up the charade? How comfortable did he become with living his own lie before he was forced to confront it?

And how many others have done the same, but, unlike David, would not let themselves be moved to abandon the lie and repent?

Most important of all, God is not fooled by any of this. If He has said that something is sinful, then no amount of revisionist history will justify my refusal to repent of it. No matter how elaborate and convincing a fantasy I construct in order to pretend that my sin isn’t sin, God knows the truth.

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).