The Deceitfulness of Sin

I woke up the other night with a nagging thought. It gripped me. I was instantly awake. It was urgent and insistent, and the weight of it remained with me when I woke up again to get up and go to work.

I will get back to the thought that woke me from my sleep in the middle of the night, but first I need to explain the backstory.

We have established protocols and precautions for COVID in my office based on the consensus of advice from the experts. We decided that we would only set appointments according to the protocols that are designed to keep our staff and the people who meet with us safe from the risk of exposure to COVID.

We don’t allow walk-in appointments. We encourage “meetings” over the phone or video conferencing. Certain meetings, though, have to be in person, such as meetings to sign documents. I do a lot of estate planning, especially lately, and we must have two witnesses and a notary to sign Wills and Powers of Attorney. Everyone must be together in the room at the same time to satisfy the statutory requirements for those documents.

The protocol includes advising clients when the appointment is scheduled to wear masks, to bring their own pens (or use one of ours and take it with them) and to answer a list of questions. The questions include the following: have you tested positive for COVID; do you have a fever; do you have symptoms, like a dry cough, fever, loss of taste of smell, etc.; have you traveled out of the area in the last 14 days (and, if so, where); have you come into contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID in the last 14 days; etc.

Our staff is instructed to call people who are scheduled to come in to the office the night before the appointment to ask all the questions, and to explain the protocol in detail. When people come in, we make sure they are wearing masks, we take their temperature, ask them to wash their hands and use hand sanitizer, and we have have them sign off on the same list of questions.

We have been taking the threat of COVID seriously and doing what is in our power to protect people and ourselves from possible exposure. The battle of the experts and expert opinions in the media and conflicting “facts” about COVID, including reports of intentional embellishment of the number of cases reported, raise many questions, but the protocols are the least we can do to love and protect the people who work for us and our clients from the potential risks.

Our staff and I developed the protocols. All the attorneys in the office agreed that we should follow these procedures, and we have been following them.

I have some very long term clients. It isn’t unusual for me to meet with staff at their offices or for them to meet with me at my office. Most of my appointments are set up by my legal assistants, but I work very directly with our bigger, long-term clients on an ongoing basis, as I try to be as responsive to their ongoing needs as possible. We have represented one entity continuously since the 1960’s, so our diligence and conscientious work has been rewarded.

One staff member I work with often asked for a meeting with me sometime last week. He suggested meeting with me at my office to review the documents we were going to discuss. He set up the meeting through an Outlook calendar invitation, and I accepted it.

I didn’t think anything of it. This is how I have done things with them for years, and I didn’t follow the protocols we set up. I didn’t think about it.

You can probably see where this is going.

When he arrived, he was asked to answer the questions. Our receptionist came in as I was working at my desk (not very conscious of the time) that someone was waiting for me. He marked “yes” to the question whether he had been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID in the last 14 days.

I have been extraordinarily busy the last several weeks. It seems there has been a pent up demand for legal work (real estate, estate planning and other things), and the dam burst about three weeks ago! I have been coming into the office, putting my head down, and cranking out work at a hectic pace.

My first thought, of course, was that I shouldn’t be meeting with him. I wanted to ask my receptionist to suggest we talk over the phone or meet sometime in the future, but didn’t think it was right to put the responsibility on her to tell him to go away.

Then I thought, “He is waiting for me.” I knew there was work to be done, and (I guess) my impulse to “get it done” and be responsive to the needs of a client kicked in.

I hadn’t really made a conscious decision as I walked to the lobby to talk with him. I was still in work mode, having not even realized the time when I was interrupted with the news someone was waiting for me, and that attitude was fully engaged (just get it done) as I walked to the lobby.

He greeted me by explaining that he just found out that someone he spent some time with over a week ago developed a cough and a fever and had just tested positive for COVID. His voice told me he wasn’t concerned about it. (The fact that he was in my office suggested he wasn’t concerned about it.) He said he had no symptoms.

We were supposed to meet in our small conference room, but that didn’t seem prudent. I asked him to step outside, instead, and we met at the little table on the patio. The meeting took about twenty minutes to a half hour. I didn’t even think twice about it. We both had masks on.

About a day and half later, I got an email from the client that a staff member had been “in close contact” with someone who tested positive for COVID. The email said he would be quarantining and working from home. I knew who it was, of course, but I didn’t think anything more about it…. until the middle of the night.

That’s when I woke up with the urgent thought that I could have contracted COVID! I could get sick and die! I could give it to my family and the people I work with! And this was the real kicker: we had a protocol in place to prevent that sort of thing … and I didn’t follow it!

After the initial panic wore off, I was left with the bitter sense of knowing the right thing to have done and knowing that I had not done the right thing.

I prayed, of course. I asked God to forgive me for knowing the right thing to do and not doing it. I prayed for safety for myself and the people I might come into contact with. I thought about the fact that we, as believers, shouldn’t be afraid of death, and I committed myself into God’s hands. I eventually went back to sleep, but not before some other realizations.

We get panic-inducing thoughts that arise in our minds from time to time, which I don’t believe are from God. They may be the product of an overactive imagination or a chemical imbalance, perhaps. They might even be “gifts” from Satan trying to unseat our confidence in God and distract us. I have learned to quell those quick, panicky thoughts, and simply entrust myself to my Maker.

These thoughts, however, sat heavy with me. I didn’t follow the protocols. Because I brushed them off, I and others around me might have to live with the consequences of my carelessness. I knew the right thing to do, and I didn’t do it, and that is sin.

“[W]hoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

And that got me thinking about other, more serious sin in my life. Sin that found a vulnerability in me when I was young. Sinful tendencies I have struggled with my entire life, including most of the time since I gave me heart to Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

I am like the nation of Israel who entered the Promised Land with the instruction by God to drive all the inhabitants out, lest they intermarry and be led astray to sin and worship other gods. They didn’t drive all the inhabitants out, and they paid the price for many generations of influence that led them to stray from God, worship other gods. Eventually, God allowed them to be taken into Babylonian captivity because of it.

Imagine the moment of realization that the warnings of God (for generations) were finally upon them! They didn’t listen. They were careless, and now it was too late!

Imagine standing before God, stripped of all earthly vestiges, consciously naked and exposed to His all-seeing eyes, knowing how badly you have sinned against Him – knowing the right things you should have done, but you didn’t do them. Knowing the things you shouldn’t have done, but you did them anyway. The thousands of things you just did without carefully considering the consequences of the sin.

Thank God, literally, that He has made a way for us. Because Jesus died for us, for each of us, on the cross in our place, we do not have to suffer the consequences of our sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

At the same time, sin is sin. We shouldn’t take it lightly or be careless with it. Sin destroys. It leads to death. The consequences can be harsh – even for those who are and will ultimately be saved from their sin.

The thing that strikes me most about the experience is the realization of the deceitfulness of sin. It’s so easy to be distracted, to go through life on autopilot, doing the things we have always done, not listening to the still, small voice that is there to guide us – if we will pay attention and take heed.

I don’t think I am going to get COVID. We met outside wearing masks. He still doesn’t have symptoms, and neither do I. But we carefully developed a protocol to avoid unnecessary risk, and I didn’t follow it. I was busy and preoccupied, focused on plowing ahead, and I dismissed that gentle voice in the back of my mind tapping on my figurative shoulder reminding me of what I should do.

I am not sure I was being sinful exactly to meet outside with masks, rather than refuse the meeting. At the same time, I knew what I was I was supposed to, what I should have done. Many times I have dismissed those gentle reminders and sinned in my life. That is the deceitfulness of sin.

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