Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Treat the Disease, Not Just the Symptoms

A while back a close friend of mine was having trouble with his vision. A trip to the opthamologist revealed that he was suffering from iritis, basically an inflammation of the iris. Further investigation however, revealed that the real problem was not in his eye, it was in his back. He also had what is known as Ankylosing Spondylitis, a member of the arthritis family of conditions that causes inflammation of the vertebrae. It was complications from this condition that was causing the iritis.

All too easily in medicine, and other areas of life, we can find ourselves treating just the symptoms and not the real disease. Jesus finds himself facing the same situation in Capernaum.

So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city. Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, “This Man blasphemes!” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” And he arose and departed to his house. Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men. (Matthew 9:1-8 NKJV)

One of the hardest concepts to explain when discussing the Gospel Kingdom is the nature of sin. We are fundamentally uncomfortable with the notion that there may be a connection between how we behave and the illnesses that rack our bodies. Occasionally we can live with the idea if we can make some sort of clinical connection. Smoking is a sin, and smoking is why my lungs are full of tar and a hundred other chemical compounds that have turned my lungs coal black, and that is why I have lung cancer; therefore, sin caused me to have cancer. It's a nice tidy clinical line that fits comfortably into our theology. The idea however, that lying on my tax return might somehow be connected to the brain tumour in the back of my head doesn't fit so comfortably.

And well it shouldn't, because it isn't connected, not that way. For generations the people of Israel, like Job's companions, believed that illness was a curse brought on the individual as a direct result of sin. But in John 9:1-5 Jesus corrects this misconception of sin and disease in the minds of the scribes and pharisees. There is indeed a connection between sin and disease, but it is not one of simple cause and effect. It is more properly likened to a polluted environment.

The link between AIDS and HIV has long been understood. HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) pollutes the human body making it susceptible to all kinds of conditions including AIDS. People don't die from HIV; they often don't even die from AIDS so much as they die from something else AIDS removed their ability to resist. But HIV, the virus lurking deep in the body's systems is the real culprit.

So it is with sin. Sin is like a virus that has infected all of creation. It does not directly cause disease and illness, but it has so corrupted God's creation that they not only exist but thrive. Sin is the reason nature turns on itself and ravages the land with storms and droughts. Sin is the reason as soon as medical science cures one condition it mutates and infects the population all over again. Sin is the reason plagues of insects and other vermin ravage the landscape destroying crops and forests turning paradise into a desert.

God did not intend things to be this way; His plan was for nature to exist in total harmony, disease free, with the lion and the lamb sharing the same garden as humankind, naked and unashamed. But sin changed all that. Because of sin people act out of selfish desire instead of mutual compassion and destroy the very thing they desire most - relationships, with their family, their friends, with God. Once again, sin did not create these things but so changed creation that death and destruction could not be resisted for long.

This then is the reason for Jesus words to the scribes whose thoughts accused him of blasphemy. Not to draw a line between the man's paralysis and his sin, but to demonstrate that he can heal the body because he has the power to cleanse the world of sin itself.

"Which is it easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' or 'Arise and walk'?" On the face of it, it's an absurd question. To heal a limb is to drain the pond in my backyard, to deal with the impact of sin on a fallen world is to try and drain the Atlantic Ocean. But not for the Son of Man - there's that phrase again. For the one who stood before the Ancient of Days and received dominion over the Kingdom of God the two acts are, in fact, one and the same. Jesus does not just deal with the symptom of disease, but with the virus/sin that lies at its root.

"Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men... if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many." (Romans 5:12 - 15 NIV)

Until next time... Shalom.

Exploring the kingdom Gospel - episode 19


Robert Morschel said...

Lovely post.

I stuggle with the whole lion and the lamb thing though. Are the circle of life and food chains etc sin related or the way it was designed from the beginning?

Dennis Alan Gray said...

I'm not surprised at the struggle, it one shared by most Christians I think. The vision in Isiah, like most visions, is two-fold in nature. Lets look at it,

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and power…Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”

“The wolf will lie with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the foal, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:1-9).”

First of all it is a vision not a prophecy. There is an important distinction. Prophecies, usually preceeded by "thus says the Lord", or some such are foretellings of what will be. Visions, more often than not, are glimpses into the spiritual realm, and are metaphoric descriptions of how spiritual realities.

In this case what's interesting to note is that many of the animals in this vision are also symbols of various cultures, Persia (leopard), Syria (wolf), Babylon (lion). The conbra (snake) is a Hebrew symbol of the kingdom of darkness. The prey animals and the child symbols of the smaller nations and the innocents of society. (All these associations are recorded in a variety of ancient texts.

With this symbology in mind then what we have is a vision of a world without conflict, a world where traditional enemies no longer prey upon one another, where the traditional rules of the jungle and survival of the fittest no longer apply.

Exactly what this will look like in actual practise, we can't tell. Paul makes it clear in his writings that the best we can hope for in this life is a dim reflection of what is truly to come. but even as dim reflections go, the world of Isiah 9 sounds pretty inviting.

Dennis Alan Gray said...

Oops! Forgot to clarify the two-fold part. (Wish the comment editor let you save drafts, I almost never answer these tings from home)

Okay, so the first thing we have is a picture of the political situation that will one day be resolved. No more war and political hassles, neighbour states will get along.

The second is a picture of the world to come after this one is passed away. A world that is so different from what we experience now, the only way it can be described is metaphor. Infants and snakes pits, straw eating lions, etc.

I don't think we can honestly derive from this vision a practical commentary on the vegetarian habits of carnivores, rather just a glimpse of how far out of our experience the next world will be.

Ed said...

Powerful Bro. Preach the Gospel!
Grace and Peace,

Kim said...

Thanks for your great posts - they continue to keep me thinking about and challenging my faith! Keep up the incredible work!