Sin and Sickness. Yep, In the Same Sentence. (Psalm 38)

There is no soundness in my flesh 
      because of your indignation; 
there is no health in my bones 
      because of my sin. 
For my iniquities have gone over my head; 
      like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

—Psalm 38:3–4

In Evangelical, prosperity gospel-eschewing churches one may speak of sickness and offer comfort and one may speak of sin and aim at conviction, but should sin and sickness be mentioned together, we squirm. Fear of being misunderstood cripples us in communicating what we should. And what we should confess is this: all sickness, indeed all sickness, sorrow, and suffering are rooted in sin. They are the fruit of sin. Now, that does not say everything, but this much must be said.

Not all sorrows are due to a particular sin your life, but all your sorrows are rooted in sin. We can even say they are rooted in a particular sin—Adam’s. As sin multiplied, so did our misery. Look around. What you see is not just sin proliferated, but the woes of sin multiplied. True, many of your sins result in no personal sickness, at least as far as we can observe. But this fact allows us to draw this sobering conclusion: there is not a soul among us suffering even a billionth of what our own sins deserve. On this earth men do taste of judgment, but even in the worst judgment in this life, there is still a degree of mercy. Thomas Brooks warns, “He that hath deserved a hanging hath no reason to charge the judge with cruelty if he escape with a whipping; and we that have deserved a damning have no reason to charge God for being too severe, if we escape with a fatherly lashing.”

This connection makes us uneasy for how it can make us uneasy. Every time we get sick we might question whether or not our sickness is due to sin. As I see it, there are only two ways to know this information.

  1. The sin itself makes you sick. This can be more immediate, like a hangover due to drunkenness. Or it can be more removed from the sin, as with a history of drunkenness leading to cirrhosis of the liver. 
  2. Revelation.

As I already spoke of eschewing prosperity gospel heresies, I’ll take it you can understand why I’m not going to run with number 2. Even so, sickness can act like a smelling salt to rouse us to perceive sin that we have been ignoring. This is not to say that perception implies causality. You shouldn’t worry about sickness as though it were a puzzle to solve. You should repent of any clear sin. Done.

All this has been a set up for us evaluate yet another kind of sickness that is related to sin. In regard to the 38th psalm, some believe David is sick due to his sin—that the sickness is punishment for sin. I don’t buy that. I do believe David is ill. But David feels sick, not due to some virus as punishment, but due to conviction. God’s hand is so heavy on his soul, his body bows. The arrows of conviction so pierce that his bones ache. Child of God, have you never experienced conviction of sin so sharply, that you lose you appetite? Have you never felt like vomiting because of your sin? Such is the sin-sickness of David’s soul.

In our therapeutic age this kind of soul-sickness is too often chalked up to brokenness in the body or the mind. Sin has indeed broken the body and the mind. There is common grace to be had in medicine. But there is a kind of soul misery that we try to mask. Common grace is no substitute for special grace. Special grace will not heal your cold. Common grace cannot heal your soul. Sometimes man should feel miserable. There is a misery every soul outside of Christ should know. Many a man’s greatest problem is that he has not yet been made miserable enough to truly deal with his misery. We want to get over deep sorrows as quickly as possible to enjoy superficial joys. Try anything else, and whatever cure you may think you find, only makes you worse. And the worst cure is the one that makes you feel best, while your sin remains.

There is only one remedy for the sin-sick soul. You must cry out to the Great Physician; the very one who as a surgeon is causing your pain. If you are His child, those are not His arrows, they are His scalpel. He hurts to heal. He makes the scalpel feel like an arrow that you might fear God and cease ignoring your Father. God has told you how you must position yourself for Him to heal and until you bow on your knees in repentance, He will persist in causing pain of soul, precisely because He is good and He refuses to allow you to destroy yourself.

Sin Has an Echo (Psalm 32)

1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, 
     whose sin is covered. 
2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, 
     and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away 
     through my groaning all day long. 
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; 
     my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 

5 I acknowledged my sin to you, 
     and I did not cover my iniquity; 
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” 
     and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
—Psalm 32:1-5

While David keeps silent about his sin, his sin is loud. Sin has an echo and that echo reverberates louder the more you try to stifle it. David’s silence is an attempt at “deceit” (cf. v. 2). It is an attempt to “cover” (cf. v. 5). But our coverings of fig leaves don’t hide nuthin’.

When God’s children are silent, something is wrong. Silence is an attempt to muffle the echo of sin. John Goldingay comments, “Keeping quiet is not a mark of OT piety. OT piety makes noise, either in lament and prayer or in thanksgiving and praise. There is something suspicious about a person keeping quiet. It gives the impression that something is being concealed.” When the kids are silent, parents suspect. When God’s children are silent, God knows. Our silence doesn’t keep God in ignorance. It shouts to our own knowledge of our guilt.

Worse still, our silence is blasphemous. Our silence says we think God is a fool. We play mute thinking we’ve made God blind and deaf. We think ourselves more sly than God is wise. By silently denying our sin, we call God a liar. 1 John 1:10 – “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Silence on sin is sin doubled down. We dishonor God by our rebellion and then we blaspheme Him with our ridiculing silence.

The only way to silence the echo of our sin is to let it reverberate to heaven with confession. The only way to cover sin, is to uncover it. Try to cover your sin, and it will be exposed by judgment or chastisement. Expose it, and it will be covered by mercy and grace. When you stop trying to cover your own sin, God will cover it. He will cleanse you by the shed blood of Christ and cover you with the robe of His righteousness.

The Doctor: The Height of Sin

“The fatal mistake is to think of sin always in terms of acts and of actions rather than in terms of nature, and of disposition. The mistake is to think of it in terms of particular things instead of thinking of it, as we should, in terms of our relationship to God. Do you want to know what sin is? I will tell you. Sin is the exact opposite of the attitude and the life which conform to, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ If you are not doing that you are a sinner. It does not matter how respectable you are; if you are not living entirely to the glory of God you are a sinner. And the more you imagine that you are perfect in and of yourself and apart from your relationship to God, the greater is your sin. That is why anyone who reads the New Testament objectively can see clearly that the Pharisees of our Lord’s time were greater sinners (if you can use such terms) than were the publicans and open sinners. Why? Because they were self-satisfied, because they were self-sufficient. The height of sin is not to feel any need of the grace of God. There is no greater sin than that. Infinitely worse than committing some sin of the flesh is to feel that you are independent of God, or that Christ need never have died on the cross of Calvary. There is no greater sin than that. That final self-sufficiency, and self-satisfaction, and self righteousness is the sin of sins; it is sin at its height, because it is a spiritual sin.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, (Baker Book House, 1987) p. 11

Picking Out Mirrors (Philippians 3:17–21)

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” —Philippians 3:17

It is said that “imitation is the highest form of flattery,” and while this may be said in an innocent and even a good way, the fuller quote speaks to the fuller reality. It was Oscar Wilde who said, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” and he continued, “that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” That comes off the tongue a bit more sharply and grates on the ears. You sense the arrogance; yet it is a game the masses play along with.

The imitation that this world knows isn’t simply flattery; it is idolatry. We worship the gods, hoping to become one, or a demigod at least. We act as gods, desiring such “flattery.” Image is valued over integrity; coolness over character. Such is the imitation of this world. In contrast, Christian imitation, imitation as it is meant to be, is worship. This is because Christian imitation is an intentional imitation of imitators.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, emphasis mine). We don’t imitate others so that others will want to imitate us. At least we shouldn’t do it for that reason. Sometime we do play the Pharisee, playing pious for self promotion, but in our best moments we imitate imitators because we want to look like the Jesus they want to look like. Christian imitation isn’t about idolatry committed and desired. It is about worship and sanctification.

All the imitations of this world, are cheap imitations. We were created in the image of God to image forth God. We were created as mirrors. We were created imitators. Imitation is. Because of sin, the image of God is marred. Man, in the words of Augustine, is “homo incurvatus in se,” that is, “curved in on himself.” Man has created gods in his own image and he is becoming like them—deaf, dumb, and dead.

But the saints have been renewed in Christ and are being conformed to His image as we imitate our elder Brother. A critical and commanded way in which this happens is by looking to those who imitate Him. Look to Jesus and look to those who are looking to Jesus.

Wilde was on to something; Imitation is a high form of worship that sinners pay to Greatness. The difference is that Jesus stoops to conform us to His glorious image and the saints would never dare to try to usurp or outshine their Savior. We want to be like Jesus, and we will be, but we would never dream of trying to be Jesus. Our goal is not to idolized in hope of becoming an idol, but to imitate as an act of worship. We are mirrors, and when it is Jesus who is reflected, no one is talking about the mirror, and this is just as we want it. So when you’re picking out a mirror, pick one that neither impresses you with the mirror nor yourself. Pick one that helps you look like Jesus.

The Doctor: There Is War Among the Gods

“Furthermore, because man is in this relationship to God he is also in a state of enmity against himself. He is not only engaged in this warfare against a God who is outside of him;but he is also fighting a war within himself. Therein lies the real tragedy of fallen man; he does not believe what I am saying but it is certainly true of him. Man is in a state of internal conflict and he does not know why it is so. He wants to do certain things, but something inside him tells him that it is wrong to do so. He has something in him which we call conscience. Though he thinks he can be perfectly happy whatever he does, and though he may silence other people, he cannot silence this inward monitor. Man is in a state of internal warfare; he does not know the reason for it, yet he knows that it is so.

But in the Scriptures we are told exactly why this is the case. Man was made by God in such a way that he can only be at peace within himself when he is at peace with God. Man was never meant to be a god, but he is for ever trying to deify himself. He sets up his own desires as the rules and laws of his life, yet he is ever characterized by confusion, and worse. Something in himself denies his claims; and so he is always quarrelling and fighting with himself. He knows nothing of real peace; he has no peace with God, he has no peace within himself. And still worse, because of all this, he is in a state of warfare with everyone else. Unfortunately for him everyone else wants to be a god as well. Because of sin we have all become self-centred, ego-centric, turning in upon this self which we put on a pedestal, and which we think is so wonderful and superior to all others. But everyone else is doing the same, and so there is war among the gods. We claim that we are right, and that everyone else is wrong. Inevitably the result is confusion and discord and unhappiness between man and man. Thus we begin to see why the Apostle prays that we may have peace. It is because of man’s sad condition, man’s life as the result of sin, and as the result of his falling away from God. He is in a state of dis-unity within and without, in a state of unhappiness, in a state of wretchedness.”

—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 38, 39

The Don: You Will Think on Sin but…

pointing-finger-1922074_1280.png“Those who do not think about their own sins make up for it by thinking incessantly about the sins of others. It is healthier to think of one’s own. It is the reverse of morbid. It is not even, in the long run, very gloomy. A serious attempt to repent and really to know one’s own sins is in the long run a lightening and relieving process. Of course, there is bound to be at first dismay and often terror and later great pain, yet that is much less in the long run than the anguish of a mass ofunrepented and unexamined sins, lurking in the background of our minds. It is the difference between the pain of the tooth about which you should go to the dentists and the simple straightforward pain which you know is getting less and less every moment when you have had the tooth out.” —C.S. Lewis, “Miserable Offenders” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 464–465

The Threat of Security (Habakkuk 2:6–20)

This post was originally published on December 29, 2014 and was revised  on April 3, 2020.

Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,
and the beam from the woodwork respond.

—Habakkuk 2:9–11

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When threatened, picking up a sword could be the most dangerous response. Reaching for a gun when an officer has commanded “Freeze!” is a fool’s act. Sometimes, the supposed wisdom of security is really the folly of unbelief. All our attempts at security might be nothing more than thinly veiled self-reliance and idolatry.

Nebuchadnezzar built an eagle’s nest where he thought his dynasty and kingdom would be safe. Walls were erected wide enough for a chariot to travel on. Much was invested in security, but all this was counterproductive because the most crucial factor in any building program wasn’t heeded—the One who holds the atoms of every stone, brick, and piece of lumber together—God Almighty.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
—Psalm 127:1

All that was for safety only testified against Babylon. The materials gained by evil means antiphonally cry out against her (2:11), just as Abel’s blood cried out against Cain (Genesis 4:10; Habakkuk 2:12). Where men see glory, God sees sin; and He isn’t intimidated. Babylon was a city built with blood and sin; and thus, it was not a city to flee to, but to flee from. Worse than building their own prison, they’d constructed nothing more than a giant lightning rod to attract the unbearable storm of God’s wrath.

Your efforts at security may not be mortared with blood, but if they’re an expression of self-reliance and idolatry, then it’s still bonded with explosive-laced sin and a fire is coming. Tis far better to be Habakkuk in certain-to-fall Jerusalem, confusingly trusting in the Rock (1:12). The righteous shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

Perhaps? Perhaps! (Jeremiah 21:1–22:9)

“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchiah and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, ‘Inquire of the Lord for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us’ ” (Jeremiah 21:1–3).

Zedekiah was the last reigning king of Judah. This siege began in the ninth year of his eleven year reign. This means Jeremiah had been prophesying near forty years at this point, warning Judah of judgment and calling for her to repent. Neither Zedekiah nor Jerusalem have repented, but ol’ Zed thinks “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

Perhaps Zedekiah recalls the instance when Assyria done messed up by mocking Israel’s God during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18–19). In that instance, it wasn’t so much that Judah was so good, but that Assyria was so bad. Though God has promised to destroy Jerusalem with the Babylonians, Zedekiah presumptuously thinks “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

Thomas Brooks warned “Despair hath slain her thousand but presumption her ten-thousand.” Ol’ Zed is not alone in thinking “Perhaps?” As Zedekiah went to the prophet, so we go to the word or the preaching of the word, not desiring to hear the word of the Lord, but a word from the Lord, because “Perhaps?” We don’t want to know what Scripture says concerning His will for our lives; we want Him to speak encouragement and blessing on our lives. We have no inkling of honestly obeying Him without reservation, yet we come to the word thinking “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

If you’re not following me, every time we sin, we presumptuously think to ourselves “Perhaps?” The presumption of “Perhaps?” is as foolish as heading west on Route 66 and expecting to get arrive in the Caribbean. We hear the serpent’s whisper, “You will not surely die… you will be like God.” We know what God said, but hey, perhaps? God clearly said that the wages of sin is death, but we think “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

To our wretched “Perhaps?” the immutable I AM of heaven always and without fail replies, “Absolutely not!”

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he 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)

Discomfort with Whose Complaining? (Jeremiah 20:1–18)

“O LORD, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me” (Jeremiah 20:7).

If one was hoping the more uncomfortable passages in Jeremiah might be left behind after chapters 18 and 19, chapter 20 proves sorely disappointing. But whereas the discomfort of chapter 19 consists in Yahweh’s ear-tingling judgment, that of chapter 20 is found in Jeremiah’s complaints. We feel as though we are in the presence of a rebellious child publicly lashing out at their venerable father.

Here we see Jeremiah at both his best and his worst. Before he complains to the Lord, he is bold for the Lord. We too easily dismiss the boldness for the complaint. Jeremiah’s complaint is the last of six that are called the “Confessions of Jeremiah.” The others are found in 11:18–20; 12:1–6; 15:10–21; 17:14–18; 18:18–23. In some of these, Jeremiah righteously laments; in others, he sinfully complains. This complaint bears the most similarity to the one found in 15:10–21, which along with 12:1–6 are the only places where we find a word of rebuke following Jeremiah’s “confession.” This lament, though no rebuke follows it, stands above, or should we say, far below the rest. Here we see Jeremiah at his lowest; in his darkest pit.

I’ve argued before that though Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet, we shouldn’t unnecessarily slander him as a weepy prophet. He’s a sinner true enough, and he doesn’t need our imaginations to make him more so. Over a ministry spanning forty years we have five recorded lament/complaints, and we, on the basis of those, might like to think Jeremiah a cry baby, and thus below us. If you look down on his lament, ask yourself if you have risen to the heights of his courage? If you have never been so high, can you really understand such lows?

My point in this is not to excuse Jeremiah in the least. His complaint makes me cringe. It is repulsive. May we never complain as he does. Lord forgive me when my prayers and the sentiments of my heart are just as blasphemous. Forgive me that I think myself superior to Jeremiah simply because I mask the same ugliness. My desire is that instead of looking down on Jeremiah, we would see our own cowardice and complaining, and then, having seen it, strive, in hope of the same grace, to be as courageous in the future without the complaint on the other side.

The Prognosis of Humanity’s Heart Disease (Jeremiah 17:1–18)

“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars, while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, on the mountains in the open country” (Jeremiah 17:1–3a).

rock-80074_1280.jpgSin being engraved on the heart isn’t so much the diagnosis as the prognosis. Here we’re not told the disease itself as of its advanced stages. Jeremiah will soon speak of humanity’s heart condition in verse 9. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” At the beginning of the chapter though, we see what happens when the sin-sick heart pumps sin after sin after sin.

Man, born totally depraved advances toward being utterly depraved. The more the heart flows with wickedness, the darker the flow of wickedness becomes. Sin, having flowed out of the heart, is then engraved on the heart. Heart-hardening is the result of our hereditary heart disease.

But it is not the heart being likened to a tablet which speaks to this hardness. The father of Proverbs pleads, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:1–3, emphasis mine). The heart is a tablet. It is what is written on it that is indicative of hardness.

In an oral culture the important and that which was to be preserved were written. Writing something on paper indicates was significant; engraving it on stone far more. Judah’s sin is indelible, ineffaceable, ineradicable.

This is humanity’s prognosis. We are all terminally ill. And because our hearts are deceitful, we are in denial. Our only hope is that the Great Physician, in mercy, grant us new hearts in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34; 32:36–41; Ezekiel 36:24–32).