February 1, 2014

Guilt can make me sick

According to at least one doctor, “Most of the people I see in my office are bearing in their bodies the involuntary confessions of their guilt. The illness is the soul’s way of saying; ‘If you won’t deal with the discomfort in your soul then deal with it in your body.’”

Not everyone gets sick over unconfessed sin and not every sickness is caused by unconfessed sin. But this doctor saw enough of it that he could say there is a connection between illness and feeling guilty over doing something sinful.

Today’s devotional isn’t about the idolatry of relying on some sort of penance rather than the cure offered by Jesus Christ, but it is about one way people deal with their transgressions — by simply trying to ignore them.

The most ‘alive’ and healthy people that I know have a biblical view of sin and of what to do when it happens. Instead of making excuses, rationalizing, blaming others, or trying to make up for it, they confess their sin to God because they know . . .

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

At times, I’ve said this is the most important verse in the Bible for Christians. Indeed, John is writing to believers. He also says if we say we don’t sin, we are lying. The psalmist goes farther. He says if I say that I have no sin, I am not only lying, but that lie could put me in the hospital.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah (Psalm 32:1–4)

In another place, the same writer said this in a prayer to God about his sinful condition . . .

O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. 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. My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. (Psalm 38:1–8)

Perhaps my low toleration for pain and discomfort has something to do with it, but I’m usually not slow to deal with sin and guilt. I don’t like the feeling of it, and I don’t want to be sick.

I’ve also noticed that failure to confess sin isn’t necessarily about being dishonest, or about embarrassment. It is more like, “If I confess that sin, then I must to stop doing it and I don’t want to stop.”

Even that is a confession of sorts and God will answer it, not by cleansing the sin (yet) but by making me hate it. He has ways of turning a so-called ‘delightful’ sin into a heavy and loathsome burden, one that I want to get rid of. I know the only way to do that is to take it to the Lord.

When that is done, then God lifts the burden. Instead of seeming to be a hard wall that blocks joy and well-being, He becomes the source of joy and well-being . . .

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 Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah (Psalm 32:5–7)

The psalmist’s most well-known confession reveals that my experience with sin and confession is much the same as his. I see it is sin and feel guilty. I realize my sin is against God even if it was against others. I know that He is right in calling it sin. I also know sin is deeply entrenched in the human heart, but I am fully convinced that Jesus Christ makes possible full forgiveness and cleansing.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. (Psalm 51:3–8)

Like the psalmist says, truth and honesty with God results in a clean heart and in joy and gladness. As any doctor will tell you, medicine might be helpful, but a glad heart is far better toward healing sickness than any medicine.

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