When we struggle with an illness it is sometimes difficult to separate the symptoms from the cause. Treating the symptoms is good, because it makes us feel better. Doctors know this. That is why they prescribe medications and therapies to relieve what may be ailing us. They are keenly aware, however, that unless the actual cause is identified and dealt with the symptoms will continue to appear and may even get worse. Failure to deal with the root cause of the illness will only lead to further complications and maybe even death.
The same is true for all other aspects of life where there may be a “dysfunction” or an “abnormality” or some kind of dynamic resulting in pain and suffering. The symptoms may be many, painful, convoluted, messy, complex, and crying out for immediate relief. Consequently, we sometimes don’t get past symptom relief to deal with the root problem.
Let’s talk about our human condition. We often preach, teach, write, and counsel about human brokenness and alienation, emotional suffering and relationship dysfunction. We struggle with fear, worry, and anxiety. We are insecure, unfulfilled, and dissatisfied. We yearn for a degree of self-actualization. We hurt ourselves, each other, and the creation.
Now understand what I am saying. These are real issues affecting real people causing real pain and in need of real attention. I suffer plenty from some of these issues myself. They are not to be minimized, dismissed, or ignored. They are part and parcel of our fallen human condition, need to be admitted and dealt with. They are part of the human “baggage” we all need help with.
And here is my point. As fallen human beings we are affected and infected with a plethora of symptoms brought about by our core issue . . . sin. Am I saying all these human foibles, dysfunctions, and struggles are caused by sin? Well, yes, either directly or indirectly.
Adam and Eve chose to sin against God. Because of their sin, every human being since (save one) has been born a sinner. That is, every human being is born with a sin nature and with the predisposition to inevitably sin (again, save one). We are sinners by nature and by choice; we are predisposed to sin in our nature, and disposed to sin in our actions. We are both sinful and sinners. This means that every aspect of the creation and of human life has been tainted by sin. No, we are not all individually as bad as we could be, but neither are we essentially good or even neutral. Every aspect of human life has been touched by sin.
Therefore, as sinful human beings, all the presenting issues listed above (and more) are the result of sin. Sometimes they manifest themselves as the result of our own sinful nature. Sometimes they are the direct result of our sinful actions. Sometimes they are the result of another person’s sin against us. Sometimes they are simply the result of trying to live in a fallen world governed by sinful systems and structures. It is not always easy delineating where one ends and where one begins. They overlap so much.
So, how to deal with those real life issues? Yes, we help each other, we go to counseling, and we sometimes take medication. We work through the human elements, the human dynamics, and the human relationships. We deal with the symptoms because they are real, they are painful, and they must be dealt with. But we can’t forget to deal with the root issue, which is our sin.
What do I mean? Three things:
One, the bottom line is what David says to the Lord in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” We have to recognize and deal with our sin nature. The only solution is the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. By the grace of God Jesus paid the penalty for sin. Through faith we receive forgiveness for sins and are re-born with a new nature or identity in Christ. His righteousness becomes ours. His life becomes ours. We are in Christ and he is in us. The cross, therefore, brutally declares that we are both truly sinners and truly justified. Our sinful nature is dealt with and our sinful actions are forgiven. This act of grace, received by faith, is the absolute starting point for dealing with the human condition. It addresses the core sinful nature issue.
Two, David also notes in Psalm 51:4 his specific sinful actions: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” David acknowledged that his sins of adultery and murder, as heinous as they were against specific people, were ultimately and most importantly sins against God. This is a reality we often overlook in human dynamics. We get so caught up in addressing the reality of sins against each other we forget that, in the end, they are sins against God. We certainly must confess one to another and forgive each other. We also confess them to God knowing our sins were dealt with at the cross and he promises that we are forgiven and will be cleansed (1 John 1:9). This addresses specific sinful actions.
Three, when we talk about and deal with of the many aspects of the human condition we cannot allow the descriptions of our condition to become mere euphemisms for sin. If we do, we run the real danger of only treating the symptoms and never addressing the core issue. I am not saying we have to be harsh, overbearing, judgmental, and full of “old fashioned hellfire and brimstone.” I am saying we need to speak truth to ourselves and others, always in love and grace, and always with an eye toward repentance and restoration.
Yes, let’s address brokenness, alienation, dysfunction, addictions, worries, fears, strained relationships, self-esteem, and so on. Yes, let’s name them, admit to them, and get to work on dealing with them. But, let’s not put an emotional or spiritual Band-aid on our deadly condition (sinful nature) or on our destructive actions (sinful actions), achieve a bit of relief, and then go our merry way till the next crisis. Until the core issue is addressed, the symptoms will only get worse.
All the presenting issues and felt needs of life are important and should be addressed. We cannot, however, allow their incessant demand for attention mask the core issue of human existence – sin. Until and unless we deal with that core and life-determining condition, all else is just treating the symptoms.