“There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation, There is no health in my bones because of my sin.”
The link between ‘sickness’ and ‘sin’ is a confusing and troubling thing.
It is true that for most of the ancient world –like David’s comments above—that link was very direct: IF you ‘sinned’ you would (or should) expect calamity; IF you experienced ‘calamity’, it was obviously due to your ‘sinfulness’.
Graciously, this line of thinking was challenged and overthrown by Jesus, both in his teaching and in his healing ministry (see John 9 for example). The bottom line seems to be this: while there may be times when the link between ‘sickness’ and ‘sinfulness’ is direct (a result of our own faulty actions), and at other times indirect (a result of our sharing in the fault of the cosmos, that is, living in a fallen world), neither our ‘sickness’ nor our ‘sinfulness’ are outside of the redeeming grace of God.
If that is true, then the question becomes, how do we deal with our sickness when it arises?
I found myself drawn to David’s reflections in Psalm 38 this morning to answer that question.
First, note that David believes firmly that his ‘sickness’ (and a dire sickness at that—“My wounds stink and fester….there is no soundness in my flesh…the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me”) due to his ‘sinfulness’; that is, it is a sign of God’s judgement on his iniquities: “There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.”
Second, even with this acknowledged direct connection, David does not find himself driven from the presence of God; instead, he finds himself drawn into that presence. Note this wondrous statement David makes in the middle of his prayer:
“O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.”
In the midst of his calamity, David receives the gift of clarity: All the trivialities of his life disappear; the one true longing of his life becomes crystal clear. Calamity does have a powerful way of focusing the mind and the spirit.
What is that longing? David goes on to describe his present reality: He is personally in deep distress (‘my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me’); his allies have deserted him (‘My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off.”), and his enemies have become emboldened (‘Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek my hurt speak of ruin and meditate treachery all day long’).
But how does this context impact David? Surprisingly, with little or no effect:
“But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear, like a mute man who does not open his mouth. I have become like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are no rebukes.”
But what has grasped David’s focus?
“But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.”
THIS is the longing of his heart. THIS is the focus of his mind and spirit.
His sickness and circumstances have stripped him down to the barest of foundations, and yet, even in that direst of places, he finds the will and the way to cry out to the One who IS his foundation.
David does go on to confess his sins (“I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin’) and ends by making his request to God for deliverance (“Do not forsake me, O LORD! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation”). However, the ‘gift’ of his ‘sickness’ (if we dare speak of it in this way) has revealed to him the ‘true longing’ of his life—his desire for and destiny in God.
Stripped down by life to our foundations, this, we discover, is the longing of all our hearts.