“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” — Isaiah 1:16-18 (ESV)
When you think of “sin,” what definitions come to mind?
Wrong behaviors? Breaking God’s rules? “Missing the mark?” Being guilty? Being separated from God or out of his favor?
Any of these answers captures something true. But one way of looking at sin that I find helpful is to see it as a kind of sickness.
Sin is a corruption that has spread through all humanity. It is a condition that requires healing.
This perspective is especially emphasized within Eastern Christianity, and I think it has value for us Westerners, who tend more often to view sin only in legal categories.
Seeing our sinfulness as spiritual sickness ought to help us view people who sin — including ourselves — with a bit more compassion and empathy and less indignation. It certainly helps me do so. I don’t beat up a sick person for being sick.
Yes, unlike symptoms of illness, our sins are both condition and decision. But even as it remains true that we are responsible for selfish and immoral choices we make, still we must remember that our nature is broken.
We need healing. We need to be washed. We need a Great Physician. And we need to be patient with the healing process.
Today begins Lent, the forty-day journey toward Easter. In Lent we are invited to remember our Great Physician, Jesus, “setting his face toward Jerusalem,” willingly marching toward his looming crucifixion, preparing to give himself as the atoning death that would bring healing to humanity. Again we are invited to fix our eyes on his cross, and to take up our own.
And Lent is just that: an invitation. It is not a command. We do not have to observe forty days of fasting and self-denial. Lent is not a law.
Lent is a gift in the same way that, paradoxically, sometimes having to take a sick day off from work or school can be a gift.
Like it or not, you gain a sudden and needed reminder of how frail our mortal bodies are. You’re made to slow down. Your body gets a reprieve from the usual junk you feed it. You realize your dependence on others. And — if you’re smart! — you rest, and (Lord willing) you heal.
I hate being sick. But at the same time, oddly enough, I always find myself grateful for sick days and the chance to “reset.”
Much like the paradox of Christ bringing life through his death, there is great blessing offered in the call to slow down and lay aside some of our comforts for a time. The call of Lent is the call to remember our sin-sickness and its remedy.
If we choose to take advantage of the call of Lent, we must resist the temptation to wallow in guilt or be morbidly introspective. Rather, we should treat Lent as a kind of spiritual “convalescing period.” We’re giving our bodies and souls a reset, not beating them up more.
Cut things out to free up space to rest. Fill your time with things that make for the health of the soul and you will find that you have less time for unhealthy things anyway.
After all, we do not cure sickness with shame or self-effort. We cure it with love.
We cure it by accepting the invitation of the Great Physician that we hear in Isaiah 1: “Come, allow me to wash you. Lay aside the harmful toxins of your greed, selfishness, and blindness to the needs of others and the injustices around you. Let’s reason together — allow me to counsel you like a wise doctor. My methods can make you well, if you’ll follow them.”
Will you join me in following his prescription this Lent?
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