Psalm 38

August 7, 2008

King David is sick. We don’t know what his sickness is specifically. We don’t even know what his specific sin was that led to his sickness. But he is convinced he is sick because he has sinned (v3, v5). He has no health in his body (v3). He is overwhelmed with guilt over his sin (v4). His flesh is covered with festering sores (v5). His back is wrenched (v6). His kidneys are aching (v7). HIs anguish is so intense he audibly moans and writhes in pain (v8). His friends and family have abandoned him in his suffering (v11) and his enemies delightfully look for opportunties to crush him in his weakness (v12).

Psalm 38 is a psalm of confession. It is also a revealing psalm about the destructive effects of sin upon our lives. King David confesses that he is physically and mentally distressed because of God’s anger over his sin (v3), his personal sin (v3) and his foolishness (v5). Does this mean that every sickness in our lives is the result of personal sin?

No. There may be many reasons for our sickness. God may allow us to be stricken with sickness, like Job, to test our love and devotion to God (Job 1:21). God may allow sickness, disease, disability or deformity to come into our lives to reveal the glory of God (see John 9:3). Sickness may come into our lives as a natural consequence of the Fall. So not all sickness comes directly as a result of personal sin.

But when sickness and suffering do come, we should not dismiss the possibility that our illness or suffering may be the result of sinful disobedience. In order to help us properly examine ourselves James Montgomery Boice offers 3 helpful questions to ask when faced with sickness and suffering.

  1. Have I sinned or gotten off the track of obdience to what I know I should be doing, and is this sickness God’s way of getting me back on track and into fellowship with him? I know that both John Piper and David King both have shared how God used mononucleosis to steer their faith back on track. My youth pastor growing up shared with me that he firmly believed he had a heart attack at 40 years old because of persistent sin in his life and God used the experience to stoke the embers of devotion to Jesus in his life.
  2. Is God using this sickness to trim off the rough edges of my personality and develop more Christ-like character in me? We should seek that God would use sickness and suffering to conform us more into the image of Jesus. Pain is a megaphone (so C.S. Lewis once said) and God often speaks loudly to show us the areas of our lives where we are not glorifying God as we should. We all have quirks in our personality, but when these quirks do not image Jesus well, we should not simply ignore them simply because we’ve convinced ourselves they define who we are. If you are a loud, obnoxious, angry person and it “just your personality” to be this person, it’s hard to justify how any of these characteristics are honoring to the transforming, redemptive properties of the gospel.
  3. Is God using my sickness as a stage in which his name and wisdom might be glorified? Has he brought sickness and suffering into my life so that I might demonstrate to the world that I love him for who he is apart from whatever material or physical benefits he may give? This one is pretty self-explanatory. God may bring sickness and suffering into your life to test your faith and reveal whether you love the Giver more than his Gifts.

Not all physical sickness is the result of sin, but when our bodies are broken-down, fatigued, and even dying, we should be reminded of the foolishness of sin. King David said, “My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness” (v5). Physically David was affected by his sin. But sin produces the same kind of infectious stench in our hearts. Charles Spurgeon said of this verse:

Some of us know what it is to stink in our own nostrils so as to loathe ourselves. Even the most filthy diseases cannot be so foul as sin. We shudder to think that so much evil lie festering deep within our nature.

When I read this, I say with the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25a). Thanks, indeed!

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