Did David really write a Psalm asking: Is there a relationship between sin and illness? No. And yet, it’s a question that comes up from Psalm 6. Too often, we behave like Job’s friends, even though God told them Job was right and they were wrong. So what’s happening here?
Psalm 6 For the director of music. With stringed instruments. According to sheminith. A psalm of David. Ps 6:1 O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Ps 6:2 Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. Ps 6:3 My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long? Ps 6:4 Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. Ps 6:5 No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave ? Ps 6:6 I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. Ps 6:7 My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. Ps 6:8 Away from me, all you who do evil, for the LORD has heard my weeping. Ps 6:9 The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer. Ps 6:10 All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.
Is there a relationship between sin and illness ?
Why is this question a big deal? And why does it sometimes cause problems? And maybe even lead to death?
If illness is always cause by sin, then repentance is called for.
If not, then wisdom is called for. For starters, wisdom to look at ourselves and try to make a determination of why we’re sick.
But even after we do that, what comes next?
Can we just pray and wait for God to answer/heal like David did?
After all, medical knowledge was very crude, at best, in David’s time. We have advanced so much with the knowledge we now have in medicine. And that knowledge continues to get more and more advanced.
So what does that do to any possible relationship between sin and illness?
Here’s some background on Psalm 6. It’s a longer than usual. But then, the relationship, if it exists, between sin and illness is complex.
Psalm 6 is the first of the penitential psalms, that is, psalms in which the author confesses his sin and asks God for his mercy and forgiveness. The other penitential psalms are Psalms 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143, the best known being Psalm 51, titled “A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” It was the custom in the early church to sing these psalms on Ash Wednesday.
But there is a question about how to classify this psalm accurately. I have called it “a psalm of repentance,” following the tradition of the early church and what I suppose to be the majority of the commentators. But others—P. C. Craigie is one—see it as “a prayer in sickness.” In defense of this alternate view, it is worth noting that the psalm contains no explicit confession of sin and no explicit repentance. In this respect it is very different from Psalm 51, which is quite explicit in acknowledging the author’s “sins,” “iniquity,” and “transgressions” and in asking for cleansing from sin and for spiritual renewal. On the other hand, Psalm 6 does not sound like it is dealing with sickness so much as with grief over wrong done. We can understand the psalmist’s physical problems as the outworking of his spiritual grief, but it is hard to understand the petition “do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath” if sickness was his only problem.
Probably a sense of sin, though unspecified, is basic, and the physical afflictions flowed from it, the result being what the old writers called “the dark night of the soul.”
If you have been through such a dark night, you will know exactly what that phrase means and will readily identify with David as he gives expression to his feelings. 1
Where does the question of sin and illness come from?
Let’s look at a few verses from the psalm.
Ps 6:1 O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Ps 6:2 Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony.
Ps 6:3 My soul is in anguish.
How long, O LORD, how long?
Ps 6:4 Turn, O LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
We need to be careful with this, but sometimes what the Bible doesn’t say is just as important as what it doesn’t say.
Here’s what appears to be happening. David dies the following things:
- starts by acknowledging that God is angry with him. But why?
- asks to not be criticized or disciplined by God in His anger
- asks for mercy because he is weak
- asks for healing, because he’s troubles tohis bones (not that they hurt, but showing the depth of his agony)
- acknowledges that his soul is in agony/disturbed/anxious
- asks how long this willcontinue
- asks for deliverance
- ends by acknowledging God’s unfailing love.
Is this Psalm from sin, illness, or what?
Remember this part of the excerpt above describing this Psalm.
In defense of this alternate view, it is worth noting that the psalm contains no explicit confession of sin and no explicit repentance. In this respect it is very different from Psalm 51, which is quite explicit in acknowledging the author’s “sins,” “iniquity,” and “transgressions” and in asking for cleansing from sin and for spiritual renewal. On the other hand, Psalm 6 does not sound like it is dealing with sickness so much as with grief over wrong done. We can understand the psalmist’s physical problems as the outworking of his spiritual grief, but it is hard to understand the petition “do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath” if sickness was his only problem.
The author presents an analysis of this Psalm being about illness, or about sin.
And then he looks at the way I view the Psalm:
Probably a sense of sin, though unspecified, is basic, and the physical afflictions flowed from it, the result being what the old writers called “the dark night of the soul.”
If you have been through such a dark night, you will know exactly what that phrase means and will readily identify with David as he gives expression to his feelings.
I have felt like that. I dare say, many of you have as well.
You wonder, what did I do to deserve this? Hopefully we ask, rather than yell at God. I’m much more on the asking side now. Finally.
What about Job?
And yet, as Christians, we know perfectly well that illness isn’t always caused by sin. Look at Job.
Job’s First Test
Job 1:6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”
Job 1:8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
Job 1:9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
Job 1:12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
And it just got worse from there. But Job didn’t do anything wrong.
Is illness a trial, like what James referred to?
And remember what James wrote.
Trials and Temptations
Jas 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
What if sickness is one of those trials? Do we just pray and wait until God heals us?
Or is illness just something that happened?
Much more so than in David’s time, we know that some illness just spreads around because some things, like COVID, are contagious. On other words, stuff happens. It’s got nothing to do with sin. Nothing to do, not for certain, from a trial. It just happens as part of this fallen world we live in.
Pray to God for healing and just wait?
Am I saying to pray to God, like David did, and then just wait to see when, or if, He heals us? Of course not!
Do you remember the image towards the beginning? It’s an operating room. A place I’ve been four times in the last 5 or 6 years. Not because I sinned, as far as I know, but because things happen as we get older. The body ages. And our bodies aren’t perfect.
Although, having said that, I do believe the third time was used by God. Maybe even from Him? I don’t know. But it did prepare me for the cancer I now have.
But my point is this. Either way, from God, used by God, nothing to do with God, we do have modern medical science. Knowledge on on caring for and healing our bodies. Knowledge that comes from God. Of course, non-Christians are likely to deny that.
The bigger issue though, I feel, is when Christians don’t acknowledge it. And shy away from it, because they think God will heal. But isn’t it possible that God did provide healing for us by way of the medical profession and all the science that drives what they do?
Didn’t God create science?
God provides knowledge to us
Let’s go back to the Old Testament to look at some knowledge God gave to His people.
Bezalel and Oholiab
35:30-35 pp — Ex 31:2-6
Ex 35:30 Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 31 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts— 32 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 33 to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. 34 And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. 35 He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them master craftsmen and designers. 1 So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the LORD has commanded.”
Ex 36:2 Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. 3 They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. 4 So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left their work 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done.”
Ex 36:6 Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, 7 because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.
What does that have to do with anything about illness, sin, or knowledge? Well, this passage is about, among other things, God giving knowledge to people about how to properly build the Tabernacle in Exodus. Yes, it seems primitive to us today. But back then, it was like Structural Engineering 101. And the teacher was God.
Fast forward to today, with some consideration for what we’ve learned since then, and we should see God not only as the Creator but also as the ultimate Teacher.
If our bodies are God’s temple, why wouldn’t He teach us about them?
Given that, why should we ignore the things God has taught is about ourselves? It’s even more odd to ignore God’s teaching about our bodies when we consider that today, our bodies are the temple.
Let’s look at that idea. See where it comes from.
The first Temple was the one built by Solomon.
The sscond was built after the exile, but God’s Spirit never resided in it.
The third, in a very real sense, was Jesus’ body, as we read below.
Jesus Clears the Temple – John
2:14-16 pp — Mt 21:12, 13; Mk 11:15-17; Lk 19:45, 46
Jn 2:12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.
Jn 2:13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
Jn 2:17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Jn 2:18 Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
Jn 2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
Jn 2:20 The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
Jn 2:23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. 25 He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.
So, we see Jesus referring to Himself as the Temple.
And remember what happens when we get baptized, and what the means for us related to God’s temple.
It’s interesting that this important thought is almost buried in a section about divisions in the church. And yet, here it is, underlined in the passage below.
On Divisions in the Church
1Co 3:1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
1Co 3:5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
1Co 3:10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
1Co 3:16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
1Co 3:18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
Conclusion – Is there a relationship between sin and illness?
After all that, the question remains. Is there a relationship between sin and illness? And my answer? Maybe. Maybe not. And as we learned from God’s answer to Job, it’s not really important that we know. After all, who are we to question God?
But that doesn’t leave us without an answer to the question of what do we do about illness?
By all means, pray. Pray for healing. Pray for God to tell us if our illness does come from sin. But then, whether or not it does, pray for care and maybe healing from those who have the God-given knowledge on how to treat illnesses.
Are those people, doctors, nurses, and others, all Christians? No. Is all medical knowledge, regardless of the source, reliable? No, after all, this is a fallen world with fallen people.
And yet, that’s not a reason to ignore any piece of knowledge that God provides to us. We just need to use what Christians call discernment and try to use that knowledge wisely.
Image by Zahid H Javali from Pixabay
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