Terminal Illness

(This is a blog that I wrote in 2009. Then, as now, the subject of terminal illness has been on my mind.)

One of my best friends has cancer. He has had it for about 6-7 years. Over that time it has gotten better, then worse, then better and now worse. Each time it reoccurs the word “terminal” would be in the shadows of each conversation. My friend’s attitude over these years has been remarkable.

You see, my friend would be quick to point out we all are terminal. He would mean that in a physical and spiritual sense and of course be right. It is the spiritual sense of being terminal that we should be most concerned about. All people die physically but not all people spend eternity in spiritual death.

The world fears death of the physical sort for many reasons but really does not understand that sin is the fatal illness that causes the fear. We live in a world of mistakes, errors and poor judgments but never in a world of sinful people who sin simply because they are sinners by nature and by choice. Sin is marginalized and there is no real need for the gospel.

It is interesting to me that those of us who hold to the doctrine of total depravity (the terminal illness we are born with) can also be so blinded to our own depravity.

We’re pretty good at recognizing other’s depravity but when our own depravity is pointed out the defenses go up quicker than a politician spinning his adulterous affair. This is a form of self-righteousness that basically says, “who me a sinner” as if that is somehow an impossibility!

I’ve done it and if you are honest so have you. There is something inside of us that is so blind to our own sin that we react in horribly defensive ways. We seek to vindicate ourselves, defend ourselves, blame shift (the devil made me do it) or otherwise dodge responsibility.

The denial leads to further defensive posturing and word games that seek to camouflage what is really going on. We look in the mirror (James 1:22-25) and instead of doing the word we break the mirror!

I like what Lane and Tripp have to say in How Do People Change:

“Only when you accept the bad news of the gospel does the good news make any sense. The grace, restoration, reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, patience, power, healing, and hope of the gospel are for sinners. They are only meaningful to you if you admit you have the disease and realize it is terminal.” (pg 14, How People Change, Tripp and Lane)

We tend to define sin as bad behavior. This is why even the world of unbelievers will admit to bad judgment, errors, or mistakes being made. Some of us would likewise seek to minimize sin by admitting to bad judgment, errors or mistakes. We would do this to avoid repentance and having to admit we sinned. The defensive mechanism is strong and self-righteousness is too often the default position.

Our biggest problem as believers is that we really do not believe we are the problem. We do not see that out of the heart the mouth speaks (Mark 7:21-22). Scripture is clear; our biggest problem is our own hearts.

Change that sticks comes through the heart. The first step is admitting our own sinfulness in a specific way. The good news only really becomes the good news when we accept the bad news that our hearts are the problem.

The Cross is then our only hope. The apostle Paul put it like this:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 7:24-25a, ESV

(My friend went to be the Lord on July 31st, 2010.)