The following post is a little different: my comments and variation on a recent Kevin DeYoung post at the Gospel Coalition blog, in which he shared his recent personal health experience including diagnosis of Celiac disease and its impact on his life.
Most of his post detailed the specifics of his experience with celiac disease, and thus the comments there, as well as discussions of it elsewhere, have focused on celiac disease, a relatively rare one that afflicts 1% of the population – about 3 million people in the U.S. Yet his concluding remarks show applicability to other unusual health conditions:
Don’t waste your weakness–if it’s true for cancer, it’s certainly true for Celiac. I don’t know what lessons the Lord is going to teach me, but I’m sure there will be plenty. I will be more sympathetic to those who struggle with chronic illnesses (often invisibly), and unless I have very good reason to think otherwise I will take them at their word that they feel as bad they say they do. I will be more quickly moved to compassion when brothers and sisters bounce from doctor to doctor not knowing what’s wrong. I will be more sensitive to “weak” people with allergies and ailments and other inconveniences (to themselves and to others). And hopefully in my own newfound weakness, I’ll learn to rely on the Lord more and lean on my own gifts less.
So it’s not a big deal and a really big deal at the same time. Over time I imagine it will slide toward the former, but right now it feels more like the latter.
My own recent health experience has been with an even rarer disorder — another chronic and usually invisible one — the last 2 ½ months with Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS). While celiac disease has received at least some notice in our society — with (as noted by Kevin) many new “gluten free” products available – most people have not even heard of MdDS, which according to this website probably only affects 0.05% of the population, perhaps 150,000 people in the U.S. Going on a cruise is the most common way to get it, but some get it from other motion experience such as riding in a car, train, or airplane; and for a few it occurs “spontaneously” from no apparent cause.
What Kevin described about continuous visits to doctors, numerous tests run, the anxiety and uncertainty, followed by the relief at finally getting a diagnosis, is equally true for those suffering from MdDS. Since I knew the cause (as it occurred immediately after the cruise), googling on the symptoms soon provided the diagnosis. (MAV — Migraine Associated Vertigo — and BPPV are other relatively rare forms of balance disorder, with different symptoms from MdDS.) Further reading, including information shared by others in online support groups (including others who acquired this after a cruise), tells of the bad experiences many have when going to doctors; most doctors don’t even know what it is, and as with other rare physical problems, lots of tests are done, which all come back as normal, no problems.
As with celiac disease, MdDS is incurable. Unlike celiac, symptoms will not go away by a mere change of diet (no matter how drastic a diet change is required for celiac). It may or may not go away on its own within a year or longer; in at least some cases, MdDS will go away for a while, then return again (either from another motion event, or sometimes spontaneously); others have MdDS continuously for years. This is truly something that must be dealt with every day, continuing to rely on God’s strength for each day. The symptoms are experienced all day, every day during waking hours; the symptoms are described here: I’m usually at a level 3 to 5, sometimes higher or lower; lack of sleep and stress make the symptoms worse, and some days are better than others. The main sensations are a “bobbing” that feels like your head is trying to float above your body, along with a “rocking” in which gravity tries to pull you down to the ground; walking at a moderate pace feels like walking on a suspension bridge; the problem goes away while in passive motion such as driving/riding in a car or riding on an elevator. Eating communion bread (what Kevin noted in reference to celiac disease) is not a problem, but standing in place during congregational singing and reading of scripture often requires holding on to a chair or pew for balance.
Back to the conclusion: don’t waste your weakness. In addition to the points noted in Kevin’s post: the serenity prayer and learning contentment by experience, are basic lessons, as well as accepting God’s providence. The following quote from a Grace Gems devotional expresses a great point.
As a wise, skilled pharmacist mixes medicine–so our heavenly Father wisely mixes exactly the right measure of bitter things and sweet, to do us good.
Too much joy would intoxicate us. Too much misery would drive us to despair.
Too much sorrow would crush us. Too much suffering would break our spirits.
Too much pleasure would ruin us. Too much defeat would discourage us.
Too much success would puff us up. Too much failure would keep us from doing anything.
Too much criticism would harden us. Too much praise would make us proud.
Our great God knows exactly what we need. By His grace, if we are His–we will bow to His Providence, accept it, and give thanks for it.
I may suppose that Celiac disease would not bother me as much as others (that I could more easily deal with a change in diet than some who especially like high-carb foods) — but it is God in His sovereignty who chooses the particular trials, that some must endure one type while others experience a different affliction.
I have also appreciated this recent Ligonier blog post, a study on the Psalms of Lament, which notes three main points of each lament-type psalm:
Crying out to God. In the laments, the psalmists begin by crying out to God. They come before God just as they are, with tears streaming. They don’t clean up the mess of their lives before seeking out their heavenly Father. God already knows what is going on in their minds and hearts, so they don’t pretend that their lives are better than they actually are. The psalmists voice the depths of their pain with vivid descriptions and adjectives: “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” (Ps. 6:6).
Asking for help. The psalmists then ask for help. They beg God to rescue them. They ask for relief from their pain. They ask for help and salvation. Whatever their needs are, they ask God to step in and provide for them: “O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!” (Ps. 71:12).
Responding in trust and praise. Throughout the laments, the writers often reference God’s character, His past acts of salvation, His power and wisdom, His love and faithfulness. As the psalmists cry out to God and remember who God is and what He has done, they end their laments with a response of trust, praise, and worship. For those of us reading these laments, it seems like an abrupt ending. We might wonder, how do the psalmists go from feeling as though their lives are ending to praising God? The laments do not take place in real time. Before writing, the psalmists have gone through a journey of wrestling with their thoughts and emotions, of crying out to God over and over, and of reminding themselves of the truth. And in so doing, they respond in trust and praise God: “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever” (Ps. 86:12).
Understanding the Christian worldview through looking at contemporary events is often helpful, providing good application of Bible truth to the “real world”– as observed from time to time in Christian blog topics. While reading a recent Spurgeon sermon, number 641 (from July 1865), I was reminded of a Pyromaniacs blog post on this same topic a few years ago: relating “real world” news events to Christian doctrine, through a look at high profile news cases of criminals and their confessions. The Pyromaniacs post considered a few issues in reference to the rape/murder confession of John Gardner III in California a few years ago. Spurgeon in 1865 included two news events of criminal cases in a sermon that contrasted the two very different confessions as “types” of two types of people in their attitude of repentance and confession before God.
The first example noted by Spurgeon is the type we usually see (how human nature is the same in every age!), the criminal that — in spite of the overwhelming evidence and strong case for the charges (and popular opinion, from following the news events, also generally affirms that the person did this crime) — puts forth the plea of “not guilty” and shows no repentance or remorse for his or her actions. Spurgeon well noted this type of confession in reference to unbelievers, the damned who refuse to repent and refuse to confess their sins before God (though as scripture tells us, one day every knee will bow and confess that Christ is Lord, and this includes the ungodly).
The second part of the sermon, about a young woman named Constance Kent, featured the relatively rare event of someone who freely confesses to a crime, with no reservations, exceptions or excuses for the deed. As Spurgeon related the story then still in progress, we can note one key difference in our criminal justice system as compared to Spurgeon’s day. At that time even criminals who confessed to a crime did not automatically get a change in sentence, a reprieve from the death penalty of hanging in the gallows — a stark contrast from the current day confession of John Gardner, where entering a guilty plea meant saving his life, accepting a life-term prison sentence instead of death row. Yet Constance’s case, as Spurgeon describes, does (and did then) bring forth sympathy from others for her honesty and willingness to suffer the consequences of her action. The full story of the crime is now available in our online encyclopedias, such as this article about Constance Kent: she was not executed after all, but served twenty years in prison, later moved to Australia, and lived to be 100 years old, dying in 1944.
Spurgeon’s focus was a point-by-point type correspondence between aspects of Constance’s confession and the repentant sinner before God. A sampling of Spurgeon’s teaching here:
though the question is repeated and time is given her to retract, her reply is still the one self-condemning word, “GUILTY!” Even so before the Lord, whenever we come to confess, we must approach Him with this cry, “Guilty. Guilty! Lord, I cannot say anything else. If hell is my eternal portion for it, I dare say no other. The stones in the streets would cry out against me if I denied my guilt. . . .
Constance Kent was anxious to free all others from the blame of her sin. … This is well spoken. I know nothing of this young woman’s heart, but using her as an illustration rather than an example, we are safe in saying that it is a very blessed sign of true repentance when the sinner cries out with David, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.” There will be, in a gracious penitent, no attempt to lay the blame upon the tempter, or upon providence; no dwelling upon circumstances, the suddenness of the temptation, or the hastiness of one’s temper. . . .
The unhappy young woman now condemned to die needed no witness to come forward to prove her guilt and assure her conviction. No one saw the deed; it was done so secretly that the most expert detectives were not able to find a satisfactory clue to the mystery. … It will never suffice for us merely to confess to the Lord what other people have seen, and to feel guilty because we know that the case is reported in the neighborhood. Many people who have fallen into sin, have felt very penitent because they knew they would damage their names, or lose their employment; but to have your private sin brought before you by conscience, and voluntarily, without any pressure but the burden of sin itself and the work of the Holy Spirit, to come before God and say, “Lord, You know in this matter I have offended, and though none saw me except Your eyes and mine; yet Your eyes might well flash with anger at me, while mine shall be wet with many a tear of penitence on account of it”—that is what you need. . . .
She confessed all. It was a solemn moment when the judge said, “I must repeat to you, that you are charged with having willfully, intentionally, and with malice killed and murdered your brother. Are you guilty or not guilty?” Yes, she was guilty, just as the judge had put it. She did not object to those words which made the case come out so black. The willfulness?—yes, she acknowledged that. The intention, the malice?—yes, all that. The killing, the murdering—was it just murder?—was it nothing less? No, nothing else. Not a word of extenuation. She acknowledges all, just as the judge puts it. She is guilty in very deed of the whole charge. Sinner, will you confess sin as God puts it? Many will confess sin after their own fashion, but will you confess it as God puts it? Are you brought to see sin as God sees it? As far as mortal eye could bear that dreadful sight, and do you confess now just what God lays at your door—that you have been His enemy, a traitor, full of evil, covered with iniquity? Will you confess that you have crucified His dear Son, and have in all ways deserved His hottest wrath and displeasure—will you plead guilty to that? If not, you shall have no pardon; but if you will do this, He is merciful and just to forgive you your sins through Jesus the great atoning sacrifice. . . .
She had not, nor had her counsel for her, a single word to say by way of excuse. … Her counsel might have said she was very young—it was hoped that her youth might plead for her. Being young, she might be readily led astray by an evil passion—might not that excuse her? It was long ago, and her confession was her own; she had brought herself there into that dock—might not this be a reason for mercy? Nothing of the kind; the judge might think so if he pleased, but there was nothing said for her about that, nor did she desire that it should be suggested. She might secretly hope, but her confession was so thorough, that there was not a single word to sully its clear stream. So, sinner, if you come before God, you must not say, “Lord, I am to be excused because of my position—I was in poverty, and I was tempted to steal.” Or, “I had been in bad company, and so I learned to blaspheme.” Or, “I had a hard employer, and so I was driven to sin to find some pleasure there.” No; if you are really penitent, you will find no reason whatever why you should have sinned, except the evil of your own heart—and that you will plead as an aggravation, not as an excuse. “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! I am, O God, before Your face, guilty; I offer no excuse, no extenuation. You must deal with me upon pure mercy, if You do save me, for justice can only award me my well-deserved doom.”
Further thoughts from continued study in the 1689 Confession series, regarding the Law of God as a unit – we cannot separate one from the rest and say that only nine are still in effect. It is a package set, not individual parts that we can “pick and choose” from.
In response to those who try to claim that Jesus’ summary statement regarding the two “greatest commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40) is NOT actually a summary of the Ten Commandments (but really something else unrelated to the Decalogue): further New Testament scripture does provide that direct connection, with Paul’s words in Romans 13:8-10, where he first mentions several of the Commandments from the second table (the 7th, the 6th, the 8th, and the 10th) to show what he has in mind, adding “and any other commandment,” are “summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The claim that all of the commandments are repeated in the New Testament “except the fourth” also does not hold up to sound hermeneutics. As noted in this lesson from the 1689 Confession exposition series:
No, the fourth commandment is not omitted in the New Testament. There are some who would say that the ten commandments are all reiterated in the New Testament, except the fourth one. You can only say that if you believe that the first four books of the New Testament are not the New Testament. You can only say that if you make Matthew, Mark, Luke and John something other than applicable to Christians today. That is impossible to do hermeneutically, because the disciples were being trained by Jesus to be WHAT? To be authoritative teachers in the New Testament church. He was laying the foundation of the New Testament church. And so the question is, why would Jesus have spent SO MUCH TIME, talking about the Sabbath day and its Pharasaical abuses, merely to say, a few months later, ‘well, guys, all that teaching I gave you was really for nought, because it’s over and done with now, there’s no such thing as the fourth commandment.’ That doesn’t make sense.
It’s like what J.C. Ryle says, it’s sort of like a person who cleans off the roof of their house, takes all that time and energy to make sure that he has a pristine roof–only to burn his house down the next day. Why would he do that? The Sabbath day IS very clearly reiterated, and taught very extensively and perhaps even more so than the others in the New Testament.
The J.C. Ryle reference comes from this J.C. Ryle article, Sabbath: A Day to Keep, a helpful resource that points to many scriptural reasons for the continuing 4th commandment, including observations from the book of Ezekiel, what I had noted from my own reading through that prophet:
I turn to the writings of the Old Testament Prophets. I find them repeatedly speaking of the breach of the Sabbath, side by side with the most heinous transgressions of the moral law (Ezek. 20:13, 16, 24; 22:8, 26). I find them speaking of it as one of the great sins which brought judgments on Israel and carried the Jews into captivity (Neh. 13:18; Jer. 17:19-27). It seems clear to me that the Sabbath, in their judgment, is something far higher than the washings and cleansings of the ceremonial law. I am utterly unable to believe, when I read their language, that the Fourth Commandment was one of the things one day to pass away.
The contrast between someone cleaning their roof and destroying their house:
I turn to the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ when He was upon earth. I cannot discover that our Savior ever let fall a word in discredit of any one of the Ten Commandments. On the contrary, I find Him declaring at the outset of His ministry, “that He came not to destroy the law but to fulfil,” and the context of the passage where He uses these words, satisfies me that He was not speaking of the ceremonial law, but the moral (Matt. 5:17). I find Him speaking of the Ten Commandments as a recognized standard of moral right and wrong: “Thou knowest the Commandments” (Mark 10:19). I find Him speaking eleven times on the subject of the Sabbath, but it is always to correct the superstitious additions which the Pharisees had made to the Law of Moses about observing it, and never to deny the holiness of the day.He no more abolishes the Sabbath, than a man destroys a house when he cleans off the moss or weeds from its roof.
Much more could be said, and has been said by others, but the above observations and references are for today’s consideration.
Continuing through the 1689 Exposition series, in chapter 19 on the Law of God, comes this lesson: a look at the different ways in which the word “law” is used in the New Testament. Our English words can have various meanings depending on the context (as for example the word “set,” many different meanings); a look at New Testament scriptures shows seven different uses/meanings of “law.”
- To refer to all of the scriptures (which at that time was the OT). Here, consider John 10:34 — Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? – Yet He quotes from a Psalm. Also Romans 3:10-21: quotations of numerous Old Testament scriptures, including several from the Psalms; then Paul refers back to these quotes: Now we know that whatever the law says. Both Christ and Paul in these texts are using the term law in its broadest sense, all of scripture.
- To refer to the Pentateuch (the books of Moses, which are not all actual laws), as seen in wording of “the Law and the Prophets.” Examples here include Luke 24:44 and Romans 3:21.
- To refer to the time period of the Old Covenant, the whole Mosaic economy. Examples here include Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3 – note Galatians 3:17-24, and references to “the law” as that time period when the law was a guardian.
- Referring to the ceremonial / sacrificial law: Hebrews 10:1 “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come”
- As the penalty of the law – similar to how we refer to a fugitive, that “the law is after him,” or “his is running from the law.” Romans 6 includes this use of the law. Per Romans 6:14 we are “not under law but under grace.” But as 1 John says, sin is lawlessness. Paul is not saying we are not “under law” in any sense, that we are lawless. The context of Romans 6 is the penalty of the law.
- The word “law” as a rule, principle, or an axiom. Romans 7 contains multiple meanings of law, and in some of these verses “law” is an axiom. Consider Romans 7:21-23: in verse 21, “So I find it to be a law” (a principle or axiom), and again in verse 23, “but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind.”
- To refer to the moral law, the Decalogue. This is seen in passages which cite one or more of the moral laws, as in Romans 3:19-21: Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Other references to the law as the moral law: Romans 7:22 (I delight in the law of God, in my inner being), also Romans 7:7-14 (reference to the commandment about not coveting), Romans 13:8-10, and Ephesians 6:1-4.