I have been missing in action for almost a week now. It was all because of a nasty little culprit called a rotavirus, or one of his kinfolk, that is undetectable by the layperson before the nasty, explosive bodily reactions kick in. Last Sunday a group of 25 got together for dinner, 12 adults and 13 children. Gastrointestinal “disturbances” hit many of us in the ensuing days. For my wife, they began Monday evening. I believed myself spared until 1:30 A.M. Tuesday. The last one affected developed symptoms just before noon Wednesday. The fact that a recently irritated and totally empty digestive system does not take kindly to the kind of meals we would like to eat has complicated recovery.
At 7:30 A.M. Tuesday, as my stomach was in spasms trying to expel what was no longer there, I began to reflect on my body’s defensive response to the invasion of this virus. It was using every means at its disposal to get that virus, and anything contaminated by that virus, out of the body. Was there a spiritual lesson in this I wondered?
We are constantly bombarded with temptations, ideas, spirits that want to weaken and even destroy our spiritual life. The difference is that these things cannot infect our heart, our inner spiritual life, without our permission. Yet, if we would be totally honest, with ourselves and with God, we do admit many ideas or spirits without realizing their danger. What then?
Jesus recommended strong action: “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off . . . And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off . . . And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” (Mark 9:43-48). The meaning of “offend thee” would be better expressed in today’s language as “cause thee to stumble.”
I don’t believe for a moment he meant actual self-mutilation, but rather a drastic commitment on our part to not allow the members of our body to be involved in any form of sin. Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Job had come to that same conclusion many years earlier and as a result: “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1).
During my time as a missionary in Montreal twenty years ago, my fellow missionary and I had a meeting with a young man who confessed to having had an unhealthy attraction to young children. He claimed to have finally conquered that desire by castrating himself. Yet he had a burning desire to reach school children with a message about how to avoid sexual predators. As we listened, it seemed the intensity of that desire contradicted his claim of having conquered his own lustful feelings toward children. We refused to have any part in his supposed mission, which drew from him a furious rant about how we were enemies of the gospel and the work of the Lord. That experience reinforced my belief that Jesus had something else in mind than actual physical self-mutilation.
The apostle Paul admonished the church at Corinth to deal with the sin in their midst. After he heard how thoroughly they had accepted this admonition, he wrote to them a second time: “For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (2 Corinthians 7:11). These are strong words, indignation, vehement desire, revenge, yet I believe these feelings and actions were directed against the sin, not the sinner, for the apostle also wrote: “So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him” (2 Corinthians 2:7-8).
In any case, I am pretty much recovered by now, with a renewed respect for my body’s physical defence reflexes. And a renewed desire that I might have the same repugnance for sin that my body does for a virus.