Treating Symptoms

Like most people in Middle Tennessee, I have seasonal allergies. The Cumberland River valley makes sure none of the allergens escape from the area but settle on every surface left in the open air. After living here for almost 30 years, I can almost write on my calendar when I will get my sinus infections. I will get one in October, and I will get one sometime in March or April, depending on when spring shows up.

I know the symptoms. Red eyes, stopped up nose, general lack of energy, and if it’s a bad one, I may have a slight fever. I even know what medications work. All I need is for my doctor to call the pharmacy and prescribe the medicines -- the same medicine he prescribes every year!

But I know his answer before I call. “Come on in and see me,” he’ll say. I’ll protest. I don’t have time. I’m too busy. It’s the same thing I have every year.

And I’ll lose the argument. I’ll make an appointment, drive over to his office, where he’ll listen to my lungs, look up my nose, in my ears and down my throat. He’ll then fold his stethoscope, put it in his lab coat pocket, check the lymph nodes in my neck, and then he’ll say, “I think you have a sinus infection.” He’ll ask which pharmacy I want him to call to send in the prescriptions.

And it will be the same medicine he called in last time..

What’s more, it will be the same way the next time I have a sinus infection!

When I ask him why we have to keep going through this same routine, he’ll look at me and say flatly, “I don’t treat symptoms.” Then, he’ll go through a long list of illnesses and diseases that first manifest themselves in symptoms that look a lot like a sinus infection. When he gets finished listing all that could have been wrong with me, I leave his office thanking God all I have is a sinus infection.

My doctor wants to be sure he’s treating the illness that’s causing my symptoms. What he doesn’t want to do is treat my symptoms and miss a different illness that could have life-altering consequences. If you treat the illness, the symptoms go away. If you treat the symptoms, you may or may not deal with the illness.

As we try to be the church in our post-everything America, the church could learn a thing or two from my doctor. Mainly, we need to be sure we’re treating the illness and not just the symptoms.

Most of us would readily agree our world is a mess. Each of us could quickly start a list of things that need to be changed. Our lists would be remarkably the same. Racism, poverty, climate change, unrest in our cities, unemployment, a broken education system, a seemingly rigged economic system that favors a wealthy handful -- and those are just off the top of my head. I’m sure if we got focused, we could come up with several pages of ills, evils, and failures.

Then, all of us would throw out answers of what needs to be done in our communities to save them from whatever power of darkness we’ve named. We would know what to do. Schools need more money, so raise taxes. There needs to be more jobs, so cut taxes. Again, our lists would be long and detailed, quite thoughtful and impressively documented. We could fix things if the powers that be would just let us.

And we would treat symptoms, not the disease. We would set up food banks, but our people would still be hungry. We would set up housing developments and champion low-cost housing, and our people would still be homeless. We’ll write books and hold workshops, and our families will still struggle.

We can treat every symptom, and our people will still be ill. We won’t have treated the illness.

Several years ago, I heard a medical missionary talk about treating a young man with malformed legs and feet. After several operations and a year of therapy, the young man was able to walk normally. The missionary went to great lengths to describe how miraculous the healing process had been.

The missionary then stopped and said, “Do you want to know where that young man is now? He’s doing double life in prison for a murder in a drug deal that went bad. We spent so much time teaching that young man HOW to walk we never told him WHERE to walk!”

You can’t pass enough laws to end racism. That only happens when a person knows they are loved so deeply by Christ they can love their neighbor without needing anything in return.

You can’t fix education without fixing the family, and you can’t pass enough laws to make a father love his children or a mother and father love each other and their children. That takes a work of God.

I’m not saying we don’t set up homeless shelters, food banks, counseling centers, rehab facilities or stop building homes for those who can’t afford them.

I am saying don’t expect any real healing to come when we only treat the symptoms. Our world is very, very sick, and Jesus is the only cure. So, the next time you are talking to a friend who needs help, don’t forget to tell them about the Savior who sent you.