Beyond Symptoms: Getting to the root of our problems

What’s the root of your problem?

I ask because we’ve become a symptoms-focused culture. Maybe it’s always been this way, but it certainly is now. We look at a problem and gravitate toward addressing the most obvious symptoms while doing little for the disease.

I don’t have to look any further than a mirror to find a guilty party.

For instance, my wife and I adopted a couple of kittens about 14 months ago. They lived inside through their first winter, which spoiled them more than a little. They’ve been mostly outside cats since the spring and full-time outside cats since we got a new couch this summer.

Here’s the problem: Because we live in a wooded hillside area, our property is visited by any number of wild critters, including raccoons. These black-eyed bandits are fond of cat food, so they regularly make themselves at home on our back deck. One of my solutions has been to trap them (cat food makes great bait) and then release them several miles from our home. But God has provided a seemingly endless supply of raccoons in our woods, and I’m getting a bit tired of hauling them off.

The root of the problem is that raccoons will always find their way to this free and easy food source. The best solution, of course, is to limit their food supply by not leaving cat food outside after dark. It’s a hassle to remember, but much less of a hassle than becoming a taxi service for the area’s raccoon population.

Maybe we treat the symptoms because we don’t know of a cure for the disease. I can’t eradicate all raccoons or change their desire for cat food. Despite advances in modern medicine, doctors often can’t do much more than address the symptoms of our ailments. Or, maybe we know the cure — which is sometimes true in medicine — but we find it easier or more convenient to treat the symptoms and just live with the disease. That’s why we wear clothes that make us look a little thinner rather than eating healthy food and exercising. Or, maybe we focus on the symptom because it gives the appearance of progress. Perception is better than reality.

For the world to really get better, however, each of us needs to do the hard work of addressing the true root of our problems: We’re sinners.

We can mask that reality and find all sorts of ways to justify it or explain it away, but the truth of it will always gnaw at us and prevent us from living as we’re called to live.

How do we treat this disease? We call on the Great Physician and then follow His prescriptions. Only God can take away our sins. He’ll do it if we ask, but we still have to live as fallen creatures until He brings us home. In the meantime, we can treat our disease through obedience to Him. That includes disciplines like prayer, the study of His Word, fellowship and worship with other believers, and submission to His authority over every aspect of our lives.

Those things aren’t easy, but they are essential to our spiritual health.

Treating the symptoms of our spiritual illness isn’t a bad thing, it’s just incomplete. We don’t have to do one or the other; we can address both at the same time. But if we never address the root of the problem, we’ll spend the rest of our lives treating symptoms that only get worse over time.

Theology lessons from my coffee mug

Who Broke My Coffee Mug … And will God Restore it?

I was definitely ill and perhaps a bit delusional as I pondered two deep theological issues: One about heaven and one about blame.

It had been a rough day. As I mentioned, I was sick. And to make matters worse, I experienced an unexpected loss. As I unloaded our dishwasher that morning, my favorite Arkansas Razorbacks coffee mug fell from the cabinet shelf, shattered on the counter, and sent pieces large and small across the kitchen.

Audrey and I found this Razorback in Siena, Italy …

This led to my first theological pondering: Since we know that God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5), will I get a renewed Razorbacks mug in heaven?

I’m mourning the loss of my mug. I’d like to think God will make it whole again the way He restored my shattered life.

Then again, who can fathom the majesty of heaven? So I decided some research was in order. I Googled up an article by John Piper on this subject, and he mentions four ways God makes things new. One is “the new creation,” but – shockingly – he doesn’t address if that includes an Arkansas Razorbacks coffee mug. So for now, I’ll take comfort in the reality that I’ll either see my restored mug in heaven or something so much better that I’ll not even remember it.

My second theological issue centered on who/what broke the mug. You know, who is to blame?

I was putting other mugs into the cabinet when, weaken and delusional due to my illness, my normal near-perfect coordination went askew, causing me to nudge my Razorbacks mug off the shelf. So, obviously I didn’t break it – it didn’t break until it hit the counter; thus the counter broke it. Furthermore, any role I played should be absolved by the fact that I was, as they say, not my right self. Clearly the world owes me a new mug!

I was joking with myself, of course. But I also know that most of us are regularly guilty of blame shifting. Look around. Better yet, look in the mirror. Notice how often you make a mistake and explain it with a passive-voice sentence instead of an active-voice sentence.

Passive voice: The mug fell and broke.

Active voice: I broke the mug.

So here’s my reminder, to my delusional self, as well as to anyone else it might help: Take responsibility for your mistakes, seek forgiveness, walk in that forgiveness. Jesus can restore your shattered life. Stop worrying about broken coffee mugs. And, oh, yeah, and be more careful when you’re unloading the dishwasher!

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