The symptoms don’t always tell the whole story

My wife and I have recently been watching House on Netlfix. House, if you don’t know, is a series about an obnoxious, yet brilliant, doctor (Dr. House) who leads a diagnostics team at Princeton–Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Every episode follows pretty much the same routine; patient comes into hospital, everyone thinks it is one thing, House thinks it is something else, patient gets worse, House proves he is right (as well as arrogant and mean) and patient goes home healthy. I wouldn’t rave about the show but it is a fun watch — especially if you find that sort of ‘problem solving’ entertaining.

The one thing I have learnt from watching House is that the body is an incredibly complex thing and sometimes we just won’t understand why it is doing something. This thought was brought to my attention when I went to see the Dr. responsible for the multiple pain injections I have had into my back. It went like this:

I have felt a marked improvement in my back over the past two months or so. I have been able to reduce my medication, I stand far straighter and have an increased capacity. I was due a check up with (let’s call him) Dr. A, so went in happy to report improvement. When asked what I wanted to do next I said I’d kinda like another MRI so that I can see what is happening in my body. What has changed? Why am I feeling better? Is the bulge gone?

His response; ‘who cares?’

The reality was that the bulge could be gone. It could still be there and the nerves have just become used to the pressure and are no longer irritated. It is in fact possible that the actual bulge didn’t cause the pain in the first place but rather, when my disc herniated, chemicals released are what caused the nerve reaction… His profound observation was that seeing the MRI told us there was a bulge and we then assumed that was the root of all the issues — because that is what we saw. But the body isn’t always that black and white. (Having a bulge in your disc is actually pretty common for men my age and many have them and live without any knowledge or impact on their lives.)

Just as in House, the first symptoms we see cause us to diagnose the issue but sometimes the obvious manifestations are only a result of a deeper issue.

Here is an example: a man is worried about his future — how will he ever afford to buy a house, provide for a family? The immediate reaction may be to pray for peace, encourage faith, perhaps ensure he is walking in God’s blessing by tithing, giving, being a good steward — all good things. However perhaps the greater issue is his lack of belief — I’m talking foundational, deep down in the soil of your heart — that God is good and that He is his provider and will never fail Him. While praying for peace and provision will band aid the issue, the next time a job is lost or a large bill arrives the same reaction will happen again — fear, panic, anxiety. But treat the root cause — a revelation of who God is, that he takes care of His children — and the man can stand firm in the face of the storm.

I believe that in every situation — no matter the size of the impact — God the Father is Himself the answer, the cure, to everything.

There are times when House has to medicate the symptoms — essentially, keep the patient alive until the root issue is uncovered. There are times the obvious symptoms need immediate attention. Throw away the alcohol if you drink to much, get a site blocker if you look at too much, get a diet plan if you eat too much…. Removing the symptoms, removing the inflammation, provides an opportunity for the root issue to be treated — for healing to take place.

I had symptoms — a hefty amount of pain, distorted posture, sleeplessness etc. Now, I can sleep, I walk mostly pain free and stand far straighter. With the pain removed I am able to restore my posture, strengthen my core, release the tension in my back. The worst of the symptoms are under control and a proper healing can happen.

As Christians we are often quick to judge the symptoms — if you look at porn you are a perv, if you eat too much you are a glutton, if you drink to much you are a drunkard… I believe Jesus on the other hand is focused on the source — the root of the issue. Our heart.

Jesus, known as the great physician, said in Luke 5:31–32 — “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus didn’t come to fix or judge our sickness — be it physical or personal — but he came to save our hearts. He came to fix the root issues — our lack of intimacy with God the Father. This is where all treatment begins and ends — Alpha — Omega.

As a final thought, if Jesus is the great physician — an even better doctor than House — then we, His people, are perhaps a little like nurses. When you have illness, pain or discomfort, you go have it checked out — you bring it into the light. In James we are encouraged to ‘confess [y]our sins to each other and pray for each other so that we [you] may be healed.’

We are given each other to aid and support us in our healing and strengthening. What good would we be if we only pointed out the sickness of others? What good would it be if, out of fear, no one was bold enough to ask for the great doctor’s help? If we breed a culture of openness we will breed a culture of healing. We are all sick, we are all in need of the great physician. But this is not a bad thing — in fact this is a good thing because that means we need Jesus and Jesus said we are the ones He came for.

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