Read Psalm 38:1-22
Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
my bones have no soundness because of my sin.
Is sickness the result of sin? My definitive answer is, maybe!
That question has been on the minds of people for ages. And for a good portion of human history, there was a perceived connection between bad behavior and the disfavor of the local god. Even in history of the Old Testament Israelites, as well as in Christian history over the last two thousand years, the belief was that personal and corporate sin led to Divine punishment, including sickness.
It wasn’t until the last fifty years or so that we in the western world have come to the point of view that there is no spiritual-physical link between sin and sickness. And to be sure, the fact that I catch a cold, come down with the flu, or contract a disease does not imply that some egregious sin had been committed.
On the other hand, in a very real sense, all sickness is the result of sin—original sin. Romans 5:12 reminds us that because of one man’s sin—Adam—death entered the human race. And since by virtue of Adam’s sin we are all sinners—guess what? We will all experience death. And the dying process, which begins at birth, by the way, includes bouts with sickness along the way.
Having said all that, there is truth that sickness is sometimes the result of specific sin in our life. David understood that, and reading this psalm makes it pretty clear that he was associating unbearable physical pain, the symptoms of a debilitating illness, and excruciating emotional distress with the things he had done that had violated the laws of God.
I think we ought to be open to that possibility, too. I am not talking about living under a load of paralyzing guilt and spiritual paranoia—hopefully you know me well enough to realize I would never suggest that. God wants us to live in the blessed freedom of forgiveness, the delight of his unmerited favor, and incredible joy of the abundant life.
At the same time, we ought to be willing to live the examined life. We need to check in with God a lot, with trusted believers, too, and open our heart to the things that may be not only blocking the favor of God, but actively inviting his punishment. In Psalm 139:23-24, David invited the Divine searchlight to scrutinize the inner recesses of his life:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
There really is great freedom by taking such an open and honest posture before both God and man. And not only that, it may just prove to be one of the best preventions for both physical and mental illness you will ever run into.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”