‘There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation; There is no health in my bones because of my sin.’Psalm 38:3
Sin and Suffering
We must avoid erring as Job’s friends did with him in his suffering. They made a simple one-to-one correspondence between sin and suffering. Even so, we should recognize that, broadly speaking, suffering comes as a result of sin. It has been this way ever since man’s fall in the garden with Adam. As the Shorter Catechism says, ‘All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under His wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.’ (WSC, 19) There is a real relation between sin and suffering, such that, because of the first, the second is. Man sins; man therefore suffers.
The current Coronavirus becomes a real occasion, then, to ponder the Catechism’s statement and the Bible’s revelation. So here’s a useful lesson for our times: Approach sin like many are the Coronavirus. What does this mean and entail?
Concerning Sin: Practice Social Distancing
When it comes to sin, vigilantly practice ‘social distancing’.
Nowadays many businesses are closed unless deemed essential. Restaurants are closed except for take out. People are foregoing the handshake for a while. They’re keeping several feet apart from each other. Even I went to a gas station today where no one was in line – and used a blue latex glove to pump my gas. ‘Social distancing.’ Why? Because the Coronavirus is dangerous, possibly fatal to some.
Likewise sin to us all. Therefore rethink the whole matter of Law, and the holy God giving it. It is your life to keep it. Obeying the 7th and 10th Commandments will steer you clear of sexual diseases. Following the Levitical laws about leprosy with its public alert of ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ teaches a right concern for hygiene and protection. And so, sin demands us to practice a holy form of ‘social distancing’. For sure, as Paul admits, we cannot ‘go out of the world’ in avoiding sin and sinners. But even so, ‘I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people.’ (1 Cor. 5:9-10) Yes, ‘Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals.’ (1 Cor. 15:33) Look at States and communities around the world with COVID-19, and see what ‘social distancing’ measures are in place. What have you done along the lines of sin? Are you still near it? Are you careless about its infectious danger? ‘Abstain from every form of evil.’ (1 Thess. 5:22)
Concerning Sin: Fear Catching It
Likewise, when it comes to sin, fear ‘catching it’.
Pity the man who coughs or sneezes too close to someone nowadays. It is discourteous any day, but almost criminal now. Multitudes today wonder whether they will ‘catch the virus,’ – we don’t even need to reply, ‘Which one do you mean?’
But are you as concerned for sins that you see about you, that you’re near or tempted by, and what they could possibly do to you? What about that lustful thought? What about video or television entertainments? What about certain relationships with unbelievers? Jude speaks to us: ‘Have mercy on some with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.’ (23) And James says, ‘Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.’ (Jam. 1:14) So Jesus teaches us concerning sin: ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ (Matt. 6:13) Be wary of ‘catching’ the malady of sin.
Concerning Sin: Fear Dying from It
Relatedly, when it comes to sin, fear dying from it.
Fear can be a very positive motivator. Thus a woman avoids a certain man. Thus a child avoids darkness or certain animals. And so people fear contact with Corona-viral vectors. They would otherwise possibly become a victim.
‘The soul who sins will die.’ (Ezek. 18:4) Fear sin more than you do any man. ‘Fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.’ (Matt. 10:28) Which leads to another point.
Concerning Sin: Take Decisive Measures
When it comes to sin, take decisive measures.
I’m still taken by the fact that I pumped my gas today with a latex glove. We take extra measures and extra precautions in extreme cases. Americans at the local store now wear the very masks they once saw being worn in Asian countries. People have taken decisive measures.
Have you done that with sin? ‘If your hand or foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you…If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, and throw it from you.’ (Matt. 18:8, 9) Extreme measures? An extreme issue! John Owen echoed our Lord’s words when he said, solemnly, ‘Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.’ Have the President and Governors taken lackadaisical measures for their people? Are scientists, pharmaceutical companies, and physicians going on vacation before they convene to try to find a vaccine for COVID-19? No. They’ve taken decisive measures effective immediately. And so should you and I about the matter of sin.
The most decisive measure you can take about your sins is to see them, loathe them, fear them, confess them, flee them, and find refuge in Jesus Christ alone, who forgives them. The blood of Jesus Christ is the cure-all vaccine for sin in all its forms. Indeed the living Physician of that blood applied His hand and words to cripples, paralytics, the blind, and the dead. And when applied, healing came. Be decisive and sure that you go to Jesus for your matter with sin. It is the only cure for sin and death. And unlike the toilet paper aisle, it’s fully stocked on the shelves. Take as much as you need!
Concerning Sin: Prepare for a Long Haul
Finally, when it comes to sin, prepare for a ‘long haul’.
Are you prepared for certain shortages? Have you bought some extra food to have as well as share? Are you willing to have life interrupted, and be inconvenienced, for a greater end?
So too our lives now as Christians, that we prepare as if for a ‘long haul’. ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’ (Acts 14:22) Not just one, ‘many’. You may have had several troubles already. You may have many more. But the end point is worth it, is it not? The Lord will use them all to make you stronger, not so much by seeing your weakness, but by seeing His strength there in it. The Lord give you a persevering mindset, so that you can go ‘from strength to strength until each appears before God in Zion’ (Psa. 84:7).
Remember that it is better to suffer than to sin. Job understood this, though it took faith to see it so. But God showed it so, as He will with these truths.
Approach sin, then, like many are the Coronavirus.
Vigilantly practice ‘social distancing’. Fear ‘catching it’. Fear dying from it. Take decisive measures. Prepare for a ‘long haul’.
Brian Coombs, pastor of Messiah’s Church (RPCNA) in Clay, New York.