I had gone 40 years without ever having the flu.
I had this unbelievably great healthy track record of not getting the flu until this year. My wife and I had spent a Saturday afternoon in early January installing a new back splash at my mother-in-law’s house. Our little remodeling project prompted the little arguments and multiple trips to the local hardware store common to most projects we work on together. As we were finishing up, a creeping achiness began to overtake me and when the project was complete, I sat on the floor in the kitchen leaning against the hard cabinet assuming I was just tired. Nope. The flu was just beginning to settle in. My wife and I headed home and within two hours we both were wrapped up in blankets, shivering, coughing, and feverish. With three boys it is hard enough when one of us is sick, but this scenario was worse; we were both sick, with the flu, at the exact same time.
For the next couple of days I wandered around the house like a nomad. Wrapped up in an old bedspread, covering my sickness-attire of sweat pants, wool socks, hoodie, and faded Kansas City Chiefs hat. I would meander to the kitchen to get a drink, trying to keep the fluids going, and then would slowly find my way back to the couch in the living room where my feverish body, lethargic and lifeless, found a temporary home. We were both miserable. It felt like warm death. We attended to the kids the best we could, but for a couple days we laid around zombie-like, energyless shells of former ourselves.
We were truly less than human. We returned to health after a few days and within a week or so our energy levels returned and we felt like ourselves again. At one point while I sat in my bed-spread cocoon, praying for my fever to break, I had a thought: having the flu is like suffering the effects of sin.
The flu, as with all sickness and disease, belongs to the dark world of death. Jesus has come to give us life, eternal life, abundant life. Jesus died for our sins, not merely because God has a giant scorecard next to his throne and every sinful human thought, word, and deed is recorded in our ledgers and we need the negative points on our scorecard erased. Certainly this metaphor has its place in our understand of sin, but it may not be the most helpful. Jesus died for our sins, because sin is a sickness of the human soul. Sin has corrupted all of God’s good creation including humanity. Sin has infected us, all of us, and as a result we are less than human. In this view we have not inherited the guilt of Adam as sin slithered its way in our story in Genesis 3. Rather we have inherited the sickness of Adam on display in humanity’s disobedience in Genesis 3, documented in Cain killing Abel in Genesis 4, demonstrated with the increased corruption and violence in Genesis 6, and culminating in humanity’s misguided attempt to make a name for themselves without God in Genesis 11. The “fall” of humanity, described vividly in Genesis 3-11, was not so much a fall from God’s good graces, as it was a fall from God’s good design for humanity.
The sickness of sin has infected us all. This sickness has twisted and perverted us, so that outside of Christ we are subhuman. When we hurt one another, when we mistreat one another, or commit acts of exploitation, injustice, or idolatry, we are not being “just human.” All too often after people make a mistake, they excuse their misdeed, by saying, “I’m only human.” No! When we act out of our sickness and lie or harm or steal or exploit we are not “being human;” we are being subhuman.
We have all grown up in and among subhumans and have wrongly assumed that moral failure at any level is an integral human trait. It is not. Living out of our human sickness of sin is to be dead.
Paul writes to the Ephesians with these words: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5 ESV) By dead, he doesn’t mean we are literally incapable of doing anything morally acceptable, but that we are hampered by death much like when my wife and I were sick with the flu. I was able to move about the house and do a few things but not much!
To be truly human requires that we are saved (cured) from the human sickness of sin. Jesus is the healer. Our responsibility is to make regular visits to the office of the Great Physician, allowing Jesus, in reflection of the nature and heart of the Father, to continue, by the Spirit, to heal us and make us like him. We confess our sins to God and one another and we find the cure to our sickness. We worship and come to the table of the Lord and we find more of the cure. We pray and grow in our awareness of the ways of Jesus and we are saved. This life-long pursuit of healing is the mercy of God. Humanity created in the image of God is sick and God does not stand a far off. He comes to us with the cure.
He comes so we can be fully and truly human.
—[Photo by Erich Ferdinand, CC via Flickr]