Ep.093: Psalm 38: Sickness and Sin.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

Psalm 38 is a psalm of lament for sin. The poet is incurably sick and says,
     My back is filled with searing pain; 
          there is no health in my body (v. 7). 
     My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds (v. 11). 

The poet points to two causes for his pain and sickness.
First, he says to God, 
     Because of your wrath 
          there is no health in my body” (v. 3).
He thinks an angry God sent sickness to teach him a lesson. He asks God to relent:
    Do not rebuke me in your anger 
        or discipline me in your wrath (v. 1). 

The poet says another cause of sickness is his own sin.  He says:
      There is no soundness in my bones because of my sin. 
    My wounds fester and are loathsome
        because of my sinful folly (vv. 3b, 4b). 

So what did cause his pain and sickness?  Was God punishing him? Was it a natural consequence of his sin? Maybe the problem was not spiritual at all. Perhaps it was an infection that needed antibiotics instead of a psalm. Perhaps it was a mental health issue that needed cognitive therapy and rest.

David Levy, a neurosurgeon for 20 years, prayed with patients before operating on their brains. When an ex-marine was preparing for complicated surgery, Dr. Levy said, “If you want every chance of healing, you also need good emotional health. Stress, anger, and resentment can have powerful negative effects on you. Bitterness is like an acid that eats its container” (Levy, David. Gray Matter. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House, 2011. pp 134). Levy asked the man if there was anyone he had not forgiven. This lead to the man forgiving an abusive parent, and asking God’s forgiveness for bitterness and resentment. Levy says, “His countenance went from stone to sunlight. There was a bounce in his step as he left” (Levy, p. 183). A week later, the six-hour operation went well. 

Of course, the problem in applying this is knowing which of our problems need medical solutions, which need spiritual solutions, and which need new thought patterns. I suspect most of our problems need all three. But who can give us an accurate diagnosis? And who can prescribe the treatment that will heal us? For many of us, it’s a lifelong journey, researching different options and trying various solutions. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we pray with the poet, 
   All our longings lie open before you, Lord, 
      Our sighing is not hidden from you ( v. 9). 

You see our deepest needs.
  – We need a relationship with a god who is not angry at us.
  – We need to lose our conviction that we are mostly right.
  – We need to see and confess our sins.
  – We need deliverance from our enemies:
        from people who hate,
        from sickness that debilitates,
        from selfishness that obstructs our vision of you.
– We need to give up our despair, self-pity, and obsessions.
– We need freedom to love you and worship you with all your people on earth.

And our sickness is complicated by sin which harms our lives and frustrates our search for health. We pray with Rabdula of Edessa, who wrote this prayer 1600 years ago: 

My thoughts confuse and cloud my mind. I am in despair because my guilt is vaster than the ocean and my sins more numerous than the waves of the sea. When I remember how I have fallen, I tremble at the thought of your justice. I dare not look upwards, because my sins reach as high as the heavens. When I look down, earth is an accusation to me, for my offences exceed the number of its inhabitants. Have pity on me, Lord. 

Van de Weyer, Robert, ed. The HarperCollins Book of Prayers.  Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 1993.  p. 298, prayer of Rabbula of Edessa, d. 435

With Psalm 38 we pray, 
     Lord, do not forsake me;
         do not be far from me, my God. 
     Come quickly to help me,
         my Lord and my Savior (vv. 21-22). 


I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.