Since March, the race has been on to find a vaccine for COVID-19. Countries all over the world have tasked their best epidemiologists to find a cure to the plague amongst us. Up to this point, all that can be done is to treat the symptoms.
For many diseases and afflictions, that is our modus operandi. We treat symptoms and seek to find cures for the symptoms. Think of the billions and billions of dollars that have been spent seeking a cure for cancer. While death rates from cancer have increasingly declined, incidence of cancer has increased. Between 1950 and 1990, incident rates increased 48% across 16 types of cancers! Likewise, allergies of various types, particularly in children, have increased. A CDC study found an 18% increase in food allergies among children under 18 years of age between 1997 and 2007.
In dealing with both cancer and allergies, the main strategy is to treat the symptoms of these afflictions rather than to find the causes. Few ask the question, why the increase? What are the reasons so many kids have peanut or dairy allergies? Why are so many women suffering from breast cancer? We focus on solving the problem, not finding the underlying cause.
It is the same approach we take to societal issues. For the past few months, racism has been much the focus, and, in essence, seeking to find a cure for racism. Since Roe vs Wade, evangelicals and Catholics have been united in their efforts to cure the country of the plague of abortion. Both attempts have in common the treatment of symptoms. Strategies are developed to eliminate racism and abortion by developing new social policy enforced by law. Books are written, speeches are made, protests are carried out, and political lobbying is commenced to influence legislation. There are also many who seek to take a “softer” approach through attempts at persuasion. Many seek to have “hard conversations” around these topics in hopes of, not only changing minds, but also to lower the societal temperature around these issues.
But here’s the thing: No matter how effective is our treatment of the symptoms, or even if we are able to find some sort of cure, until we find the cause and eliminate it, the affliction will remain with us. Even if radical changes happen in social policy, it will not eliminate racism. And even if Roe vs Wade is overturned, that will not eliminate widespread abortion. For these and other societal afflictions, there is an underlying cause and unless that is addressed, the ills among us will remain no matter how much we attempt to eliminate them.
The reality is our societal problems are heart problems. Hostility between humans is not limited to the differences of skin color. In Africa, tribes have long had enmity between them, as evidenced by the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In the Middle East, hostility exists between people, not because of the color of their skin, but because of their religious differences, just as it is among many in Northern Ireland. Modernity has not resolved tribal conflict even though it is less fierce than it once was. Peace accords have had moderate success, but the underlying tensions remain. Hostility can never be eliminated unless hatred for others is removed from the heart.
With abortion, the issue is much more nuanced that most will admit. For most, the goal is to eliminate abortions, which is a very worthwhile goal. But what are the underlying causes for women seeking abortions? Poverty? Self-centeredness? Greed? Desperation? All revolve around heart issues, either within themselves or those who have helped create the situations in which they find themselves, and none of which can be solved by legislation.
The Apostle Paul had a heart problem that led him to hate, but he found the cure:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)
The evidence of his healing was his transformed life. Until his encounter with Jesus, nothing, not Jewish law or Roman law, had changed the course of his life.
In all of this, I am not saying we should not treat symptoms in order to provide some sort of relief. Various cancer therapies are extending life and that is a good thing. Social policy and legislative changes to address racism can be beneficial. And, yes, I would love to see Roe vs Wade overturned by the Supreme Court. But we must realize that all of these efforts are aimed at symptoms. If we desire real change, real transformation in our culture and the world at-large, then that can only come through Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can heal and transform hearts.
We can be passionate about a variety of social problems that we believe need to be addressed, but let us save our greatest passion for promoting the ultimate cure to the causes of these problems—our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When people truly encounter him, not an institution promoting him or a cause in his name, but him, then hearts are changed and lives transformed.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011