Morning Musing: James 5:16

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.”‬‬ (CSB – Read the chapter)

Why do people get sick? Most folks today are going to turn toward a medical answer and stop there because it’s easier. People get sick because of a bacteria or a virus or a genetic flaw. Sometimes it’s simply bodily wear and tear. That settles most of the reasons, right? Well, that depends on the kind of answer you’re looking for. James here says there’s at least one more we need to consider. It’s really uncomfortable by itself, but its immediate context makes it even worse. 

In John 9, the apostle tells us about a time Jesus and the disciples encountered a man who had been born blind. Upon seeing him, the disciples asked Jesus a question that led directly to an object lesson played out through the man’s life. They asked him if the man’s blindness was the result of his or his parents’ sin. Jesus quickly corrected their thinking. Neither option was valid. His blindness was something allowed by God in order to increase His glory…which was about to happen. 

Now, we read that story and think, “What dummies they were to think that a physical malady like that could be the result of sin.” God isn’t vindictive. Right? I mean, if He was, none of us would have a chance. Our world would be a constantly terrifying place where we lived with the unyielding fear that God was going to get us in response to our sin. How could the disciples think something like that?

Usually from there we go to a bit of chronological snobbery: Ah, they just didn’t understand the ins and outs of modern medicine like we do, so they had to rely on their religious superstitions in order to explain something that we could explain perfectly well in strictly medical terms. It’s a good thing Jesus was around to correct their thinking and that John wrote it down so we don’t follow in the same error. 

Of course, if you dwell on it too much, Jesus’ answer is in some ways harder (God allowed him to be blind for his entire life to that point just to bring Himself glory?!?), but I don’t want to do that right now. The point is that Jesus seems to have disconnected sin and sickness. They thought sickness came as the result of sin and through Jesus (and modern medicine) we understand that it does not. 

And then James, Jesus’ brother, says what he does here. Now, we often read this verse and split it into three parts. There’s a statement about confession and a statement about healing and a statement about prayer. That certainly makes it easier to deal with. The problem is that it’s a false split. There’s just one statement here. What James says is clear, we just don’t like it so we don’t listen very closely. He says that we should confess our sins and prayer for one another so that we can be healed. Do you follow him? If confession is a precursor to physical healing (he’s not just talking about spiritual healing), then James is implying that in at least some instances, sickness is indeed the result of sin. What are we supposed to do with this? 

If you will come back with me tomorrow, we’ll see if we can’t make some sense out of this mess.

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