By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman
When I go to the doctor with an ailment, she will always ask first about my symptoms because it is from these symptoms and the subsequent examination that a diagnosis will come. She asks about my symptoms, sympathizes with my symptoms, and may even offer remedies for my symptoms, but she always looks for the deeper cause of my symptoms because the symptoms only manifest openly an unknown problem.
In 2007 into 2008 I had just come through a hard divorce, relocation, and other major disappointments that seemed to pile up on me. That’s never easy spiritually or emotionally. I was hurt; feelings rejected, and remember crying myself to sleep for months on end. I was manifesting some alarming symptoms in my body, as well. It was extremely hard for me to stay awake. I would often shut down mid-sentence and act as if nothing had happened, almost like narcolepsy. I found it very hard to drive without falling asleep. Sometimes I would nod off at stoplights. One day I rolled my car into the car in front of me when I fell asleep and took my foot off the brake pedal. Another time I fell asleep while driving and wrecked my car and damaged several others along the side of the road. Luckily no one was hurt. If I went on the freeway, I would have to stop at every rest area and nap, sometimes several hours at a time to just make it to the next rest area. It became hard to walk. At times I had no energy to do normal tasks and people were confused by my lack of focus and seeming lack of participation. When I missed my grandson’s third birthday party because of exhaustion, I decided to check myself into the hospital to see what the matter was.
When I entered the hospital it was immediately evident that something was terribly wrong. My complete blood count (CBC) was so low they wondered how I was even alive. Over the next week, I underwent blood transfusions and many tests and procedures to try and determine the unknown cause of my symptoms. I knew that on the last day of my stay when they took a bone marrow sample that I wasn’t suffering from a garden variety illness. As they took the sample from my hip, I knew I was wrestling an angel, and not a God-sent one at that. An improved diet and Geritol were not going to fix this severe anemia.
After two weeks of waiting, I was called to the local cancer center. The doctor told me the good news was that I didn’t have cancer. The bad news was that I had a bone marrow disease that was a lot like cancer. Myelofibrosis is a disorder of the bone marrow, in which the marrow is replaced by scar (fibrous) tissue. This makes the marrow unable to produce blood normally. So after a trip to the regional medical center 90 miles away where I was educated as to the treatment of my disease, I began mentally preparing for a year of my life in chaos:. a move to live near the regional medical center, Chemotherapy, blood marrow transplant, extended hospital stay, and convalescing within a minimum distance from the medical center in case of complications afterward.
I returned home from that meeting with a heavy heart. With other health concerns, I wasn’t sure I would make it through the process. So for the next four months, I received weekly blood transfusions at the local cancer center waiting for a call from the regional center that they were ready to begin the treatment process. In the middle of this scenario, I married again. Jan was such a help to me during this time and since, and spoke to me prophetically that God was going to heal me and assured me I was not going to die. There were many days, though, that I wasn’t quite as sure.
The blood transfusions were scheduled a week apart. I remember waking up on the mornings of my appointments and crying because I felt so weak. I was literally bleeding to death without a sign of it on the outside. No bullet holes, no exit wounds, no gashes, no gore; just not enough blood being produced by my fibrous marrow. Those were dark mornings. I could feel death encroaching on my space.
Just days before the regional center called to set an appointment to begin the marrow typing and matching segment of treatment, the pharmacologist at the local cancer center convinced me, after several previous attempts, to discontinue a medication I had been taking for several years. It was an astronomically high chance that the medication had brought on the Myelofibrosis, so I had been reluctant to drop a medication that had worked so well for what it was prescribed for. Within a month of discontinuing the medication, my blood count was consistently at normal levels and continues to this day. God used John, the pharmacologist, to go beneath the diagnosis to find the true cause.
Even though the cause was discovered and the disease was dismissed, the effects of the disease lingered. Although most of the symptoms went away there were still weaknesses that I had to overcome. Over time, the bulk of those weaknesses are distant memories. Now I’d like to look at my story from a spiritual standpoint.
Our society is full of symptoms: broken marriages, moral decay, abortion, and oppression of women to name just a few. What we see is manifested at the top level; they are what our society is known for. And we spend a lot of time, money, energy, and Facebook posts sympathizing with or opposing, and offering condemnation or remedy for what we call the ills of society. Much like my physical symptoms of exhaustion and disorientation exhibited in and through my body, plus the ever-escalating crises associated with it, our society is a mess and doesn’t realize why.
At a level deeper we have disease or dis-ease. Paul carefully catalogs these dis-eases in his epistles to the Galatians, using names like adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, and revellings (Gal 5:19-21). He adds a few more in other epistles. Even though some of these diseases may have the same names as some of the associated symptoms, they are indeed harbored at a deeper level. Myelofibrosis was the disease in my life that was responsible for the symptoms. It was at a deeper level, a level that only manifested in my body. It’s very important that we do not confuse the symptoms and the underlying diseases contributing to them or we spend too much energy on the symptoms and not the diseases behind them.
God identified and dealt with the underlying cause of our disease: Sin. This is different from the sins, or diseases. Sin is the cause and can only be dealt with by the Remedy, Jesus Christ. We need the power of His blood as much as I needed the power in the transfusions I received. The cause of my disease of Myelofibrosis was a pharmacological one. Once that cause was dealt with things began to change. The root cause was removed and within a very short time, my blood count returned to normal.
When we accept Jesus Christ as our savior, the Sin in our lives is dealt with. It is given the fatal blow which opens the door for regeneration at our deepest level, the spirit. We are given a new “cause.” Our new cause, administered by the Holy Spirit, is life-giving and life-affirming. The former cause was death.
Our problems, as Christians, seem to lie in the middle level of our makeup, the soul realm. Even though Sin has been dealt with, we still have to deal with the sins that continue to linger on for a season. God doesn’t expect us to do this by ourselves, because we can’t. He does, however, expect us to cooperate with Him and count those sins as dead and come under the tutelage of the new cause. The Holy Spirit that regenerates us is the same Spirit that sanctifies us. Just as we asked God to initially forgive us and we repented of our Sin, we must continue to ask forgiveness and continue to repent for our sins. The Holy Spirit will help us to recognize them for what they are (conviction) and help us to turn from them (repentance). This brings forgiveness, and a new resolve to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,” (sanctifying grace) (Heb 12:1). Thus we do gain liberty, that is, are set free from the power of sin, from glory to glory, as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18: “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” We must never think that His prevenient grace (that draws men to God even before their need is realized) is a one-time drawing to Himself. We are transformed from glory to glory because He draws us from glory to glory, continually, perpetually.
So in examining the symptoms in your own life or of those around us, we must first determine the cause that’s fueling their symptoms. If they are not saved, their cause will keep leading them to dis-ease until they yield to God’s prevenient grace and come to Him. If they are saved, they have a new cause, but may still be struggling with dis-ease as they grow in maturity. In either case, your friendship, conversation, kindness, love, and patience are agents of that grace that will help to draw them to a first surrender or subsequent surrender. Don’t just look at the symptoms. God digs deeper with us and we must dig deeper with others with a kind and loving concern.