A time to kill and a time to heal…
Right after Solomon sets up his positive-negative polarities in Ecclesiastes 3.2 (born/die and plant/uproot), he flips to negative-positive in verse 3 (kill/heal and tear down/build). This can’t be a stylistic lapse—it comes too soon in a piece that indubitably demanded a great deal of thought. Thus, our consideration of this statement begins with wondering why he reverses direction. The inequities in his choice of words—“kill” vs. “hurt” and “heal” vs. “revive”—offer some indication of what he intends us to see. They lead us to think in medical terms, which we do more easily now than Solomon or his first readers did then. Given how poorly ancients understood disease, Solomon’s prescience is flat-out astonishing.
We have two options once disease enters our bodies. We introduce aggressive agents to kill it (antibiotics and chemotherapy) or we counteract it with treatments (vitamins, steroids, and chicken soup) to promote health while the illness dies on its own. Effective therapy begins by diagnosing what causes our illness. Microbes and cancers must be destroyed; viruses and colds must be survived. Despite his lack of scientific savvy, it’s possible this is what Solomon means. If so, his reversal makes total sense. Halting disease is our first line of defense, he says. If it’s immune to our regimen, attention then turns to healing.
As we journey through life’s seasons, we can’t avoid exposure to spiritual and emotional disease. While disciplined prayer and study are vital to build up resistance to new sicknesses we encounter, the sad fact is they don’t shield us from germs acquired before we decided to follow Christ. Destructive habits, compromised values, careless attitudes, and painful memories abide, leaving us vulnerable to disease. They need to be identified and treated. To discover how best to get rid of them, we run a panel of spiritual diagnostics.
It starts with evaluating issues that chronically weaken our spiritual health and growth. This can be extremely uncomfortable, because it requires total self-honesty and humility. What carries over from our past to make us sick? Are we harboring fears, desires, and prejudices that routinely emerge in stressful moments? Just as a lab technician spins down a specimen, we work back through our lives to isolate the culprit. Is it something we were taught? Is it cruelty we suffered? Is it a fantasy we conjured and still entertain? Such introspection is seldom easy or pleasant, yet it’s essential to our wellbeing. “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place,” David tells God in Psalm 51.6. If we’re not completely truthful with ourselves, we’ll never receive wisdom to properly address diseases lurking in our inner beings.
Choosing a Treatment Plan
Psalm 51 provides a good idea of what a spiritual treatment plan looks like. “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean,” David says in verse 7. Hyssop is a medicinal plant used in Biblical times as a purgative. It killed impurities that caused disease. Then, in verse 12, he says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” This is healing. Isolating the source of our symptoms enables us to choose a treatment plan based on Solomon’s kill/heal option. It sounds trickier than it really is. Most of the time, this exercise simply reveals what we’ve known or suspected all along. We know what conditions must be halted; we know what conditions must be healed. The time for both comes before germs escalate into full-blown disease that drains our spirit and cripples our capabilities to please God.
Just as a medical technician spins down a specimen, we sort through our lives to isolate germs that cause spiritual sickness and adopt appropriate methods to treat them.
(Tomorrow: Bulldozing and Building)