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Are We Treating the Symptoms, Not the Cause?

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, 
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit."

(Psalm 51: 10-12)

About a year into my marriage, I had to go into surgery for a nagging issue I’d been dealing with for quite some time. It was something I believed would naturally go away with over-the-counter drugs, but it wasn’t until I actually went to go see a doctor that I realized it was a much bigger issue. Through a season of anxiety (as this would be my first surgery ever), the Lord was good and the procedure was a success. It’s been about seven years and there hasn’t been any recurring symptoms! 

In retrospect, it was pretty foolish of me to have waited that long to do something about it. (Shout-out to my wife who lovingly pushed me into taking steps!) Perhaps I was afraid there was a bigger issue and I didn’t want to confront it. That, or I thought this was just small enough of a problem that I could simply tolerate it for the rest of my life. But despite the fact that recovery was slow and painful, I am thankful that I went through with it, and if given the need to do it again, I would.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, he presents an allegory about Heaven and Hell through the lives and choices of different people. Through their stories, we get to see different analogies of those who refuse to believe in God, have issues with idolatry, and other common struggles people have with God.

One particular chapter that has stood out to me is the one about the red lizard. Lewis presents, quite poetically, an allegory of someone going through the issue of lust (or perhaps any addiction). This man is troubled with a red lizard on his shoulder, always spouting and whispering things into his ear. 

An angel appears and offers to ‘quiet this lizard.’ The man is happy at first, but when he realizes what killing the lizard means, he begins looking for excuses. He’s afraid of the pain and the embarrassment. One minute, he’s eager to get rid of the problem, but upon realizing what it entails, he looks for every excuse and reason to not go through the actual process. Only through some gentle pushing from the angel, he relents, allowing the lizard to be killed. Then the man, himself, goes through a transformation. 

I am constantly reminded of that chapter during my counseling and mediation with others. Whether it’s issues with marriage, addictions, emotional needs, or misbehavior, a good counselor seeks to listen and walk with the person in finding the root cause. I strongly believe good counsel searches for the heart of the problem; poor counsel simply offers an ointment or band-aid to temporarily ease the pain.

Everyday, especially during this COVID-19 season, we are constantly bombarded by voices—people focusing on having their say and never listening to other sides or perspectives, causing much anger and frustration. We currently live in a society that worships intersectionality and lives under expressive individualism. Today, many care more about their own voices being heard rather than finding a solution to the problem itself! 

In times like these, my appreciation for Ecclesiastes grows—

“What has been is what will be, what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc. 1:9) 

With all the craziness that seems to be happening everyday, would you believe that none of these things are new in the eyes of the Lord? This is not even so much a statement about his omniscience, but rather the reality that mankind goes through cycles of disobedience, idolatry, arrogance, and other lifestyles that have one thing in common—wanting to be like God. People may claim it’s a new idea or movement, but the reality is, it’s happened before, and the Christian should not be surprised by such things. 

What are we observing today? Man’s attempt to solve the problem without God, like the sailors in Jonah 1! Man’s belief that the right rules, laws, and regulations will fix everything, like what Romans 7:10 and Hebrews 7:19 say! And every attempt they make is simply a band-aid to cover over something that requires heart surgery. We can debate gun-control, abortion, and yes, our response to the latest COVID-19 results for hours, but at the end of the day, the real question is this—are we treating the symptoms or the root cause of the issue? This is a question to ask during our political arguments, our current spiritual and emotional struggles, and any issue we deal with on earth. 

I won’t deny, however, that diving into the root of a problem can be hard. My surgery story is just a simple analogy of the fears and anxieties that can come from confronting the actual problem. For some, it will require us to actually stop, be silent, and delve into some painful areas we’ve been running away from for some time. For others, it may mean taking a dose of humility and realizing perhaps we were wrong all along. Maybe we thought we had the right answer but failed to share it in love (1 Cor. 13:1-3). It may mean that yes, even though others won’t participate in seeking humility, what matters more is making things right with God and being open and honest with Him and community (James 5:16).

“Man is without excuse,” the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20, but because of our sin, we choose to ignore, reject, and even rebel against the one true God. But the author of Ecclesiastes got it right in his conclusion—

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecc. 12:13). 

Let us trust in our Lord, even though there are many unknowns and the solutions may require a painful look into our hearts. But just like the man with the red lizard, when we trust the Lord, He will not just offer us soothing salves to give us temporary relief, but give us a new heart we desperately need.