Consider the dentist’s approach. Recently my dentist examined my teeth. He chatted amiably throughout the examination. He took some x-rays. I can still see him holding his picture up to the light and saying, “There is a cavity, and there is one, and there is another. You have three cavities.” How negative can you get? He did not even mention the good teeth.
Then he prepared to stick a long needle into my gums–not a pleasant experience at all. The drilling was no picnic either. In fact, there is nothing about going to a dentist that I like. It makes me a bit anxious to think about going, and decidedly annoyed when his bill comes. But yet we all go to the dentist. We respect this man who subjects us only to discomfort. Why? Surely not because of the process. The results are what we want. He could give us medicine that would cut the pain of a decaying tooth and make us feel comfortable as long as its effect remained. But unless the dentist got to the source of the problem, the decay would continue, and someday the pain would be even worse.
Consider the physician. As he diagnoses you, he has only one basic question: “What is wrong?” This is certainly a “negative” approach!
If 99 percent of you is in good health, your doctor is interested in only the 1 percent of you that is not. If you have an infected fingernail and the rest of you is healthy, he concentrates on the fingernail. If you have a pain in your abdomen, he does not overlook the abdomen. Instead he examines it thoroughly, even if the examination brings you pain.
Why do you put up with such treatment? Because his objective is to restore your health. He eliminates pain and may save you from death by subjecting you to great pain and even the risk of your life on the operating table. It is positive to eliminate the negative. It is healthy to eliminate disease. It is good to eliminate evil. A neighbor in apparent good health went to her physician because she developed a slight pain. Investigation revealed a tumor and abdominal surgery was called for. The doctor’s announcement of what was needed not only upset the woman, but her whole family and some people in the neighborhood as well. Why would a man want to subject this fine woman to such an ordeal? Why didn’t he give her a sedative to help her forget the pain? No one would have gotten upset. But instead of prescribing a painkiller, he sent her off to a hospital, where her surgery confined her for five weeks.
Think of the effect of his diagnosis and prescription on the woman’s husband, their children, their budget. But not a single person condemned the doctor. Quite the contrary, they were all grateful to him. They were appreciative of this person who had delivered such drastic, disturbing news and who had subjected her to the pain of a knife and her husband to such great expense. He would have done her a disservice to have acted otherwise.
Another thought on this subject: The diagnosis did not depend on the notions of the physician, but on the condition of the patient’s body. He could not be guided by what the patient wanted to hear; rather he had to follow the course of his findings. How does one make the announcement of the need for major surgery a happy occasion? There is no way. The important thing is that the proper diagnosis be made and the patient be told. The patient will get over the shock of the announcement. My neighbor did. Then it was up to her whether she would submit to the prescribed treatment. She could have tried to ignore the pain, kept busy, and attempted to forget about her condition. She might have tried to kill the pain with medicine. Her other alternative was to accept surgery, which she did.
An accurate diagnosis of a physical ailment is a matter for the physician. But the patient’s future health is really his own decision.
To miss the mark of perfect health is common, but to deny that one is sick when he is, or to give up the quest for health, is foolish. Wisdom calls for trying to discover the cause of ill health, for the physician to give an accurate diagnosis despite the guilt, anxiety, or worry it might cause, and for the patient, for his own best interest, to follow through on the doctor’s advice.
Now back to the point that ministers are pressured to emphasize the “good” and the “positive” because talk of sin and the negative is upsetting and causes anxiety and worry. Of course the knowledge of sin produces such results. But the immediate comfort of a person is of little value if there is, in fact, sin in the person’s life. To diagnose sin, however disturbing it may be, is a positive act.
The minister, counselor, or friend cannot determine what the diagnosis will be. I cannot determine what my client brings to me. If there is selfishness, touchiness, irritability, stubbornness, rebellion, hate, or deceit within the person, it simply is there. I didn’t put it there, but it is my responsibility to point out its presence. This may be upsetting. But I have found no other way. I have never known a person to discover the sin that is causing his trouble by my dwelling on his good qualities. And I have never found a way of pointing out a man’s sin to him that makes him clap his hands with glee at the news. Jesus Christ emphasized this when He said of sinners: “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40).
Jesus also explained why people feel condemned and guilty: “This is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). This is why people become disturbed when they hear a minister of the Gospel preach on God’s standards for man. The Bible throws light on their conduct; it exposes their souls. The truth is often offensive.
Once, after Jesus had addressed the Pharisees, His disciples said to Him: “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matt. 15:12)
What had offended them? This is part of what the Lord told them:
Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man (Matt. 15:11).
Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile the man (Matt. 15:18).
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man (Matt. 15:19-20).
Though the words of Christ offended His listeners, their response did not change the truth He spoke. And herein lies tremendous hope. You may not be able to control what your wife or husband, father or mother, or anyone else does, and you may not be able to change your environment. But you don’t need to, because the real source of your problem is not the people around you or your environment, but you. The things that defile you come from within you. And this, in a sense, is good news because you can be changed. But you must decide whether to let God change you.