All of the perfect doctors are here; now lets talk about your sin!

All of the perfect doctors are here; now let's talk about your sin!

Our church recently had a youth retreat weekend focused on sexual purity and integrity.  It was a powerful time.  We used it to teach them that sex is a divine gift, wonderful and powerful; that it has its appropriate uses and its frequent misuses.  We discussed the way society twists sexuality and uses/abuses men and women sexually.

We also used our time to equip the  young people against future struggles and teach them that, as believers, they are forgiven for their sins past, present and future.  To emphasize the fact that, whatever they may have done, they do not need to run away or avoid God or other believers.  And the most powerful thing we did was this:  we adults, who were the leaders, talked about our past mistakes.

It’s always fun to discuss the sins of others, right?   It’s especially hard to discuss our own sin when our kids are in the audience!  Talk about an ‘ouch’ moment!

But the great power of doing it is that teens can see that we are all tempted, all tried, and all fail.  In essence, it confirms what we preach but don’t always believe.  That is, as in Romans 3:10,  ‘ As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one…’  Or, put another way, in Romans 3:23, ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’

We talk a lot about sin and forgiveness, but we often do it while standing solidly atop a fake, white evangelical throne that seems to suggest that we believe our sins would be forgiven… if we had any!  When we do that, in word or demeanor, we lie.  As John said, ‘if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’  1 John 1: 8

This false holiness is devastating to young people, who are often more honest and more vulnerable about their own lives.  They see this lie we put on, this reticence to embrace our failures, our weakness, our sinfulness, and they say, ‘well, I’ll never be that good.’  Then they wander off, convinced of their permanent wickedness .   Sometimes, they find more forgiveness in the secular world than they do in the church.  God forgive us!

Of course, a similar thing happens in medicine.  We don’t admit our mistakes to one another.  We love to ‘arm-chair quarterback.’  We condemn everyone else, forgetting our own stupidity, our own error, our own malpractice.  Kind of like those morbidity and mortality conferences we’ve all attended, thankful whenever we weren’t the one being pilloried.  It’s equally hard to discuss our own sin, which is far more morbid and is (theologically speaking) the very cause of our mortality!

We’re often Type A personalities.  We’re used to working towards goals and seeing those goals come to fruition.  We hate the idea of failure.  I remember getting B’s on tests in my pre-med course of study, and acting like the world was ending.  It’s not healthy, but as physicians it’s often our ‘phenotype.’  It’s how we are.

So perhaps, on some next level, we equate our mistakes wickedness, or failure or frank incompetence.  We Christians even equate our mistakes with sin! We expect perfection in our work, so imperfection or obvious mistakes make us believe we are unworthy, as we tie our successes to our innate value in a devastating professional/spiritual heresy.

The temple of medicine is a stern place, and the worship of medicine is a religion of works, not grace.  All too often, doctors don’t forgive, patients don’t forgive, families of patients don’t forgive, and lawyers or government officials forgive only when the settlement check has cleared!

Good News!  We all make mistakes.  A short list of mine would take up a lot of blog-posts.  Every physician, every person, I have ever known has a footlocker full of bad decisions, stupid words, wicked actions, secret sins (my wife calls them ‘pet sins’).  My colleagues, though they may appear infallible, make errors in judgment.  Not because they’re bad, but because they’re human, and working in a very difficult profession where answers can be elusive and mistakes significant.

More good news!  Mistakes, though they can be sinful, are usually just mistakes.  Missing a diagnosis, that is, is not a mistake.  Even causing injury to a patient through a therapeutic error is not a sin unless you somehow did it with the intent of causing harm!

Committing adultery is a mistake, but also a sin.  Neglecting your children is a mistake, and also a sin.  Cursing the staff is a mistake, and also a sin.

Even more good news.  God knew you would make mistakes.  Furthermore, God knew you would sin.  He loves you despite, and in full knowledge of, your temporal errors and your personal sins.

Mistakes don’t need God’s forgiveness; but he offers his solace, and can turn our worst days and most egregious errors to his eternal good.

Sins, on the other hand, do need forgiveness.  And it is available to all who desire it; to all who seek God in truth, and are willing to accept the grace offered in the atoning sacrifice of Christ.  1 John 1:9 says ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’  One of my very favorite verses in the Bible!

Life is hard.  When we care deeply about our work and responsibilities, it can be a great burden to carry an error, or a sin, on our backs.  God does not desire that for us.  And it makes us miserable professionals.  I suspect that many unhappy physicians are cruel and judgmental because they’re hoping to find someone else whose sin is greater by comparison than the one they bear on their own backs.

We, who trust Christ, can bear a lighter yoke.   In Matthew 11:  29-30 we read, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

We can cast off the belief that our worth has to do with being, or pretending to be, perfect.  For our worth is in our Lord; the great physician and priest who knows our mistakes and sympathizes.  In Hebrews 4:15 we read:  ‘ For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.’

And we can jettison forever that belief that our inadequacies, our mistakes, our errors are sin.  They are merely our fallible humanity mixed with our best efforts.

So when you meet a physician who is struggling with a misadventure, console her or him with a tale of your own.  And offer them the truth that everything they do can be transformed by faith in Christ; mistake and sin alike.

Psalm 103:  11-13

‘For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his love for those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;’

Go forth and be forgiven.  And remember you aren’t alone, either in your mistakes or sins. And that God loves you no matter what!


FYI:  When I prepare these posts, I often use the excellent scripture websites and They’re fantastic resources and cool places to read scripture when you’re at work but don’t have a Bible along.

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