Root Causes and Symptoms

by Robert Jacobs

There’s an old saying, “If you want to be cured, treat the cause not the symptom.” While I am not a medical doctor, this advice seems sound enough to me. After all, symptoms manifest a deeper, causal reality that we cannot see yet must be addressed to satiate said symptoms. For instance, my nose (at the moment of this devotional’s composition) is clogged up despite my use of decongestants. This stuffed up noes, while annoying in its own right, manifests a deeper truth, that my body has been infected by a virus. In the same way, a fever could indicate a bacterial infection while pain and swelling in the ankle might indicate a break in the bone. Given all these examples, the adage does seem to hold up; we should indeed seek to treat the cause and not the symptom.

However, we should not be so quick to dismiss the importance of symptoms themselves. While treating symptoms does not fix the root problem, the symptoms do alert us to a deeper problem that needs to be addressed. Accordingly, we should be careful to monitor our symptoms so that we can discover and address deeper problems that are more difficult to see. The same can be said of our spiritual life. But what does this practically look like?

The mission of Living Hope “is to proclaim God’s truth as we journey with those who are seeking sexual and relational wholeness through a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.” As this mission indicates, we believe that the root cause of sexual and relational brokenness (well, all brokenness really) is a severed relationship between man and God, a breach that can be bridged by the work of Jesus. Our sinful actions, then, are symptomatic of this deeper reality.

If it’s true that the severed relationship between us and God is the root cause of our problem, and addressing a root cause is the key to fixing a problem, why do we even care about our sin? Or, let me ask it in another way. Why do we spend so much time in accountability relationships, support groups, and the like talking about our sin when the sin is only a symptom of a deeper problem? In our LHM groups and in the online forums, why do we ask symptomatic questions like, “Have you been pure this week?” A puzzling question, right? The answer lies in the role and purpose of symptoms.

Just as physical symptoms reveal a deeper and more difficult to perceive reality about our bodies, so too does our sin reveal much about the state of our heart and its relationship with God. In Matthew 12:24, Jesus asserts the simple truth that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” In other words, our actions are fueled by the content and condition of our heart. In this way, our choices act as a kind of spiritual barometer, offering insight into the seemingly intangible realities of the heart.

So, what do your actions say about your heart? It could be that your sinful choices demonstrate your lack of trust in His goodness, that His definition of sexual expression—limited to a man and a woman in a marriage covenant—is unjust and therefor He must be a cold and unfeeling monster. It could be your bitterness reveals that you do not trust God because he has allowed your son, daughter, brother, sister, or spouse to abandon you and the faith. Or your actions could show that you trust Him, that you believe that he truly does care for you even when your flesh says something different, that you know that His hand rests on even those who are in the “far country.” No matter the case, remember that our actions, both sinful and not sinful, offer us a window into the often hard to understand recesses of our hearts.