The hymn writer John Newton’s best known hymn is “Amazing Grace.” In it he celebrates the power of God’s grace with a metaphor: “…was blind, but now I see.” Most hymn scholars understand this line as self-referential; Newton had been the captain of a slave ship until his conversion in 1754.
In another of his texts, Newton describes God as the divine Physician who heals his sin:
Physician of my sin-sick soul, To thee I bring my case;
My raging malady controul, And heal me by thy grace.
Throughout his hymn, he explores the metaphor of sin as physical illness in need of healing:
I would disclose my whole complaint, But where shall I begin?
No words of mine can fully paint That worst distemper, sin.
It lies not in a single part, But thro’ my frame is spread
A burning fever in my heart. A palsy in my head.
It makes me deaf, and dumb, and blind, And impotent and lame,
And overclouds and fills my mind, With folly, fear and shame.
This imagery of illness (“distemper”) is common in songs and hymns…not to mention Scripture itself.
One of the most common ways that sin is described is as a disability, and one of the most common ways that salvation is described is as healing that disability.
Given the content of our current worship series, “Disabling Lent,” reflecting on the meaning of these metaphors seems appropriate. Rev. Kyle Austin Stevenson writes in this week’s devotional, “This world is sick unto death. Spiritually and physically.” What are the implications of thinking of sin as a physical ailment in need of healing? Is there some way we can still sing, “…was blind, but now I see?”
See y’all in church!