I am sick. That’s pretty much all I can tell you about it with any real confidence. For two years, a harvest of strange and debilitating medical maladies have continued to hurl wrenches into the functioning of my poor and puzzled body (I’ve detailed some of that elegant saga here and here). In my time not writing about being sick on Mockingbird, I slug from one doctor to the next, submit myself to pokes, prods, needles, and indelicate personal questions. Everyone agrees things aren’t right. Yet I am still without a clear diagnosis. There have been rabbit-hole-suspicions by many-a-medical professional, ranging from panic disorder to systemic candida to Crohn’s. But the most recent one is this: autoimmune disease.

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As I await test results, knee-deep in illness and trying my best to avoid things like Google and Web-MD, I’ve had several near poetic revelations. Stay with me.

Autoimmunity is defined as, “The system of immune responses of an organism against its own healthy cells and tissue.” Or, to the non-medically-inclined, the immune system (which is supposed to make you healthy) actually attacks various already-healthy parts of your body and makes you sick. Autoimmunity is the paradox of disease categories. And it’s substance sounds a lot like Saint Augustine’s words from The City of God, “And hence the falsehood: we commit sin to promote our welfare, and the result is rather to increase our misfortune.”

Is it the brain fog, or did I just blow your mind? You can call me by my pen-name: Pablo Neruda.

There is an interesting parallel between the nature of autoimmunity, where the immune system attacks the body, and the nature of mankind. It rings strangely similar to what Martin Luther called, homo incurvatus in se: humanity curved in upon itself. Humanity, once the glimmering crown of God’s magnificent creation, now turned inward – self-obsessed, sick, faulty, misfortunate.

Matt Jenson further expands on Augustine and Luther’s diagnosis in The Gravity of Sin:

The great irony is that we pursue our own happiness [like the immune system] yet in the end destroy ourselves [autoimmunity]. God created us to pursue happiness and to love ourselves by loving him. The inward turn all of us make is to go after the very thing we were created to go after (happiness) apart from the only One in whom our search finds its fulfillment.”

My quest for reasonable health is not in and of itself a bad thing. I am sick! But it has become the thing that rules me, the thing that has me ignoring everyone’s needs but my own, focused completely on survival and re-instating my A-Game (eye of the tiger and whatnot). Luther says, man is so turned inward, “he uses not only physical but even spiritual goods for his own purposes and in all things seeks only himself.” If I can confess the destructiveness of the sin within my seemingly innocent desire for health, just imagine the things I’m not telling you…

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And I’m obviously in good company. Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) recently tweeted, “People in LA are deathly afraid of gluten…you could rob a liquor store in this city with a bagel.” He is not wrong. But I think this fear extends far beyond the silicone walls of Tinseltown. Just look at the many mass wellness fads that have Americans feverishly boiling bone broth and round-the-clock burpee-ing. I don’t have concrete evidence of this hysteria, but I do have Instagram. We cannot stand to feel “gross” or “bloated” or “gassy” or “fatigued,” not only because these sensations make us so aware of our actual selves (non-super heroes), but because they are a constant reminder that at our most essential, we are not well; we are dying.

We turn to the internet in search of the problem. Our lives are so precious we don’t even trust doctors anymore.

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What a strange thing indeed to hope and pray and search for a diagnosis. A hard look in the mirror reveals that, like autoimmunity, my desire for wellness has actually elicited a sickness, an obsession. And I certainly don’t mean to make light of disease. But if you’ve been here too – chronically ill – then you’ll understand the seductive notion that if you could name the illness, you could also name the cure. In the language of the gospel though, we’ve already received that longed-for diagnosis: sinner in need.

But it doesn’t stop there. We don’t just bare the weight of Eve’s death, but Christ’s too – a mighty death which promises life everlasting. Like St. Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

I am sick. And just like the relief in knowing the name of the thing that’s attacking my eyes, my thyroid, my gallbladder (RIP), my skin, my colon, and just generally sucker-punching me 24/7, there is an odd relief – good news even – in naming the thing that ails us all. Augustine knew the antidote for this grave need: “Well-being can only come to man from God, not from himself.” In my darkest hours waiting for the next test results, I do my best to remember this, the immeasurable love in which God has already scoured me, and the love he continues to pour over me minute after minute. My dire, most terminal condition has been remitted once and for all in the person of Jesus (no matter how much gluten I may or may not consume).

Friends, don’t you see, don’t you feel down in your marrow that we are all in need of a doctor? To hijack the lyrics of a Robert Palmer classic (in the most offensively cheesy manner possible):

US: Doctor, doctor, give me the news…

JESUS: I got a bad case of loving you!

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17