During our recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic, our group ran a medical clinic. Hundreds of families waited in line for perhaps their only doctor visit all year. For much of the morning I helped in the dental clinic, ushering patients to the waiting area and running to the pharmacy to get medications. But, most of the time I stood waiting—and watching.
A sweltering classroom served as waiting room, exam room and prep area. School chairs, the kind with the desks attached, became examination chairs. Cardboard boxes collected spit, trash and medical waste. There was no privacy. No running water. No discussion of treatment options.
The three dentists worked tirelessly as they saw an endless stream of patients, who apparently came for one reason. In every case the dentists offered one solution—extract the offending tooth.
The patients had two choices: live with the pain of a rotting tooth—which left untreated could lead to serious infection and, in severe cases, death—or remove the source of decay.
My stomach clenched as person after person, child after child settled into the chair-desk, tipped back their heads, received a shot of novacaine and had a tooth pulled. The waiting patients knew their fate as they watched the dentists work. When their turn came, most bravely endured the procedure, although a few children writhed and screamed. One young man fainted several times.
We gave them antibiotics and over-the-counter pain relievers, but I can only imagine their pain when the novacaine wore off.
I knew they’d be better off in the end. It just seemed so drastic.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus described such a drastic scene. “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matthew 5:29-30)
Before witnessing the dental clinic these verses left me confused and seemed unnecessarily harsh, but now they make more sense.
Jesus doesn’t want us to literally mutilate ourselves, but He does want us to recognize and take drastic corrective action to remove the things in our lives that cause us to stumble. Because just as untreated cavities rot our teeth, unaddressed sin rots our spirits.
How often do I think I skirt the issue when it comes to my sin? I try to ignore it, Who me? I don’t have a problem with that! Cover it up, I’m not hurting anyone, besides no one will ever know. And rationalize it away. It’s no big deal. Everybody does it.
To me sin often seems grey, but to God it’s black and white. And like the dental patients, we must deal with the decay in our lives decisively—or suffer the consequences. Period. “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)
Jesus’ graphic language doesn’t lead me to believe this process is easy or painless. In fact, looking at our lives with such brutal honesty and having the courage to extract parts we’re still intricately attached to may be the most difficult—and important—thing we’ll ever do.
What decay attacks your spirit? What behavior or attitude leads you into sin? What relationships do you need to sever? How are you causing others to stumble? Get real with yourself. Trust God that what He offers is infinitely better than what you’ll give up. Go to the great Healer for He alone offers redemption and restoration.
For now sin is a reality, but we live in hope that one day we’ll free from the decay in this world. And when we receive glorious new bodies in heaven, I bet we’ll get dazzling smiles to match.
Postscript: Thanks for your comments on my last post. I knew I could count on you for some emotional support! My darling husband continues to be enthralled with his surroundings. Over the weekend he visited