Whenever a physician renders a diagnosis, they must consider a differential diagnosis. Even if the diagnosis is obvious, additional diseases must always be considered. This process is drilled into every medical student and physician in training. One of the classic differential diagnostic categories is acute chest pain in an adult. Obviously, one must always think about a heart attack, or acute myocardial infarction. But there are many other diseases that may mimic a heart attack. These diseases range from diseases in the lungs like a pneumothorax, gastrointestinal diseases like heartburn or GERD, and even skin diseases like shingles.
When physicians approach a differential diagnosis, there are many ways which they may organize their thoughts. Probably the most useful is to list the most serious diseases that need to be first considered. Another method would be to list diseases by organ system. Still another method would be to consider the pathophysiology or biological pathways in the patient, such as infectious, congenital, or cancer. Thinking about all the differential diagnoses requires creativity, honesty, and the ability to go beyond generating a rote list. It is sometimes a painful process since critical diseases may sometimes be missed or pointed out by others to one’s chagrin. But the more the physician does this, the more adept they become at rendering the correct diagnosis and properly treating the patient.
As I pray and study the Bible, I have adopted a similar approach in attempting to understand the nature of my diseases, that is, my sins. I could simply list my sins but to truly understand how certain sins keep recurring in my life, it requires going beyond a simple list and examining the different pathways from which it arises. It also requires critical discernment and separating similar sins from one another.
For example, I struggle with my pride. Certainly, it may arise from desire to be right or recognized. But as I critically examined the reasons, it was clear that it was not just pride. My temper often masqueraded as pride. My petty jealousies led me to other sins that could be misinterpreted as pride. I had indiscriminately lumped many different sins under the heading of pride. I did not perform an accurate differential diagnosis. Identifying the correct sin is the first step to allow God to heal me.
...these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
1 Corinthians 2:10-11 (ESV)
The Holy Spirit enables me to understand the subtle differences of my sins. It is a differential diagnosis that requires honesty and a desire to be humble before God. Like a physician, the process may be embarrassing and painful when brought to the surface by the Holy Spirit, but once I realize the complexity of my sins, I can turn to the simplicity of asking God to forgive me and transform me into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.