An Overly Sanitized Faith

Sharon Sanctification, Spiritual Health, Suffering 5 Comments

Well I’m back in Illinois after an amazing Thanksgiving in North Carolina! I sure do love that state and the people in it! The only bad thing about the entire trip was flying with my dog, which was a pretty negative experience both ways. When she wasn’t whimpering she was trying to dig her way out of her carrying case. Poor thing! God did not design chihuahuas to fly.

Now that I have some time to sit down and write, I wanted to share something I’ve been thinking about since I saw a news report 2 weeks ago about washing your hands. I know that sounds SUPER exciting, 🙂 but it was actually very interesting! The report examined how often we should wash our hands, and a number of doctors and scientists warned against washing too often or using anti-bacterial soap. Apparently, one of the main reasons that children today have so many allergies is that they were raised in overly sanitized homes. Children in these environments can develop immune systems that turn against themselves, not only causing allergies but other conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or even diabetes.

Conversely, children who experience common sicknesses can develop stronger immune systems. The illnesses they endure in childhood create memory cells which prevent them from acquiring those same illnesses as adults. As one doctor explained, the immune system is much like the human body in that the more you exercise it, the stronger it will be.

(I should also add that when asked how often we should wash our hands, she replied, “When they smell bad.” I don’t think so!)

Aside from being helpful information for young mothers, this information has gotten me to thinking about its spiritual parallels. On a literal level, these “overly sanitized” environments we create for ourselves point to a real culture of fear. Science itself reminds us that God can use our illnesses to make our bodies stronger, a true attestation to His sovereignty and redemptive character…a character we often fail to trust.

On a more analogical level, there is a similar temptation to sanitize our lives from spiritual sickness or hardship. Between worldly suffering and spiritual wildernesses, my own instinct is to shield myself from as many trials as possible, treading carefully and fearfully so as to protect myself from anything that would hurt me. On the other end of the spectrum there are the proponents of the Prosperity Gospel who believe the absence of hardship is a sign of divine favor. But no matter where you fall on the spectrum, it’s helpful to remember that your faith is like your immune system–it becomes stronger when it is exercised, and it is best exercised through a challenge. Take James 1:2-4, for example:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

This is not to say that we should seek out hardship, but it is to say that we shouldn’t engage in overly-sanitizing ourselves from difficulty. I myself am guilty of operating out of that place of fear, as if the wilderness is the worst thing that could happen to me. Yet when I live in that place I am far less likely to do radical things for Christ. I become more conservative and afraid to take risks in the confidence of my God. My overly-sanitized world produces weaker faith and greater fear the longer I flee from trouble.

As I have realized this about myself, it has become a central part of my prayer life. I recognize the infestation of true spiritual laziness and I pray that God prunes me of it. It’s scary to pray such a prayer, but my hope is that it will produce a faith more powerful and effective than any faith that comes of a life lived in quarantine from the world.

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  2. Katie

    Thanks for this post. It seems like overly sanitized spiritual lives can easily lead to legalism.

    Any chance that you have a link for the news special you mentioned? I’ve heard some say that there is no science behind the idea that being exposed to germs boosts the immune system (while I’ve heard others say there is), and I’m curious!

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