Good medicine

Yesterday, I rand in Proverbs 17:21 into the realization that I can take great joy from my kids, but only if I choose to parent them to be wise when they grow up. Today, in the very next verse, I’m struck by another realization. The verse reads, according to the HCSB, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” And I am immediately inclined to nod in agreement. A joyful heart is much preferable to a broken spirit. But I find myself thinking that, if that’s all that there is to glean from this declaration, then there is really very little point to include it in the Scriptures. After all, it is simple, common sense that even the most foolish people will readily acknowledge. Or is it?

I would submit that this statement is not quite as simple as it first appears. Notice what the joyful heart is: “good medicine.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t take medicine when I’m healthy. I don’t take medicine when everything is going well. I don’t take medicine when I’m not sick. And to be perfectly honest, as my wife will attest, I don’t like to take medicine even then.

No, I take medicine when there is no other option because I’m miserably ill.

So Solomon’s statement is not that a joyful heart is good on a great day, when everything is going well, and there are nothing but blue skies as far as the eye can see. Rather, it’s that a joyful heart is a good thing on the bad days. When nothing could possibly go worse. When the sky is dark and ominous, rain threatens to wash everything away, and you feel like you’re being incessantly raked by blasts of lightning.

It’s on that day that a joyful heart is good medicine.

In other words, I’m supposed to have a joyful heart when things are going bad, and somehow, that will make it better.

Well, I suppose that does make a little sense. I mean, to borrow a line from what is one of my favorite Star Trek episodes of all time, “If a man is convinced he’s going to die tomorrow, he’ll probably find a way to do it.” So if you walk around thinking that things are going to get better (remember, joy is defined as happiness which comes from the expectation of good things), maybe they will.

And maybe, even if the circumstances don’t actually get better, you’ll at least be in such an attitude that they at least seem to.

But did Solomon have any idea how difficult ridiculous that is?

I have seen a lot of people take a lot of different kinds of medicine in my life, and if there is one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that sometimes “good medicine” is the hardest to take. Take, for instance, the cough syrup in the medicine cabinet. It says “cherry flavor” or something like that. But everyone knows it tastes like tar. Hot tar. And goes down not quite so easily. Or the chemotherapy that my grandfather and grandmother had to take when they were being treated for cancer. The stuff made them sick as could be. They lost weight. They lost hair. They lost comfort. In short, it was horrific. And then there are all those prescription drugs they advertise on TV. You know the ones: they claim will help you feel better, but then the terrifying list of side effects takes up 90% of the commercial.

I don’t think Solomon was a stranger to such truths.

And yet he said a joyful heart was good medicine. Meaning that, as hard as it may be, it’s still good for me.

So, in what areas do I need to intentionally adopt a joyful heart so that I can be healed? I can think of a couple.


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