Over the course of my injury, I’ve had several occasions on which to discuss various infections with contagious disease specialists. I have also personally known a physician who specializes in infectious diseases. The license plate on his car reads: Bug Doctor. I can imagine that this term – contagion is very familiar to him and possibly to many others.
I vividly recall the first time I read the term. I was reading a biblical commentary written by the famous reformer John Calvin who spoke of sin as a contagion. Even though I didn’t recall seeing the word in the past, I immediately saw its connection with a familiar term – contagious. Words fascinate me and I remember looking up in the dictionary.
Bing Dictionary: a harmful or corrupting influence with a tendency to spread synonyms: infection, pollution, taint, poison, impurity, contamination, septicity, toxicity
Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary: con•ta•gion kən-ˈtā-jən noun[Middle English, from Latin contagion-, contagio, from contingere to have contact with, pollute—more at contingent] 14th century
1 a: a contagious disease
b: the transmission of a disease by direct or indirect contact
c: a disease-producing agent (as a virus)
2 a: poison
b: contagious influence, quality, or nature
c: corrupting influence or contact
3 a: rapid communication of an influence (as a doctrine or emotional state)
b: an influence that spreads rapidly
Definitions 2 and 3 best fit the context. The term connotes a contagious and corrupting influence which is rapidly communicated. The idea invites a comparison with sin. Sin is far more than a boo-boo or mistake. It is (among other things) pernicious, evil, destructive and personal. Further, its influence spreads rapidly and has far-reaching ramifications – a poison needing an antidote.
This contagion ruptures relationships (think: with God, with others and with self). It ruins reputations (especially Christian influence/testimony). It reveals our rebellion – our basic orientation towards selfishness and revolt against God and his will for us.
The New Testament expands our understanding and describes the contagion’s effect: “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”” (Romans 3:10–18, ESV)
The good news is that we are not left in that miserable, devastated condition, but are further taught of both the universal danger and sole solution: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Romans 3:23–25, ESV)
Thanks be to God who has sought us and cured us. The cure is founded upon the grace of God in Christ and extended to us by faith in Jesus. Jesus has paid for the guilt of our sin and freed us from its bondage!
Those who trust in Jesus can sing along with King David who was so exuberant when he wrote a song celebrating the joy and happiness of forgiveness: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. … I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:1–7, ESV)