One of the remaining social stigmas in America is addiction. We allow it and expect it of our celebrities, pop stars and even politicians, but in most normal social situations those who struggle with addiction still hide in shame. No one wants the scarlet letter “A” for addiction to mar their reputation. Even Jesus himself was accused of being an alcoholic in a character assassination attempt: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard,” Matthew 11:19
The fact is that we are all addicted. Some are addicted to the perceived “big addictions” of alcohol, drugs or sex. The more accepted addictions in America are those of work, tv, internet, Facebook, porn and my personal favorite: coffee. I call it “Christian crank”. Some of my most poignant spiritual moments and deepest spiritual epiphanies happened under the influence of hot, dark, and delicious caffeine Kool-Aid. My favorite brew is served at my second office and favorite coffee bar, Rockn’ Joe. The brew is called Sledgehammer and it is awesome. Every year more scientific studies come out with evidence that coffee is good for your heart, liver, etc, but to be honest I just don’t care. I love the flavor, the aroma and have to confess, the buzz too.
As the child of a former addict, I decided to never drink alcohol or even try a cigarette. Suffering the effects of alcoholism in my family gave me a bad taste for drinking, no pun intended. I know that drinking alcohol is not a sin, because Jesus did it and even created alcohol with his first miracle. I guess I’m a teetotaler, but I don’t like tea. My drug of choice is stronger and if brewed right, puts hair on your chest.
It has been said that drugs and alcohol are counterfeits for the Holy Spirit. Alcohol is even called “spirits”. I think that when someone uses drugs and alcohol to get drunk or high it opens a door to the influence of evil spirits. In fact many occultic or shamanistic spiritual rituals intentionally utilize drugs to open people up to these spirits. The word “pharmaceutical” comes from the word pharmakeia, which is the greek word for sorcery.
At New York City Relief we see the graphic results of addiction to drugs and alcohol. Heroin, crack and liquor have ravaged people’s lives, leaving them as hollow shells. Much of our work involves helping men and women to get into detoxification units to cleanse their system of chemical addiction, then connecting them to a rehabilitation program where they can learn to live without the chains of these life-controlling substances. Counseling is given to deal with the root causes of the pain that drives addiction and Biblical ministry is given to lead people into God’s spiritual and emotional healing.
It’s easy to judge such people for their self-destructive lifestyles, however, not one of those people set out to become a drunk or a junkie. Most addictions start out as “social drinking” or “recreational use”. What is at first a fun diversion becomes an all consuming storm that sweeps away their hopes, dreams and future. Addiction also brings a crushing shame that tempts the addict to drink or drug more to escape the emotional pain that tortures them. There are many Christians who love Jesus and also battle addiction, knowing that these two things are antithetical. This is happening both on the streets and in the pews.
New York City Relief Director of Follow Up Care and Social Worker, Teresa Gowan (left) with Samantha who she sent to detox to be free from heroin.
We can judge addicts for their poor choices and irresponsible behavior, but what do we use to cope with the stresses and challenges of life?
We can judge addicts for their poor choices and irresponsible behavior, but what do we use to cope with the stresses and challenges of life? How do we numb our pain? When life is challenging at home, do we pour ourselves into work where we feel more confident and affirmed? Workaholism destroys many marriages and families, even and especially workaholism associated with ministry. When stressed out by work, do we escape into endless hours of tv, movies and internet? How many people (even Christians!) are “shopaholics”, numbing their pain by buying more and more things they don’t need while maxing out credit cards and drowning in debt?
The more legalistic and judgmental we become, the more we hide our addiction that we deem “not as bad” as other people’s problems. Our false “holiness” becomes a wall we build to separate us from those “sinners”. Our self-righteousness can then separate us from God causing us to actually be rejected by God. Jesus makes this clear in the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
What is your addiction? What is the thing you try to use to fill the hole inside your soul? What counterfeit element do you turn to for peace and joy? Mostly, we are addicted to ourselves. The truth is we are all in “recovery”. We are recovering from the fall of man and our own personal flaws and failures. Rather than despising addicts, we should see that we are both the same. Without Jesus setting us free and breaking the yoke of bondage, we are all doomed. No one has enough will power, personal responsibility and good sense to avoid the entanglements of sin. We are completely dependent on a savior to rescue us from the things that we are addicted to. Our flesh craves temporary relief of all kinds and only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we overcome.
People in recovery talk about how much “clean time” they have, meaning how long they have been able to consistently stay sober. How much “clean time” do we have from our more acceptable addictions that take the place of God in our lives? We are all dirty and only the blood of Jesus can make us clean, whether we are hooked on pills or video games.
Here is a good question: Are there any positive forms of addiction?
In 1 Corinthians 16:15,16 Paul affirms how certain Christian leaders “addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.” (KJV)
The work of ministry is the lifestyle of actively caring for those around us. We can addict ourselves to the lifestyle of love and helping others to be freed from their sin, their addictions and the shame that goes with them. Embrace the addicts around you. Don’t run from them, run to them. Give people in recovery the same mercy, support and friendship that you want as you work on your own recovery. There is no us and them. We are them and they are us. Together let’s embrace freedom and wholeness, throwing ourselves on God’s generous mercy. Addicts unite!
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