Addictions continue their upward swing. Self-control is not yet prized, and our national strategy with hardships is to medicate them away.
Each day there are more people enslaved by a broader array of substances and activities. To sexual obsessions, add illegal drugs, then the prescription narcotics, then gaming, and there are more to come. With this in mind, the church has a perennial project: We want to draw out fresh insights from Scripture on modern addictions, and we want to move toward those who are enslaved.
Many of these insights exist within biblical teaching on idolatry. This captures how human beings both purposefully indulge their desires — we worship idols because we think they will satisfy us — and are dominated by those desires. We are both in-control and out-of-control. Within these two poles are dozens of important biblical themes. Here are just two.
Identify the Spiritual Darkness Behind the Lies
Idolatry opens our eyes to the hidden allegiances within addictions. All of life is personal. We are either linked to God or we forge an alliance with the anti-god and his crumbling empire. One expression of this alliance is lying. Lies are natural to all addiction, and Scripture reveals the roots of these lies. “When he [Satan] lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
For the addict, knowing that you lie provides a focal point in a scattered lifestyle. Watch your language. For every lie you have spoken, there are dozens that you don’t even remember. And when you speak lies, you also have been lied to and believe those lies. So, find someone with whom you can speak openly and honestly.
If you want to help addicts, do what you can to create a culture that delights in openness and honesty. For example, if someone voluntarily confesses an addiction and its cover-up, it is a time of grief for family and friends but also a time when we are thankful for the Spirit’s work. The once enslaved person is beginning to speak God’s language rather than Satan’s.
Confront the Shame
Addicts can be complicated. Though they have a commitment to inordinate desires, there is usually more happening. For example, many addicts have been rejected and treated as nothing by those who claimed to love them, which means that they are covered in shame. Without an apparent way out, addictions can be a temporary though effective means to avoid shame. Or, even if shame was not palpable before someone set out in pursuit of an idol, it certainly will be life-dominating once the addiction gathers a head of steam. Practiced idolatry, in itself, with its betrayal, lying, stealing, and slavery, is dehumanizing and shameful.
If you want to help an addict confront shame, read through one of the gospels together. Watch the life of the one who was born into shame and whose people are outcasts. Watch him eat with the shamed and touch the shamed. Watch him identify with them so they can identify by faith with him.
At every point, we expect Jesus to turn away and not be sullied by the shamed. Instead, he always invites, always surprises, and offers a connection to himself in which we are given cleansing, covering, and belonging. As we follow the story, we are no longer a sober person speaking to an addict. We are two people who are seeing beautiful realities that will take the rest of our lives to understand, and we are being changed.
These, of course, are only two of many hopeful teachings that emanate from the death and resurrection of Jesus and can attract someone caught in addiction. But they are both powerful, and underused.