Can you imagine a young boy who, against the counsel of his parents, overindulged in apple pie and vanilla ice cream? Knowing that his parents were entertaining guests in the other room, the boy gave free vent to his temptation and jumped on the opportunity to serve himself a rather generous portion. However, it wasn’t long after he devoured the dessert that he began to feel sick to his stomach.
This simple story has some parallels with addiction. If you replace the sweets with narcotics or alcohol and the stomach ache with the various physical and spiritual consequences, the connections become clear.
Satisfaction Not Guaranteed
Poet Frank Bidart captures a significant feature of addiction when he writes, “Understand that there is a beast within you that can drink till it is sick, but cannot drink till it is satisfied.” Those of us who have had a run-in with addiction know that the pleasure associated with the rush or the high is short-lived (Heb. 11:24-25). It’s like trying to tackle and hold down a greased pig. Once you think you have the pig in your grip, it slips out of your hands and results in a renewed chase. The high, a high that has occupied the throne of one’s heart, leads to chasing false promises of freedom and relief. Satisfaction here becomes illusory (Prov. 27:20).
When we are curved in on ourselves, making our desire for immediate pleasure the highest criterion, we end up dissatisfied and destitute. What the Proverbs say about the misuse of alcohol applies equally well to drug abuse: that “[i]n the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder” (Prov. 23:32).
More Than a Preference
Despite the distaste for the negative consequences associated with substance abuse, it’s no secret that those enthralled to addiction are lovers of whatever substance they are inclined towards. We become “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4; cf. John 3:19). Our heartstrings become inextricably tied up with those things we treasure (Luke 12:34). This love, though deadly, becomes, quite literally, more important than life itself.
Ironically, the thing that we love is simultaneously the same thing that enslaves us, “for whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Pet. 2:19). We become slaves of desire, of pleasure, of immediacy, and of the moment, forgetting that eternity awaits us all. In all of this, we have a graphic illustration of the Apostle Paul’s teaching that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
How the Gospel Heals
The Gospel answers and meets addiction head on. Yes, God bestows cleansing and righteousness on those whom the world writes off as hopeless (1 Cor. 1:26-31; 6:9-11). The God of all grace brings healing through covering over and forgiving the sins of those lost in substance abuse. These sins, even the darkest of them, those we wish to never mention in public, even these He removes as far as the east is from the west, never to remember them again (Ps. 103:12; Heb. 8:12). In the cross, we see God’s love concretely demonstrated for us (Rom. 5:8).
The shame and guilt that we once carried on our backs from years of reckless living are removed and exchanged with peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Rather than trusting in ourselves, or in any substance, we look outside of ourselves to Jesus who promises true rest for our souls (Matt. 11:29). The satisfaction He provides is real, and He quenches our deepest thirsts (John 4:13-14; Ps. 16:11).
Rather than living out of an identity defined by the world and by addiction, God bestows a new identity upon us as His beloved children (John 1:12-13). Not only that, but the Holy Spirit brings about nothing short of a new birth, removing our heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh, a heart finally responsive to His will (Ezek. 36:25-28; John 3:3-8). The Spirit wonderfully reorients our affections so that our love is set on God and those things that God loves. This is what true freedom looks like.
God also promises that no matter how rocky the road becomes after we trust in Him, whether on account of trials within or trials without, He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5; Phil. 1:6). Thankfully, in His wisdom, God has provided a community, the church, where we can share our burdens and hear, week in and week out, the story of God’s transforming grace and mercy.
What the Apostle Paul said to the church in Corinth can also be said of us: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). With God all things are possible!
It can sometimes be overwhelming when we think of how America's religious landscape has changed in a relatively short period of time.