Addictions continue their upward swing. Given that we live during a time when self-control is not yet prized, our cultural strategy with hardships is to medicate them away rather than stand in the midst of them. And the possibilities for medicating hardships are always increasing. To sexual obsessions, add illegal drugs, then prescription narcotics, then computer games, and there are more to come. With this in mind, the church has a perennial project: to draw out fresh insights from Scripture on modern addictions, and move toward those who are enslaved by them.
Many of these insights exist within biblical teaching on idolatry, which has both voluntary and involuntary aspects to it. Human beings both purposefully indulge their desires—we sin because we like it—and we 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.
All addicts lie. As idolaters they forge an alliance with the anti-god and his crumbling empire, and lying is one expression of this alliance. It is a case of like father, like son. “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 addicts, this deception is not only what they speak, it is also what they believe. They also have been lied to and believe those lies—lies from family, friends and Satan himself.
If you want to help addicts, you will create a culture that delights in openness and honesty. Be someone with whom they can speak without fear of self-righteous judgment. Invite them to speak this new language of truthfulness, in which they speak honestly and aim to know the Truth—who is the antidote to all idolatry.
Addicts are complicated. Though they have an idolatrous commitment to their desires, there is usually more happening. Many addicts have been rejected and treated as nothing by those who claimed to love them, and live with a deep sense of shame. Without any way to escape it, they use addiction to avoid it.
If they were not dominated by shame before they began their addiction, they certainly will be after. When you live for something that is ultimately worthless, you feel worthless. When you live for neither God nor people, you will hurt others and degrade yourself. Then the cycle continues—addiction leads to shameful consequences, which leads to more devoted addiction.
So, if we are to help, we watch the life of Jesus. He was born into shame and his 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, our roles begin to change. No longer is there an addict and a helper. Now we are two people who are seeing beautiful realities that will take the rest of our lives to understand.
These, of course, are only two of many hopeful things that can attract someone caught in addiction to Jesus. Scripture is crammed with much more.