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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Addiction's Roots

It seems to have become a fairly common term in our culture. I’m talking about addiction. It is often used in the media. People readily confess to it. The stigma that surrounded it for so long seems to be disappearing. In fact, I am beginning to wonder if it might not become in vogue to be addicted to something!

But I’ve noticed that people usually don’t use refer to something as an addiction until they get caught by the consequences of whatever it is they say they are addicted to. Alcoholics, for example, don’t usually decide they are addicted to alcohol until it is ruining their lives. Those who profess a shopping addiction don’t typically get there until they are drowning in credit card debt. Food addicts are always obese by the time they confess the addiction.

Seriously, it makes me wonder if consequences aren’t the true measure in our culture of what an addiction is. If the consequences aren’t spiraling out of control, then I am not addicted. If I'm able to keep juggling my credit card debt, then I just like to shop. If I drink a lot, but it isn't ruining my life, then I just like to drink. If I smoke, it is part of my character and I just enjoy a good cigar or cigarette - until I get cancer from it. Then it's an addiction. Isn’t that the way we tend to view it? And isn’t that kind of thinking rather flawed?

I believe that addiction to anything is probably a physical symptom of a deeper, spiritual problem. Perhaps it is an attitude of the heart, or the result of a broken and hardened heart. It seems that many addicts have been through difficult traumas in their lives – the kind that tends to harden hearts. And I think it goes deeper than that. I think it gets down to the level of worship. I know, you’re thinking I must be insane to correlate addiction with worship. But bear with me here.

Worship is idolatry. We don’t think of it that way because it idolizes the one true God – when it is good and righteous. But when we idolize anything or anyone else, I would argue that it is still worship – except that now it is without the righteousness. Idolatry is defined as the worship of or an immoderate attachment or devotion to something (Merriam-Webster dictionary). It could be to the one true God of the universe. That would produce a Jesus freak, a sold-out fanatic who would give his or her life for Christ. On the other hand, it could be to something or someone less than Jesus.

Christians are by nature designed to worship. You and I were made to worship, as the song goes. That is very true. But what we were made to worship? And what if we don’t worship Him? Well then we will worship something or someone else. So the word idolatry, and my immoderate attachment or devotion can be applied to God – or it can be applied to alcohol, drugs, sex, food, gambling, TV, sleep, Internet, pornography, exercise, sports, work, video games, shopping, self, relationships … and the list goes on.

II Timothy 3:4 identifies people who desire an idolatrous (i.e., immoderate) pleasure more than they desire to honor God as “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Ouch! Now loving these pleasures may be a response to pain. Both the love of pleasure and the avoidance of pain (or escape) can fuel any so-called addiction.

For most of us who have not learned to deal with our pain in God-honoring ways, and not learned to lean on God’s provision to walk through our trials, it is very tempting to reach for something that brings us pleasure or helps us avoid or tune out the pain. Enter the addiction.

Now I know what I’m saying is going to make some people mad. Why is that? Because it’s offensive. If I can blame my perverted relationship with food, sex, drugs, alcohol, or whatever on “addiction,” then I am not responsible. I am a helpless victim suffering from a sinister disease. But as we say in Texas, “that dog won’t hunt.” To get at the root of any addiction, we simply need to get at the root of your God.

The Bible tells us to love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. In other words, we are to worship Him, with an immoderate devotion and attraction. I believe the real solution for addicts of any kind is a relationship (be it new or restored) with Jesus Christ. Ironically, we were also made to worship only one thing at a time.

So as we worship, and commit idolatry over Christ, guess what? The addictions will fade. Alcohol will lose its power in my life. So will shopping, sex, drugs, food, gambling, and all those other things that promised to changed the way we feel --- and instead enslaved us in an ugly addiction with disastrous consequences.

Think you’re addicted to something? Look at the focus of your worship. If you find that you are addicted, get your focus on Christ and learn to idolize Him in your everyday life. Therein lies the only true cure for human addiction.

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