A dark oppression is looming over America, pervading our happiness and freedom. Every class of people is being dominated and laid low by a ruthless and insidious dictator: addiction.
Americans are enslaved to their own cravings. The problem is that we are craving death. We are running from life, anxious to slip from the safe hands of our only true Refuge, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Most of us don’t understand the ruinous slavery of addiction—we see it as the freedom to pursue pleasure. Americans are committed to living the high life, devoted to the quest for happiness and security. So we gorge on all the available physical pleasures, searching for something to bury our fears, drown our sorrows, elevate our senses.We revel in the unchecked indulgence of our inclinations.
Americans are willingly bound by addictions. We chase them and sacrifice our hearts to them. “In order to maximize our addictive potential as human beings,” Edward Welch says, “a culture should include an emphasis on individual freedom and personal indulgence, and the most common addictive substances must be readily available.” The U.S. provides just the right climate for growth of addictions—addictive behavior is generally acceptable and addictive substances are readily accessible.
Thus, addiction has become much more than simply the problem of the alcoholics. The entire American culture is riddled with obsessions over ordinary things like weightlifting, sleep, nicotine, screen-time, social media, exercise, work, sports, sugar, chocolate, caffeine, risk, and success; and with more obviously destructive things like shoplifting, lying, gambling, cocaine, and pornography. One hundred people die every day from drug overdoses, nicotine is responsible for the suffering or death of over 400,000 Americans per year, and the pornography industry is making more money than the NFL. The nation is hooked, imprisoned in an endless cycle of desire, indulgence, and dissatisfaction. Addiction is so prevalent and so accepted, that it’s scarcely noticed and rarely a cause for concern.
We are either unaware or we simply don’t care that it’s killing us.
Our addictions are rooted in a lack of trust in God. Humans find it hard to believe that God cares about our lives, that He can keep us safe or make us happy. On the other hand, things like drugs, social media, sex, food, and alcohol are easy places for heavy, anxious hearts to run to. Within moments they provide physical pleasure, relieve physical tension and soothe physical desires. “Life is hard and filled with trouble. Nearly every moment is a reminder that something is askew in our world. In response, we seek relief. …Addicts turn to creation rather than the Creator.” The more we consume, the more our appetites expand like gaping holes in our souls, and the more in need of the addictive substances we become—the more imprisoned we are by lust.
But we want to be imprisoned. Humans become addicted because there’s no place a sinful heart would rather be than bound by sin. We desire forbidden fruit, allow it’s desire to build inside of us, and fantasize about consuming it. We flirt with temptation, ready and waiting to fall into it. The battle is over before it begins; we crumble at the least tension and indulge our cravings at the first opportunity.
Proverbs 7 tells the story of a young man who innocently meanders down the street of an adulterous woman. His actions seem guiltless, taken at face value. However, he is secretly hoping to be trapped in the adulteress’ arms. The danger of her house entices him. The adulteress sees him, flatters him, and seduces him; he tells himself that there’s no way out of his predicament. However, the man has blinded himself to the doors of escape—he is truly delighted to be bound.
His is the story of all addicts—all of us who run to places outside of God’s will for refuge and pleasure. We are willingly dominated by seductive desires. “Addicts make choices. They are in control. They are committed to their way of managing life. Yet, they are also enslaved and out of control. They are overpowered by the triumvirate of the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
The terrifying thing about addictions is that the very thing that presents itself to our senses as our freedom and refuge is our actually our death and ruin. The writer of Proverbs personifies the deceptive nature of addiction: “The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house, calling to those who pass by, ‘Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’ But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” The woman Folly slyly confuses surrender to the slavery of addiction with pursuit of happiness. She declares boldly the lie we hear in every temptation: sin satisfies.
Proverbs warns us that glutting ourselves on physical pleasures to satisfy our needs is nothing less than feasting on death. Edward Welch says of the young man in Proverbs 7: “Little did he know that he had walked past sexual pleasure and had a one-way ticket to the ‘chambers of death.’ His sensual banquet was, in reality, a banquet in the grave.” We latch onto the addictive product/practice to get us through life, little realizing that it’s charming hands are strangling us. It kills our bodies, our souls, our way of life. All that we love goes down the throat of this bottomless pit.
Addiction divides us from our truest, happiest self. It separates us from God. We hide from His presence because we know that He and the addiction simply cannot live together. We become estranged from the people in our lives, because there’s no way for us to be entirely vulnerable, brave, or loving—there is always that one area that we’re unwilling to sacrifice for others. No one can truly depend on us. We cease to be the rock of the relationship, the cocoon of the hurting—we become the ones who break and wound and steal.
Addiction damages our interactions with humans from being uplifting and healing to crushing and suffocating. Heath Lambert speaks of the behavior of his alcoholic mother during his early childhood: “She drank in order to get drunk because she wanted to forget all the darkness in her life that had caused her so much pain. She came to depend on this boozy forgetfulness in spite of all the other wickedness she had to accomplish to receive it. Mom’s enslavement to alcohol led to laziness, rage, stealing, child abuse, lying, promiscuity, and manipulation, all in ways that were intrinsically connected to her continual summons to obey her master, vodka. As is the case with all addicts, her sinful slavery of addiction led to more and more sin.”
Sex and pornography addictions ravage and dehumanize relationships with the opposite sex. Addicts cease to see the dignity of people, the priceless preciousness of their souls and their minds. Humans become in their eyes merely sex-objects, cheap and tradable. Sex addictions kill the ability in hearts to love and protect—all the addicts know how to do is lust and abuse.
All addictions squeeze the room out of our hearts to grow and love and give. Addicts have to be devouring constantly, regardless of the consequences. They are bound to their appetite and consumed by it, because it never stops growing—it is never satisfied.
It swallows up our lives in guilt, loss, and death. Paul addresses the addicts in Romans 16:21: “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.”
Addicts know that addiction is lethal and we shamelessly believe the barefaced lie that it’s life-giving. Thus, the damage is on our heads; the blood is on our hands. We are the thieves and murderers of our own lives. We sacrifice everything precious and innocent—our physical health, our children, our spouses, our closeness to God—in tribute to this merciless tyrant.
But Christ longs to liberate the ones who are imprisoned by their own lust. He finds the ones who have buried their lives in shame and despair. Jesus has the prodigal mercy and power to open our eyes to the truth that He is the only one we’ve needed all along. He is the answer to our fears; He is the healer of our wounds; He is the one who washes away our guilt.
“Now, we are able in Christ to do battle with old slave-masters rather than succumb to the inevitable,” says Welch. “The battle seems to move forward in small steps, and the lure of old gods can be felt longer than we would like, but, with the fellowship of the church of Christ, we fix our eyes on Jesus and insist on knowing Him until we can say with the psalmist, ‘There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.’ (Ps. 73:25)”
Jesus is asking us to quench hunger with real food, not the poison of addiction.
“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food…Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
Jesus does the unthinkable for the desperate, hopeless ones who take refuge in His love:
He gives back to us the lives we threw away. 78.