We are all addicts in need of grace
By Glen Doss, Major –
We are all born with a longing for God, a hunger for love leading us to the true source of love. Our yearning to love and be loved is evidence of this. However, the strength of this desire is readily stolen by agencies not at all loving—this is addiction.
Addiction enchains this drive to substances, individuals, or behaviors and is present wherever people are internally driven to devote themselves to things not their true aspirations. An entrenched type of idolatry, it surpasses the drive of our most deeply seated longing, which is for God.
In my work with men and women addicted to alcohol and drugs, I have come to see we are all spiritually powerless, not just those physically addicted to a substance. Alcoholics and drug addicts simply have theirs on parade for all to see.
However, alcohol and drug addictions are far more tragic, physically debilitating compulsions. Drug addiction is a brain disease because repeated substance abuse leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain. It can affect self-control and the ability to make sound decisions, at the same time generating an intense impulse to take drugs. And, tragically, the brain never forgets. The imprint made by the fabricated sense of self-confidence remains forever locked within the psyche. Alcohol is not just a drug but the one most widely used, causing the most addiction, disease, and violence.
However, all of us are addicts. “The psychological, neurological, and spiritual dynamics of full-fledged addiction are actively at work within every human being,” writes psychiatrist Gerald May in his classic work, “Addiction and Grace.” He explains that the same processes responsible for addiction to alcohol and narcotics are also responsible for addiction to an endless variety of other things, including work, food, fantasies, ideas, power and relationships.
We are especially addicted to our thinking. In his insightful volume, “Breathing Under Water,” teacher Richard Rohr explains: “We all take our own pattern of thinking as normative, logical, and surely true, even when it does not fully compute…It seems humans would sooner die than change or admit that they are mistaken.” Who has not encountered the polarizing effects of heated arguments, especially on controversial topics, in both informal and formal settings?
Let me suggest that sometimes our non-drug addictions may have equally dangerous consequences. The woman addicted to power may destroy others in stepping over them to achieve her goal. The man compelled to practice indiscriminate sex may harm his wife and children in satisfying his urge. The mother, trapped by her own biases, repeatedly unable to empathize with her daughter, may crush her child’s self-esteem, perhaps alienating her forever.
Christians are well-meaning, earnest people until you hit on genuine issues like self-esteem (“He keeps pushing my buttons!”) or authority (we become unsettled when we sense our turf is invaded) or safety (it may come down to survival of the fittest). At such times we are generally indistinguishable from anybody else.
Psychologists have shown that much of our rubbish lies hidden within the unconscious. Consequently, we are unable even to be honest with ourselves. Repeatedly, we notice the splinter in our brother’s and sister’s eyes but overlook the log in our own (Matt. 7:3-5).
Clearly exceptional measures must be taken for there to be a breakthrough. And this is what Jesus came to give us. It seems the only thing that will humble us enough to see our inadequacy is pain. Grace is a deflation of the ego…and this is pain. To keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh (2 Cor. 12:7 NLT).
Jesus always met people in their agony. “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17).
Although we cannot see what we are addicted to, we are not relieved of responsibility. If we are going to change, it must begin with us. I give each of you this solemn warning, writes Paul. Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given you (Rom. 12:3). Let us first be honest enough to see that we will never be able to do an accurate assessment of ourselves, unaided. A moment’s introspection will not suffice. It will miss the truth. Our biases and habitual thought processes remain frozen. We cannot see beyond them. So what can we do?
Scripture, as usual, provides guidance. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you (James 4:6-8). It is the person who can honestly say, “I know that I don’t know,” who will earnestly seek God and whom God meets.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James 5:16 NIV). But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Heb. 3:13) Other compassionate, God-fearing people can help provide objectivity—God put them in our lives for a purpose. Let us seek them out and open ourselves up to them. If we do not have such individuals in our lives, let us go find them. As we, in our brokenness, earnestly look to God and one another through prayer and conversation, we may find freedom from our compulsions and self-deceit.
Here the grace of God is at work helping protect us from ourselves. Meanwhile, the hurtful name-calling and accusations of youth are ballooning down the years into epidemic methamphetamine and heroin use, record numbers of overdoses, flagrant xenophobia, religious intolerance, and death threats between peoples. The horrific consequences are overflowing into our living rooms, shocking many of us into despair.
May it drive us to our knees! Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).