5 Biblical Truths About Addiction

For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. – 2 Peter 2:19

Let me say up front that I am not a medical or behavioral specialist. I am a pastor who has walked alongside families going through the dark shadows of all types of addiction, as well as a man who has experienced them in my own life. I am also a teacher who believes in God’s word to help us understand the world and all of the troubles therein. And so my goal here is to present some biblical truths that will help form a solid foundation for our understanding of various addiction issues.

Truth #1: We are physical and spiritual creatures.

God created mankind with a body, soul, and spirit (see 1 Thessalonians 5:22-23). If we are to adequately address the problem of addiction, we must do so holistically – addressing both the physical and spiritual makeup of an individual.

Truth #2: Mankind was originally created in perfection.

As image bearers of God, man was able to think, reason, and act as He does. God’s declaration over creation was that it was very good (see Genesis 1:31). Mankind lived in perfect harmony with God, with their environment, with their physical bodies, and with their spiritual longings.

Truth #3: The perfect world fell into disarray and frustration.

Mankind came to love the creation more than their creator (see Romans 1:25). They rebelled against God and became arrogantly self-centric. The outcome was turmoil in every aspect of life.

Truth #4: The resulting turmoil collectively contributes to addictive behavior.

God’s good order fell rebelliously into chaos. Physical bodies are now susceptible to disorder and decay. Family and social environments become unhealthy, with patterns of negative learned behaviors moving quietly through generations. Human culture emphasizes indulgences and experiences of pleasure over morality. People abuse one another. Motivated by greed they prey upon the weak willed. Rejection and shame leaves many searching for comfort wherever it can be found. People do not love God or look to him.

Truth #5: In the Bible, addiction would most closely relate to the concept of idolatry.

Addiction is voluntary slavery. Addicts make choices. They are in control. They are committed to their way of managing life. Yet they are enslaved and out of control. They are overpowered by the world, their flesh, and the devil.
– Edward Welch

In this world of turmoil all of us have places we turn to for enjoyment and relief. Usual suspects might be food, coffee, hobbies, career, or entertainment. But sometimes we become dependent on these things as our source of hope. Idolatry is when our hearts long for created gifts rather than the creator God. The refreshment these idols are able to provide is only temporary, so we end up returning to them over and over again. And while all idols are harmful, some people end up attracted to intensely destructive behaviors or substances. Over time the idol becomes a master, enslaving those that continually seeks its help (see 2 Peter 2:19).

An addict – of any kind – is dependent on something in creation to satisfy their soul and protect them from the difficulties of this disordered world. Therefore any hope for total and lasting freedom from addiction must involve a heart change, in which a person’s dependence moves away from the creation and centers firmly on God the Father through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

Love, Devotion and the iPhone

I heard someone say long ago that one way to lose an appetite for sin was to watch others do phonesit. Notice someone in a fit of rage, or giving someone a lustful stare; be around someone who is entangled in the chains of bitterness or see the way deceit and gossip tear people down. See the ugliness of sin in action, despise it and then use that as motivation to destroy it in your own life. Of course there is a dangerous slope into hypocritical judgmentalism that must be avoided. But, the bible does tell us to consider the lives of others and to either follow their good example (Heb 13:7) or avoid their bad example (1 Cor 10:11).

So with that in mind, here is my recent observation: Have you noticed how addicted we are to our phones? Now, I realize this is not necessarily a sin, nor is this a new topic. More and more people are writing about the effects of our attraction to technology, good and bad. But here is the narrow window I want us to look through for a moment: How is the attraction we have to our phones impacting – in a negative way – our intimate, personal time with family and friends? If you have not already, take some time to pay attention to what is happening around you. Notice the couple sitting in the coffee shop, immersed not in each other, but in what is happening on the screen in front of them. Pay attention to the mom or dad sitting on the park bench, with children begging them to watch their adventure on the slide, while they fail to look up from the phone. Or observe the family sitting in the restaurant where 1 or 2 or all of them are engaged with Face book, texting or Twitter – rather than the people sitting right next to them. Instead of enjoying that moment in their own life, they are too busy trying to figure out what is happening in everyone else’s.

Of course if you are like me, in order to see these things – you might have to look up from your own phone. The fact is, I love technology. My phone allows me to stay connected with people I care about all over the country, with the news of the day and even receive edification from amazing bible teachers and theologians. I believe this is an incredible gift and I am not advocating for its dismissal from our lives all together. But the fact is, we are taking it to an extreme. I have noticed that I subconsciously go to my phone at any moment, in any conversation – for no real reason at all. I’m just picking it up, I’m scrolling, I’m checking social media – almost with no forethought. It just happens. And I am doing it at the worst of times – at the playground, at the coffee shop, at the restaurant. Last week I was on the couch watching a movie with my youngest daughter and all of a sudden I hear her ask ‘Daddy, will you put the phone down and watch this with me?’ I’m not even sure I remember picking it up – it was just instinctive.

I am not interested in motivation by guilt. The fact is that man-driven guilt rarely causes people to change over the long haul. So here is what I have been pondering: Is there a biblical principle that could inform and encourage us to have a healthy use of our phones, while avoiding the detrimental effects of over-use? Perhaps there are many, but here is the one that sprung to my mind: Romans 12:10 ‘Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves’. The Greek word behind honor is a word that means ‘to treat as valuable or precious’. To honor someone means that we work to show that individual that they are valuable to us. This verse is essentially commanding ‘go out of your way, sacrifice, and ensure that person knows they are of great worth to you’. How many of us feel valuable when the person we are with is more intrigued with the cyber-world than a conversation with us? How many of us feel we are worth something if we have to beg for attention over dinner or during a walk or while taking a drive? And how do our children and grandchildren process their value to us, if they constantly have to compete with the iPhone for our devotion?

We are given a scriptural charge to remind others of their value, to build relationships and to enjoy each others company. For me, that means that I need to leave my phone in the car a whole lot more. It is best to not take it to dinner or to the park or on the walk with my family. I need to leave it upstairs while we play a board game or watch a movie. Technology is a wonderful tool – but it needs to stay in its place. So enjoy those personal, intimate times – be devoted to each other and put the phone down for a while.

Grace and Peace

David