Since at least the 1970s, reading, writing, and arithmetic have yielded much of their kings-of-curricula throne to the more immediate concerns of health and safety. Who of the last generation doesn’t remember teachers and guest speakers drilling into us why talking to strangers is a bad idea, what seat belts are for, and why we shouldn’t experiment with drugs? The stories of lives ruined by the bottle and the needle could make a sphinx weep; but even sadder is the number of kids who hear those stories and still fall into the “it won’t happen to me” trap.

For those of us who didn’t, alcoholics and other drug addicts tend to evoke a degree of contempt. How can anyone be so stupid as to let himself get to the point where ongoing chemical numbness ranks above human relationships, career, health, and his good name?

Well–how does anyone get to the point of being addicted to anything? By repeatedly committing idolatry–by letting something or someone fill the role of God in his or her mind.

Most of us know that not all addictions are purely chemical. The compulsive gambler, the nymphomaniac, and the sixteen-hours-a-day-seven-days-a-week workaholic are all in the same mess. But though we tend to apply the term “addict” (when not used in fun) only to those who are so far gone as to drive themselves to bankruptcy, the streets, or the morgue, nearly all of us are addicted to something (or somebody) in the sense of feeling the craving for it every day and panicking if losing it seems a serious possibility. You could say that the half-committed Christian, who balks at all-out surrender to God’s will because “He might tell me to sell all my possessions and spend the rest of my life among the poor in Haiti,” is addicted to the comfort of the middle-class American life.

I have my addictions too. Top of the list is completeness–leaving no possibility unexplored, letting go of nothing. One item not crossed out on a to-do list is a ruined day. An unread volume in a trivia series is a matter of life and death. The thought of a wisdom tooth extraction is akin to the threat of losing an arm. Many a time I have been driven through a work day by fear of “not finishing everything,” neglected rest breaks for fear of getting off schedule, and dismissed the inner “overload” warning with the rationalization “I’ll just finish this list, and tomorrow’s won’t be so long.” Sounds omniously like an alcoholic, doesn’t it: getting hysterical if someone tries to remove the bottle; thinking constantly of the next drink; putting one’s greater needs second; and insisting “I can stop anytime I want to”? The most “normal” among us are not immune to that sort of addiction.

The truth is that we all need something to depend on–and fallen human nature finds it easier to seize on obvious “quick fixes” than to let God Himself fill the God-shaped vacuum in our souls. Even once we admit that the former is causing us more misery than satisfaction, habit and impatience combine to make moving to the latter no easy task.

Nonetheless, it’s always easier to get away from something when we have something better to go toward. Paul, who had thought he was living a godly life and found how far from God he really was, learned that true closeness to God not only outweighs all the benefits of this world, but brings us to the point where we have no thought of missing what we once felt we couldn’t live without:

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:7-11).

Pure-hearted singlemindedness for God is one “addiction” that has no unpleasant side effects.

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  1. Jerrie

     /  January 27, 2012

    I love the last line.


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