Addiction as a Negative Mirror of the Law
by Jason Caywood
Life experience can be and should be for us a potent tool in God’s hands. That is, if one is willing to open one’s will to listen to wisdom and discretion. The key is always our willingness to listen and thus heed the truth we know. Yet the Lord never ceases to bear witness to the truth and to lovingly guide those willing to heed him.
In my experience of fumbling about through my brief sojourn on earth I have suffered much as a result of my own folly. Indeed, almost all of the sorrows I have experienced has come as a direct consequence of my own stupidity and unbelief. Though I refused to listen for many years, by the grace of God I now understand how the teaching of Scripture has mirrored closely my inner life and the bondage to sexual addiction (that is, idolatry).
This statement of the Apostle Paul’s that has long intrigued me.
“When Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it. For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight. Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.” (Romans 2:12-16, NLT)
I think I have come to better understanding of the meaning of this passage because I am continuing on the journey of personal recovery (and have learned from many different resources in that). The first and primary insight I owned up to was the fact that I was utterly “powerless” over self-destructive thoughts and behavior. In owning this I was also recognizing the truth of God’s Law (Torah). For disobedience brings ruin and destruction (see Deuteronomy 28:15-68)—and the pain and devastation to relationships and human potential that come with choosing to sin repeatedly (and then getting caught in the web of that cycle).
In the ugliness of sin and addiction (and the hopelessness that it leads to) I see a demonstration of the great nobility which God gave humans; for such bondage and moral ugliness somehow leads me to see that sin and its consequences are abnormal and even that they suppress the noble and good purposes of God for us. For those with eyes to see it, the cycle of addiction is the logical outworking of what must happen when a human being commits to worship (to value and prioritize) anything created over relationship to the Creator.
Addiction in particular, regardless of what it is focused upon, seems to me especially to illustrate this interior dynamic of the soul Paul is speaking of in this passage (see full chapter for context). The person who has been instructed in the content of God’s written word can choose to believe (trust the God who revealed and clarified its meaning) and thus obey it. The person who has not been instructed in the content of God’s written word can also choose to believe in truth (so far as he or she understands the source of that truth) and thus obey it. And for the person instructed in the Law (Jew) and the person not instructed in the Law (Gentile) there is both blessing and curses that accompany the choice made.
In Hebrew “Torah” (“Law”) literally means “instruction” and it has a dual purpose: To clarify what God’s good purpose and desire for human flourishing (shalom) actually is and is not. The Torah defines the scope of evil, sin, moral and spiritual corruption. This instruction, when it is understood by an individual, evokes a response that is either welcoming to truth or a rejection of truth mirrored in the Word of Torah. The reason for this is because Torah, as Truth given by the Holy Spirit, enlightens one’s mind to see one’s own sin before the holy Creator and to utterly demonstrate that the only hope is through the promise of God’s provision to meet human need in the Messiah Jesus (see Galatians 3:19-22). To those for whom this promise of deliverance from God is not “good news” God’s Torah brings dread and fear—as their sins are highlighted and defined (see 1 Timothy 1:8-11).
I have heard many people in “recovery” programs testify that they had to arrive at the point when they could no longer deny the truth that following their own way had brought destruction and ruin. They could not do anything to cure themselves of addictions and to stop habits that hampered their ability to function in healthy ways. Is this not what the Scripture says? What modern psychological categories describe as “unhealthy” behavior is sin and its outworking in human lives.
Our problem is rooted in our very nature. We need to be delivered not merely from addictions or bad habits—for the addictive behaviors and bad habits are symptoms of a deeper need for forgiveness and healing and vital relationship with God and healthy relationships with other people. At the core of all lasting recovery from addictions and destructive behavior of all kinds is the need for deep personal healing; and deliverance from the self and self-will is essential for wholeness. But God will not deliver us if we do not want to be delivered from sin. Without repentance there is no true healing of the soul—the emotions, the mind or the learned patterns of destructive behavior.
The foundational question is this: What do I want? If we answer with sincerity that we want to know the living God then the Lord Jesus will come swiftly to us as the Savior he is to do his miraculous work. If we answer insincerely (thus being hypocritical) that we want to know the living God then we will be left in the chains of our favorite poison. God will not override our actual choices. What human beings can effectively hide from each other now is not hidden from God and will certainly be exposed before the piercing judgment of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16; 1 Timothy 5:24-25).
This is the truth and the Son will set free all who own it and embrace his love. I used to try to hide from God, even though I always knew God existed, but now I am thrilled and encouraged because I know the One who searches the human heart and mind and have learned that he is good and gentle. There is nothing to fear from God but few understand this—even many professing Christians; their life experience is more often like a practical atheism, living as though God was neither present nor the sole source of all for them; thus such persons experience intermittent periods characterized by despair, dread and even terror because of the grip of sin. I know this because that is what my life was often like before the Lord invaded and began to set me completely free. Thanks be to God the Father that he gives the grace of fellowship in the Holy Spirit, instruction in wisdom and becomes for his own people a strong fortress to all who run to dwell in the Name.