Every Friday in Sacred Space, Brad Williams explores the place of popular culture in the local church.
On the way to the office this morning, I heard a report on NPR that the Mexican military recently busted a ranch devoted to making meth-amphetamines. According to the report, the military seized 15 tons of these drugs, all ear-marked to be sold in the United States. This was the second such bust in recent months, and the sheer amount of drugs they found stunned me. This was meant to come here. To the USA. To our towns. To be sold to our children.
The reason they manufacture that amount of drugs is because they have a market for them. Many people in my neighborhood are addicted to illegal and/or prescription drugs. Drug abuse ravages the social and physical health to anyone who becomes ensnared to them, and once they are caught, many feel hopeless to get out of the cycle of addiction.
Your church should be a place where the addict can find relief. But how do we help? The powerful hold of addiction feels too great for the gospel to dispel, and the idea of sitting under preaching for a cure sounds about as helpful as a modern day exorcism. In fact, many addicts do seek refuge in the church. Desperation will turn many to religion, but they often leave unchanged and unhelped. Why? Is the gospel really not able to set them free? Is the triumph of Jesus over sin, death, hell, and demons not enough to release an addict from the torments of alcohol? Or pornography? Or speed? Or crack?
I believe that it is, and I have seen the gospel deliver men and women from addiction. But it doesn’t just happen by listening to preaching, though I believe that to be an indispensable help. Addiction is mistress, a paramour that will not suffer a rival. Addiction is intimate, and she brings whispers of pleasure. But addiction is a bitter poison, killing the body and destroying all intimate relationships with real people: marriages, friendships, and relationships to children are sundered by the bondage of addiction.
So how can your church help someone prevail against the horror of addiction? First, we must refuse to let the addiction come between us and those we love. Psychologists ought to envy the church and what she can provide by way of group therapy. In your church, you ought to have people who are good at making and keeping friends. People who will check up on one another more often than the Tuesday group therapy session. We ought to buy lunches and pray together. We ought to offer hope when addiction plunges someone into despair. We ought to remind them that to fight is to win. One fight at a time. One refusal at a time. Every struggle is a win. We must remind them that Christ is risen. That He cares, and that we care.
Second, when we become family, we can speak the truth to them in love. Addiction is not cured by listening to preaching from the pulpit, though that is an indispensable help. The intimate struggle of addiction calls for more intimate solutions. Thundering truth from afar is good, but speaking truth in love over lunch is better. I remember counseling a friend once who had a gambling problem. He stole from his retired parents to cover his debts, and in the midst of his folly, he couldn’t see why gambling was so wrong. I told him it wasn’t the gambling that made me ashamed of him, it was his cowardice. I told him he was a coward to steal from his mother to cover his debts. He stole from her because she wouldn’t press charges on him; she would only cry and pray. A brave man would have stolen from his bookie, not his mother. I asked him to remember that the next time he went to place a bet. I told him this because I loved him, and it hurt when he couldn’t look me in the eye.
That’s what we ought to be doing for people as a church body. We ought to love them, and we ought to speak to them in love, even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts. I know that we won’t save everybody; some will always follow the seduction of addiction over the counsel of friends. But it is the fight that matters. It matters for the church as much as it does the addict.