Sacred Space: Where Addicts Find Help

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.

 

About Brad Williams

Brad is the pastor of a Baptist church in a small town in Alabama. Brad has a lovely wife, two children, two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and five bee hives. Besides the incredible fact that he managed to persuade his wife to marry him, he is proud that he served six years in the Army National Guard, managed to graduate college with an English Lit. degree, graduate seminary, and finish the original Bard's Tale as a youngster by making maps on graph paper.

  • Adam E

    Hi Brad,

    I think that many churches have viewed Psychologists and others in the mental health industry with contempt or distrust, making it very hard for those struggling to find true, lasting help in the church. “Jesus is the answer, not Psychology” I’ve heard said, as though, contiuing on from your thought, admitting to needing psychological help means that the “gospel is not enough to set them free”.

    By neglecting Psychology and psychological practices for the more comfortable world of prayer and preaching repentance, many addictees walk away from church dissappointed, disillusioned and in a worse place than when they came.

    But yet no pastor seems to have issues with recommending their congregation go to see a doctor to have a cancer removed surgically.

    I think the church (and the gospel) is the answer, when they value knowledge, learning and wisdom as equally as prayer and preaching. (and true community as you suggested)

    Blessings

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Adam,

    I have a mistrust of psychology. By and large, it does not have a Biblical view of humanity, it does not offer gospel solutions to problems, and “group therapy” sessions that are so popular cannot hold a candle to a healthy church community. That is not to say that psychologists have never had important observations.

    I, for one, would recommend a church member to go to an unbelieving surgeon, but I would not recommend them to an unbelieving psychologist. A surgeon is a medical doctor, a psychologist is not. I would recommend a church member to a psychiatrist, who is a medical doctor, if I suspected, through counseling, that my friend/church member’s problem was physical in nature as opposed to spiritual. (Or both.)

    Brad

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Adam,

    I should add that you and I agree in this: “many addictees walk away from church dissappointed, disillusioned and in a worse place than when they came.”

    I do not think that the reason for this is that the gospel lacks the answer to their questions and psychology has them. I think that the disappoint comes from a lack of acceptance in the church community and a lack of intimate relationships within that community. My experience has been that addicts “try church” for help, and by trying it that means that they attend a few services, never really get involved beyond going to the main service and larger gatherings. This is not always the case, but I think it is quite often true when people get disillusioned when they “try church” and it doesn’t “work”.

    For its part, the church must be pro-active, but they can hardly be blamed when someone visits a few times, but never covenants with the church, when the addict never repents and believes the gospel, and does not put themselves under the accountability of elders qualified to counsel. And by being qualified to counsel, I simply mean meeting the Biblical standard of an elder, not a degree in psychology.

  • Adam E

    Hi Brad,

    Proverbs says: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” I take this scripture with me as I engage with science, medicine and the like. I agree that generally Psychologists generally do not have a biblical world view, but to dismiss their profession because of this, is folly.

    A common therapy, CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy is basically Romans 12:2 – renewing the mind, but tested, studied, queried and refined. Psychologists struggle to understand the human mind, a bit how Theologians struggle to understand God. Neither will truly succeed, and it’s pursuit may make you a little mad if you lose your bearings. The mind is not God, but trying to understand it is the pursuit of kings.

    I’d rather redeem Psychology and use its findings to assist in helping people in the church, than to brand it all as unhelpful, and make people choose between following God or going to a Psych – an ultimatum.

    Counsellors are good, but they lack the tools needed for some trauma, and abuse situations, which drug use can be used as a crutch to help. I have a friend who suffered from continual satanic ritual abuse for many years. Every church program in numerous churches failed to bring lasting change. Even live in, intensive situations. She was addicted to her medication her Psychiatrist gave her, and tried to OD several times. Her breakthrough came through the combination of her Christian Psych (by telephone), Christian Psychiatrist and secular severe trauma and ritual abuse unit, run by non Christians. She loves God and is free of so much bondage.

    I wonder if she wasn’t so afraid of psychs because of Christians telling her they were dangerous, she would maybe have gone years ago.

    My wife studies Psychology and knows the pitfalls, but we have seen firsthand how God uses whom he wants to use. And knowledge is not to be feared, but redeemed. Most psychs are respectful of religious beliefs and will work with you, at least in my experience.

    Blessings

  • Adam E

    I should add that the friend received her breakthrough also through the prayer of numerous friends family and the praying Christian professionals involved in her life.


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