Why Addiction is Not (Exactly) sin

I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago that received more shares and more comments almost as much as all my other blog posts had together. Some loved it, some really didn’t. Which is ok because you know after all, we’re not part of the community of Jesus followers because we all agree.

I think that a lot of the time we disagree with others or at least aren’t prepared to hear each other out isn’t because of something fundamentally that we oppose; but rather because we aren’t always the best at articulating our thoughts. Or we come into it thinking one way and when someone speaks differently or frames ideas differently it’s really difficult for us to get on board simply because it’s not how we think.

We hear one thing, when in actual fact that’s not the message that was being portrayed.

Back to my post. In it I talked about addiction, primarily porn addiction but I think a lot of what I wrote could be easily attributed to other addictions too. Some people came away from it thinking that I was downplaying the responsibility of an individual in their own addiction and that an addict isn’t really responsible for their actions.

Now, even though I clearly (or thought I had) stated that I didn’t think this was the case, some people took this message from my post. Whether that’s because of the reasons I laid out above I don’t know but I do know that it’s something that I think needs clarified. Not just because of my post but also because I have read and heard an alarming number of Christians downplay the existence of addiction and explaining such behaviors as simply sin.

But I hope our views and theologies of sin are far more nuanced than a simple right or wrong.

How we view sin, will ultimately lay the groundwork for our discussion.

The traditional idea of sin that I was brought up with was one where anything we do that is wrong or hurtful to God is sin. Stealing, lying, murder. As I grew up it broadened into not just what we do but our attitudes. Lust, Anger, Jealousy. Even further along and I started to see how not only individuals can sin but groups of people. Greedy businesses, corporations exploiting their workers, Governments, churches.

Yet, even a definition of sin that incorporates all those examples and more seemed missing something. It didn’t seem enough. I couldn’t let go of the idea that God wasn’t simply concerned with the things we do or even the things we think.

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Easter. A time when Christians can celebrate Jesus rising from the dead and what that means for us as believers. But what does that mean? Does it mean we are saved from our sins and are not going to Hell? (Strange how this is often emphasized more than getting to go to Heaven). Does it mean we can relax on Earth and wait until we’re whisked up into the sky?

Or is there something more? Is there room for sin to be seen as crucial but not the main focus? Or can we think of sin differently that allows for all views of Easter?

I think it can.

In archery the word ‘sin’ was a term commonly used to refer to missing the mark. This has often been used as a metaphor when talking about sin in churches. We miss the mark. God has a perfect plan for us and we decide every day in millions of ways, to not follow it. But rather than this being an individualistic reference to our relationship with God, it also refers to the relationship the world has to God.

You don’t need to be religious to know that as humanity we are constantly missing the mark. As Evangelicals we are taught that the world is decaying and falling apart and that God saved all of us so we can escape it someday and get to Heaven where things will be exactly as they were intended.

But this isn’t the full story that Jesus tells. While on Earth Jesus preached constantly about how we treated our neighbors or how we treat the poor or how we react to others who we think are out of the reach of love. He constantly spent time with the ‘scum’ of the world, He rejoiced with friends who took drastic measures to have their friends healed. He fed thousands of people who were hot, starving and in need of nourishment. He stood up for the persecuted.

He was fully aware of real people on a real Earth in need of real help.

He was fully aware that things were not as intended and that the world needed rescued.

If His only interest was in us having good theology so that we can tick the boxes for our passport out of here, He would have taught that.

Constantly Jesus affirmed this life, this Earth, this existence.

It was almost like Jesus was telling his followers that this Earth is our home. That He hasn’t given up on it or us yet. Did God send us a sign and promise us He wouldn’t throw the world out and start again only to change His mind with Jesus resurrection?

I think it’s important that we talk about His resurrection because through this act God was showing us that the point of that Easter weekend wasn’t to have our souls saved for the afterlife, but to renew our bodies and minds in transforming ways for this life. Eternal life has begun and Heaven can be grasped now.

In one garden, humanity became flawed. In another, Jesus appeared to start redeeming it.

With this view of sin there is no need to disregard the idea of our personal sins being saved. The change comes in why we are saved. It is important that we acknowledge our weaknesses because then we can accept the need for change and the offer of new life that Jesus offers. Then we can accept the role we have to partake in God’s ongoing plan to redeem all people and this Earth.

We’re not saved from this Earth but for it.

On Sundays across the world we echo Jesus’ words to God that He would make things on Earth as they are in Heaven but usually we recite this together in monotone voices that rarely portrays the good news it speaks of. We’re to look up to Heaven so we can see how to live in all the ways that bring about Peace and Grace on Earth for all. Not so we find an escape route.

So our personal sin is important. Governments, churches, corporations are all made up of people. Decisions are made, greed is rewarded, the poor suffer, we all lose.

Ok…but what has all this got to do with addiction?

When we live in a world where people are abused and where millions of lives are living Hells, no wonder we look for a way out. No wonder we look for something to relieve the pain. Some of us look to drugs, alcohol or porn. Some of us look to power or money.

But we’re all addicted to something.

If you’re an addict, you are because you chose to begin on a path. One where perhaps you never thought you would go as far as you have. But since when has that meant that we reject those who suffer with addiction as simply sinners? Since when has thinking of addiction meant that we don’t think of it as sin? This is a lie that some decide to tell. But when sin is all the ways that the Earth is in need of healing and redemption, we can start in a place where we offer hope and a chance at a new life.

Jesus died and rose for this Earth. He is working to restore it. We are invited to help.

So yes addiction is the result of sin. Partly our own and partly the fact that we live in a world where things are often far from where they should be. Not everyone who has had things happen to them which might cause them to search for answers in substances end up addicted. Some who are brought up in healthy homes with loving parents end up addicted.

Life is not black and white. We shouldn’t be afraid to admit that, because if we open ourselves to the understanding that the world is weird, we open up ourselves to see how beauty and life can be restored sometimes in strange ways.

So let’s start playing our part in God’s plan to rescue the world from sin, remembering that those who are addicted need to be rescued too.

The addict needs grace not shame because creating shame in people is the opposite of creating new life.

And this life is important.


One thought on “Why Addiction is Not (Exactly) sin

  1. “We’re not saved from this Earth but for it.” Bravo, Paul. Re: addictions – you’re so right, we are all addicted to something whether it’s porn, a substance, social media, or our “things.” We all – as in ALL of us – need grace, mercy and love – in order to overcome, and we certainly need God’s strength and the Holy Spirit working in us to be able to put God first, pick up our crosses daily and follow Him. We’ve been meant to be our brother’s keeper ever since Cain and Abel – it’s simply that in that first devastating, backstabbing murder, we seem to have forgotten God’s intention for us all. Thank you as usual for your hand and heart that reaches out.

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