Tag Archives: addiction

Addictions and Other Destructive Behaviors: Sin or Disease?

Destructive behavior includes elements of both sin and “disease.” Some people are especially susceptible to particular kinds of destructive behavior. For example, men who abuse women are often reared in families where women were abused. Imbued with contempt for women, they are predisposed to use women as scapegoats for frustration. There is clearly a sense in which this predisposition (or heightened temptation) to debase and abuse women can be called a “sickness,” since it was largely instilled by external influences.

Does this mean that an abuser’s “sickness”—the fact that he has been damaged by sin and is consequently more prone to abuse women than men who haven’t been so damaged—justifies his abusive behavior? Absolutely not! His “sickness” helps us understand his behavior, but doesn’t excuse it. He isn’t merely a victim of outside circumstances, like someone with meningitis or malaria. In spite of the tendencies he inherited, an element of conscious, willful sin is present in every abusive act. Regardless of his background, he is capable of resisting his impulses. No one is so isolated from the laws of society and the influence of conscience that they are completely unaware of the wrongfulness of spouse abuse. Our legal system acknowledges this with the principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Abusers are accountable to society for any violation of laws against spouse abuse. Further, to the extent that an abuser knows his behavior is wrong, he is responsible before God to change.

Some people object to making a distinction between sick internal impulses and sinful actions (willful sin). They say that the impulses and emotions of the abuser are just as sinful as his decision to abuse.

It is true that the evil emotions and impulses of an abuser are not merely sick. They are the results both of original and personal sin and are repulsive and evil in themselves. However, they aren’t sinful in the same sense and to the same degree as a conscious personal decision to act sinfully. (See the ATQ article, Are Christians Held Responsible for Unpremeditated and Unconscious Sins?)

If we condemn sick predispositions as much as sinful decisions and actions, we leave no room for compassion.

Jesus had compassion on sinners (Matthew 9:12-13). He stressed the importance of having compassion on the failures of others:

You wicked servant, he said, I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? (Matthew 18:32-33)

The reason Jesus had compassion was due to His awareness that while people are sinners, they are not entirely given over to premeditated evil. There is a sense in which they are also sin’s victims.

And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. (Mt. 10:35-36)

If we are to be like our Master, we must be able to have compassion upon lost, sinful people, at the same time as we hold them responsible for their premeditated sin.

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Is Religion Just a Crutch for Weak People?

Many people today think religion is “pre-scientific,” bound to the past, and practiced only by the superstitious and ignorant. In their view, we’d be better off without it. John Lennon expressed this sentiment in his song “Imagine” when he wrote, “Imagine there’s no heaven, and no religion too.”

This anti-religious viewpoint has a lot of appeal to people who don’t want their personal moral choices “restricted” by tradition or creed. It appeals to young people who want to “kick over the traces,” and to older people who long to suppress the ache of a guilty conscience. Regardless of its appeal, it doesn’t hold up under examination. Religion is basic to human experience. It is such a basic aspect of our experience that we can’t get rid of it. Other creatures may live without religion, but people can’t. We are religious to the core.

Why are people so incorrigibly religious? Perhaps the main reason is our consciousness of the inevitability of death.

No matter how we try to suppress it, we all know that we are living on borrowed time, making decisions that define us forever. With maturity and age this awareness becomes even more intense and more troubling. Death is approaching; time is limited; the ways we invest our lives express our values and our source of meaning.

Our religion gives us our basic set of values and our source of meaning. Living consciously in the shadow of death, we express our religion involuntarily by the way we live.1 Animals live entirely in the moment, aware only of present time. But human consciousness, which is created in God’s image, constantly scans past and future, searching for patterns of meaning that link the isolated experiences of our lives. Humans can be immersed in the present only for a limited time, like a diver who submerges to see the wonders of a coral reef but inevitably comes back up for air. Meaning is as essential to our survival as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.2

The longing for ultimate meaning has a dark side, as does the longing for greater knowledge. Both religion and science have been misused. People have done terrible things in both their longing for meaning and knowledge. Evil people exploit our longing for meaning and knowledge to promote their agendas. The life-denying effects of false religion are confirmed by Scripture:

Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence ( Colossians 2:23 ).

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world ( James 1:26-27 ).

But it would be as unreasonable to condemn religion because it is sometimes misused, as it would be unreasonable to condemn science because it is often twisted to evil purposes.

The issue isn’t whether we are religious, because we all are. It is disingenuous to claim that one can live without religion, or that true religion is responsible for evil done by false religion. The crucial issue is whether our basic values are true or false, whether our reason for living brings life or death, whether or not it is aligned with the purposes of the Creator.3

  1. The term religion comes from a Latin word that refers to “the bond between man and the gods.” Worship is uniquely human. For ancient people, the “gods” referred to deities personifying aspects of their experience. But the “gods” also had a symbolic reference — a reference to the transcendent powers that unify human experience and give it meaning. Back To Article
  2. The fact that we are hungry for meaning and concerned with establishing a link between our past and our future doesn’t imply that it is good to be anxious about the future. Jesus Himself spoke of the importance of living fully in the moment. But He didn’t speak of doing so in the context of living like an animal. In fact, He stressed that animal existence couldn’t be our goal. As people, we don’t live on bread alone, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). He showed His disciples their potential for enjoying the present because of faith in the Father’s goodness — i.e. because of religion. Back To Article
  3. A final comment to a brilliant popular musician: Doing away with the possibility of final punishment for evil and reward for good — the possibility of ultimate justice — would never make the world a better place. If convinced of “no hell below” and “only sky” above, people would be even less compassionate, more desperate for immediate satisfaction, and less willing to endure personal hardship for the sake of others. Back To Article
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