Jesus and Addiction by Chaplain Rick Gariepy Sept 2020

I came across this poster quote on Facebook that struck me as a contemporary definition of Western Culture: “Our culture has bred consumers and addicts. We eat too much, buy too much and want too much…Blindly, we consume more and more, believing we are hungry for more food, status, or money, yet really we are hungry for connection.” Why an addiction? Research continues to show that addiction is a disease of a moral dimension, that is of the whole person. It simultaneously operates on the physical, emotional and mental as well as spiritual planes. Yes, there is human freedom involved, yet studies on addiction repeatedly reveal just how situated, limited and contextualized this very freedom is. For the burgeoning data on co-dependence, co-addiction, addictive families and addictive societies (even addicted Churches) all provide verifiable evidence concerning the ways in which addiction operates on various levels as human beings.

Definitions of addiction variously describe an addict as anyone whose addiction interferes frequently or continuously with any of that persons important life adjustments and interpersonal relationships. So does Jesus and the Gospels have anything to say on this important human struggle or dilemma?

There are those who believe that we can discover something of the dynamics of the addictive process in what Jesus had to say in one of the best known passages of Matthew’s Gospel in 6:19-34. The center of the text, which begins with, ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…For no one can serve two masters…therefore I tell you…’ reminds us that human acquisitions cannot compare to the gifts of God—as Solomon in all his glory cannot be compared to the “lilies of the field”.

Michael Crosby in his book about addiction and co-dependency in the Church believes upon closer examination of this passage, that it reveals processes that using 20th century terminology, we might call the addictive process. The passage also offers a way of recovery (or conversion) from addiction in that the spirituality involved is giving oneself over to the higher power of God’s reign. The challenge of the disciples is in Jesus description or challenge: “You of little faith”!

Jesus here builds on the definition of, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (6:21), indicates whether one will be oriented to the addictive process or to authentic spirituality. In the story Jesus moves from the outer ‘treasure-house’ to the inner store in the heart of every human (see 12:35).

When we ‘lose faith’ in ourselves, in others, in our society, and in God, we lose meaning and become depressed, aggressive, suicidal, or addictive. When mammon and its various forms become our ultimate goal and environment—our whole bodies and lives, as Jesus in Matthew notes, become centered in the objects of our obsession and anxiety. Their power now reigns over us. And we are imbalanced and lacking in the values of healthy inter-relationships of wholeness and true ‘Beingness’. But when our faith—even if it is ‘little’ (6:30), is geared to God’s reign and service to others, the resulting freedom and confidence (empowerment) allow us to become detached from false centers of (de-)value and to become instead committed to authentic living.

In addiction language conversion is recovery. For before conversion can begins, we must let go of disordered thoughts, feelings and habits, or behaviour related to what will be eaten, drunk, worn or experienced—one day at a time (6:34)–like all good AA wisdom. This process from Jesus of divine wholeness for human beings, created in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:27), means that what must be sought above all as the treasure, is this reign in our hearts and that we serve God’s moral order of justice in this world. Or as Jesus says elsewhere, “we should do good actions by which the righteous lay up treasure in heaven” (Mt 6:19-21; Mk 10:21; Lk 12:33f). That is our true connection!

By Chaplain Rick Gariepy Sept 2020