This article was written by BCC Counselor Jin Taek Chung as part of our new series on addiction. In this series, our counselors are sharing how everyone can understand, overcome, and find freedom from addiction.
“Bet you can’t eat just one,” a potato chip company once confidently challenged shoppers.
They knew very well how the deep-fried carbs, garnished with a hint of seasoning, combined into a satisfying crisp would likely keep us reaching in the bag for at least one more. Perhaps you sense a craving within you for potato chips upon the thought of it.
The truth is addictions reveal something deeper about us as people.
Deeper than the surface issues, a spiritual war is raging within our hearts: a battle between contentment and indulgence, between selfishness and service.
The spiritual reality is that addictions draw us further away from God’s purpose.
If we are going to win the battle over addictions, we need to better understand the spiritual reality of what is really going on in the struggle with addictive behavior.
The Root of Addiction
The reactions within our bodies are visceral ones that take place at a deep level.
Etched within our brains are the patterns we have forged through the rewarding and reinforcing experiences of dopamine release. This happens as we expect and enjoy a pleasing combination of fundamental nutrients that our bodies were wired to use efficiently when given in moderation.
Scripture reveals the originally intended spiritual purpose behind this design: “[God] did not leave Himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).
Each time we enjoy God’s good gifts, it is a witness to our Creator’s grace toward His creatures.
This gives us the opportunity to gratefully fulfill that which our souls were wired for: “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Everything was “created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16).
However, our fallen bent is to reverse this order: we distrustfully turn away from God and make it our goal to extract as much derivative pleasure as we can from His good gifts, co-opting them for our own purposes.
Ever since Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden tree, thinking it “was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6), the rest of mankind has since replaced God with the things of this earth as their ultimate desire and source for personal fulfillment.
The Fruit of Addiction
The stereotypical picture of an addict has been a malnourished person abusing drugs and alcohol, or a person anxiously staring at the rotating symbols of a slot machine as they plunge further into debt.
However, we can see today that addiction is much more pervasive beyond these scenarios.
It can be seen in a person who has put their bodies at further risk of various ailments due to overeating junk food, someone who loses touch with reality by binge-watching streamed shows, or an individual who goes relationally bankrupt while glaring at the slot machine-like scroll of social media feeds.
In all cases of addiction, there is an underlying desire to gain some semblance of control over negative emotions through the perceived escape of temporal gratification. Thus, in an addict’s mind, the source of the gratification has deceptively become salvific and in turn becomes their greatest treasure, leading the addict to sacrifice whatever it takes to obtain more and more of it.
The tragedy is that though the experience may briefly divert attention away from the stubborn spiritual problems which ache the heart, whether it be dark feelings of loneliness, shame, bitterness, or despair, the distracting experience does not solve the weighty spiritual problems within us.
Spiritual problems need spiritual solutions.
Addicted minds that are obsessively looking to the things of this world to solve spiritual problems are described in Scripture as becoming “futile in their thinking” (Rom. 1:21; cf. Eph 4:17). The apostle Paul further described such a mind as being “corrupt through deceitful desires” (Eph. 4:22).
These inordinate desires are driven by a myth that if one has exceedingly more of that which they are fixated on, then life will be better. However, in reality, this illusory process decays one’s life from the inside out as the preexisting spiritual problems fester unresolved and become compounded by new ones through the addiction (cf. Gal. 6:8).
The Freedom from Addiction
Psalm 73 gives us a picture of how to move away from addiction and toward God for true fulfillment and rest for our aching souls.
The psalmist Asaph felt lonely (v.3), ashamed (v.14), bitter (v.21), and hopeless (v.2) as he observed the unbelieving world who addictively looked to the deception of this passing world to avoid “trouble” (v.5). He himself wanted to give in to their overindulgent ways and live at “ease” through “increase” (v.12) as well.
But in this time of temptation, Asaph chose to intentionally look and see who was with him. God was “continually” with him and committed to graciously “hold” him by the hand through this passing world to bring him home to true “glory” one day (v.23-24).
Realizing that he is never alone and has true and lasting hope because of his gracious God, Asaph’s soul goes from “brutish and ignorant” (v.22) to a place of rest. Eternal perspective and purpose fill Asaph’s rested heart in God’s presence, leading him to declare back to God, “…there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (v.25).
Asaph turns down the destruction of addiction by choosing the true security, satisfaction, and significance that God alone offers instead: “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works” (v.28).
This is a forgiven and freed soul that has found true fulfillment and rest, glorying in our gracious God alone as his ultimate desire.
Jesus Christ calls us all to turn toward Him in our loneliness, bitterness, shame, and despair, turning away from the addictions that have only deepened those very problems.
For all who trust in Him by faith, He covers all of our shame through His atoning sacrifice and draws near to us with His all-sufficient grace.
Our restored souls can joyfully rest in His glorious presence, both now and forever (Ps. 62:5-7; 86:4-5; Matt. 11:28-29).