by Chance Campbell
The following is the first installment of an interview between Chance Campbell, Sr. editor and addiction specialist at Alltreatment.com, and Mike Wilkerson, pastor at Mars Hill church in Ballard, Seattle. Wilkerson is the author of Redemption, a book which discusses the biblical underpinnings of addiction, abuse, and recovery.
Mike: Thanks for asking me to comment on addiction. As a pastor, biblical counselor, author, and former addict to pornography, I've spent some time learning about and living through addiction. So my experiences and learning have been within the church and biblical counseling environments. I'll answer questions coming from that perspective.
Chance: Well, let’s delve right in. Why does addiction happen?
Mike: It's complicated, so I'll need to lay some ground work first, which will require me to say something about how God has designed human beings and what goes wrong that leads to addiction. Addiction is an advanced, complex entanglement of the sin and suffering that even non-addicts experience. I hope to show that we can all relate in some measure to the experience of addiction.
According to the Bible, humans are both physical and spiritual beings. Biblical words that refer to the non-physical aspect of people—soul, spirit, mind, heart—overlap in meaning. Among these, biblical counselors tend to use the word heart to refer to the seat of one's desires, emotions, values, commitments, and beliefs. While our hearts are the rudders that steer our lives, we are whole people: body and heart, material and immaterial, mind and brain. We express and experience evil as whole people. Two aspects of evil that can be distinguished—but often cannot be cleanly separated, especially in addiction—are sin and suffering.
Suffering includes any kind of trouble from my social, spiritual, emotional, financial or physical environments, including biological problems in my own body. Sometimes I suffer as an innocent, due to someone else's wrongdoing, not my own. For example, victims of rape, child abuse, or robbery.
Other times I suffer due to no one's wrongdoing, such as being born with a birth defect, or losing my home in a tornado.
Institutional, social or cultural suffering is somewhere in between. For example, suppose I was born into generational poverty. There are evils somewhere committed by someone, or many someones, or institutions, the long-range effects of which result in my poverty that's not my fault.
Finally, there are times when my suffering is the consequence of my sin. For example, if I spend my money foolishly and rack up credit card debt, the pressure and anxiety I may experience under that debt load is a natural consequence of my actions.
Sin includes any thought, motive, attitude or action that deviates from God's design for peaceful, harmonious, loving, responsible human living. Sin always lives in the heart first, and is inevitably expressed by the whole person, including the physical actions of the body.
Every person is born with a proclivity to sin. We were not designed that way by God, but we have been born that way since our first parents, Adam and Eve, sinned in the garden of Eden. Now, sin is in our genes, you might say. We live in a world marked by sin. Every dimension of every environment that influences us is affected by sin. There is no pristine environment free of sin's effects, not within the church, nor in a hermitage withdrawn from culture, and certainly not within our own hearts.
We are designed by God as active, desiring, responsible, choosing beings. We are also designed to respond when influenced or acted upon. Yet because we're born with this proclivity to sin, our actions and responses are often sinful, especially when we respond to suffering.
When we suffer, we are usually tempted to respond sinfully. For example, I may be more likely to raise my voice in anger after being insulted by someone than I would be otherwise. Responding to evil in like kind is sinful; it's revenge.
So what happens when I respond to suffering by finding comfort for my pain in a chemical substance, a sexual encounter, or a gambling spree? I experience that comfort—however temporarily—in my whole person, body and heart. But which drove me to seek comfort, my body or my heart? It's me that goes there, my whole person, driven by my heart, acted out in my body.
Furthermore, my actions result in consequences, and I experience those consequence, again, as a whole person. Seeking comfort in a chemical substance, for example, results in both physical and spiritual consequences. Now, suppose I continue in a pattern of going to this source of comfort again and again. The consequences compound and influence future states and desires of the heart and body.
Three Part Interview with author and pastor, Mike Wilkerson:
by Mike Wilkerson
Crossway Books, 2011
Pastor, Mars Hill church in Ballard, Seattle
Senior Editor & Addiction Specialist at Alltreatment.com