by Chance Campbell
The following is the continuation and second 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.
The following is the continuation of last month’s 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.
Chance: You were discussing the way the consequences of addiction “compound and influence future states and desires of the heart and body.”
Mike: Spiritually, I'll experience guilt and shame when I do something that I know is wrong. Shame is often both the consequence of giving in to an addiction the last time, as well as the precondition for giving in to it next time, resulting in more shame. And so the cycle goes. Or even if I don't know that it's wrong, my judgement (which involves the whole person, again, but is rooted in the heart) is impaired. I have begun a process of making foolish choices that incline me to make more foolish choices. Foolishness is primarily a matter of the heart.
Physically, I may become dependent on a chemical or experience to feel normal. Now my suffering has compounded. It used to be, perhaps, that my suffering pertained only to something in my external environment; now, it's also inside me. My body rebels in withdrawal when I don't have the chemical. And probably, the external troubles have not subsided. Now, I'm far more likely to seek comfort in that addiction.
Tempted as strongly as ever by external forces, and increasingly tempted by internal physical and spiritual pressures, it starts to seem like I don't even have a choice anymore. The line between temptation and sinful response seems very blurry at this point, if I can detect it at all. It starts to feel automated. It's like this thing is choosing me now. I'm enslaved.
But I didn't start out as a slave to this addiction. I probably didn't intend to become enslaved. Yet slavery is the natural consequence of my actions. I wanted freedom from pain, or perhaps just freedom to experience heightened pleasure. That was the bait I chomped down on, not thinking that bait always conceals a hook. So in a sense, I volunteered for this slavery.
And it's my whole person that's enslaved in addiction: my heart too, not just my body. So even though the heart ultimately drives my whole person including my outward actions, my heart is just as bound up in this addiction as my body is. It's not as if my heart remains pristine within my addicted body, fully capable of driving a "just stop it" campaign if only I would tap into that deep reservoir of will power and better nature. It's far messier than that. That reservoir has long since been polluted.
For example, my heart has come to believe lies, such as "I need this", or "I cannot endure this suffering without this crutch", or "I'm not addicted", or "The consequences aren't so bad," or "I can't help it." Those aren't physical realities; they are beliefs, deeply lodged in the heart.
An exception to this pattern would be a baby born with a chemical dependency. She isn't born addicted by her own sinful choices; she bears the painful consequences of others' choices for her. She suffers withdrawal due to no fault of her own. I was grieved by the USA Today article reporting the tripling in ten years of babies born addicted to painkillers and the horrible withdrawals they must endure.
Chance: The sad topic of addicted newborns brings up an important question: who is an addict? Is an addict a sinner or a victim?
Mike: Normally, an addict is a "voluntary slave", as I described above. I've borrowed this helpful term from Ed Welch. Both the slavery and voluntary aspects of it are real. Victim implies suffering, not as a natural consequence of my own actions, but as a result of someone else's actions or something like a natural disaster. In that sense, I don't think you can call an addict a victim, except in a case like that of a baby born addicted to her mother's crack or painkillers.
But I wonder if sometimes the question behind this question is really about whether compassion should be shown toward an addict. Do you think that compassion should be shown only to a victim, and not to a sinner? The fact is, God made his greatest show of love and compassion toward us sinners when Jesus Christ died on a cross that we might be forgiven. That's compassion we certainly didn't earn.
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