We probably all know a drunk or an addict. They’ve been to church with us, maybe often, even regularly. Maybe they only try to come sometimes, when their user is less active. You know: They’ve heard it all, maybe from you – how God wants to help them. They’ve made the commitment, prayed the prayers with tears and poured out remorse by the bucketful. But the using resumes, it gets worse. Addiction is a disease.
True addiction is: Chronic, Systemic and Fatal.
And so, the life an addict lives is one of persistent relapse. Hospitals. Jails. Ugliness. Most devolve into hateful and viscous caricatures of themselves when they are under the influence. Loss of friends, family abandonment, economic collapse … shunning by people who should love them. Unconditionally. (Is your church like that?)
Addicts may never “get well.” That doesn’t mean I have permission from God to treat them poorly.
“Judge not lest ye be judged.” Matthew 7:1.
Why are we so prone to cry out with compassion when we see a wounded, wet, cold, abandoned puppy? Why am I so condemning of the disheveled smelly person, head in hands, sitting on the curb with his cup hanging by a finger?
Explain how this works to me as if I’m five years old, would you?
So, imagine that a child asks their parents:
“Why does Uncle hurt me like this? Why is Auntie so mean? They scare me!!” Mom and Dad and the older brother … pause to reflect…
“Honey, do you remember when you were really, really sick with the flu. How you were so tired and cranky. And everything hurt so much? Do you remember how we took you to the doctor all those times, and how you hated it so much? Do you remember being so upset that you screamed hateful things at us? You vomited and messed your pants … and were angry and afraid because you don’t like making mistakes like that?”
“Do you remember how one day, your fever broke and you started to feel so much better. But you were so weak it took quite a while to get stronger, and how frustrated you were that we would’t let you get back on your bicycle right away. How mad you got when going outside wasn’t okay?”
“But you kept on getting better and soon you were back outside playing with the others. And all at once one day – all of a sudden! – you were strong and happy and curious and interested in school again?”
“It’s sort of like that with Auntie/Uncle. Only they may never get better.”
If a disease is something that happens to us, not by choice – but by chance, then addiction is a disease. Alcohol and drug abuse – bad habits – are not diseases. They are defects of character. Characters can change. An abuser can stop. Cessation and abstinence are permanent.
True addiction, which means isolated dependence upon a substance – is a disease. Some may obtain sobriety for a time, but the disease is always ready to resume. Remission lurks.
So why would I treat an addict with any less empathy than someone with the flu? Further, doesn’t a flu that will never go into remission deserve even more compassion?
Today, I’d like to be able to see that person sitting on the curb and truly sense the love of God for them. Like I do the cold, abandoned puppy.