cover story in Newsweek has turned attention to sex addiction. You can read it all there. I was struck not simply by the story but by the description of those addicted to sexual behaviors and pornography as using these as a form of self-medication. In other words, this is not simply about sex. There is an emptiness and a void that compels desire and that takes form in the self-destructive behaviors of addiction. These become a way of avoiding insecurities and escaping the emotional issues that have led to the addictive behaviors.
It seems to me that addiction is less about the vice than about the need within. While it can help to avoid the thing that is the focus of the addiction (sex, drugs, internet and social networking, etc.), the avoidance is no cure. The emptiness within that the addictive behavior has exploited remains and so the person is always vulnerable. In this day and age, with the great accessibility we have to addictive behaviors, we are not helping people by simply telling them to avoid their weakness. In fact, it is this weakness, emptiness, and void that must be exposed and confronted.
The great advances of technology have brought with them increased contact with our addictions -- largely anonymous contact. We have the internet to provide us with constant access to whatever it is that is the object of our quest -- be it the twenty four hour news cycle or porn or social media. We are plugged in all the time and this virtual reality becomes both the escape from the actual reality of our world with all its real problems and issues as well as a master that cannot be satisfied.
Self-medication takes many forms. It may be prescription pills or illegal drugs or booze or piercing or cutting or tattoos or porn or hook ups or exposure (sexting, for example)... who knows what will hit the list next. But in the end it is less about the sex or the alcohol or the drugs or the other behaviors than it is the crying need inside. We can work all day long to out law or arrest or remove the objects of the addictive behaviors but in the end we are still left with the addict. But as a culture and society we do not have enough room in our prisons
to lock up everyone who turns to one illegal or immoral behavior or
another in search of something to medicate their pain. It would seem to me that this is like the Law preaching that prepares the way for the Gospel. If we can figure out a way to speak to those who hide their addictions behind a seemingly normal life, this is the very place for the Gospel to be spoken.
Yet at the same time, we must be careful. The Gospel is not a self-help program. It is not a tool toward healthy lives or wholeness in our spirits. It is redemption by dying with Christ our death to sin and rising with Christ to live the new life that is not me but Thee. That is where so many of our attempts have failed to reach the addicts with the Gospel. We treat the Gospel as if it were a program or a method or a technique. In doing so, it becomes a crutch until folks believe they have been cured or are strong enough to deal with their demons on their own. For the Christian, we cannot outgrow the Gospel nor do we ever find a cure that enables us to leave behind the message of the cross. The Gospel is no quick fix and it is no fix. But it is the one and only Word that can speak to the empty hearts seeking distraction or fulfillment in substitutes for what Christ alone offers.