Chapter OneWhy Do We Do It?
Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden, but sin is
forbidden because it is hurtful. Arthur H. Elfstrand
Some psychological and sociological conditioning occurs in every man's life and
this affects the decisions he makes. But we must resist the modern concept that
all sin can be explained merely on the basis of conditioning. Francis A. Schaeffer
One of my seminary students walked into my office and slowly
closed the door. "I'm checking out of seminary," he said. His eyes
never left the floor as he stood nervously in front of me, waiting
for my response. Not everybody makes it through seminary, so
this was not totally uncommon. He was a decent student, but he
did have a tendency to miss more classes than he should.
"Why are you leaving?" I asked.
The fidgeting became more noticeable before he finally
responded, "I guess I'm an alcoholic."
"So why are you dropping out?" I asked. I think he was a little
surprised by my response. Most people struggling with addictive
behaviors in Christian circles fear the possibility of being
found out, and they expect the hammer to fall when they are.
That student and I had a long talk that afternoon, and we began
to construct a plan for his recovery. Fortunately, he had a good
pastor who I knew would work with us to help him break free
from his addiction.
One of the more meaningful graduations that I ever attended
as a seminary professor came two years later when he walked
across that platform and received his diploma-two years sober.
I suppose it is a little unusual for a seminary student to be
hooked on alcohol, but it is not unusual to find this and other
problems in our churches or in Christian ministries.
There are approximately 20 million alcoholics in the United
States. It is estimated that 25 percent of these alcoholics are
teenagers. Of those who claim to be social drinkers, 1 in 10 is an
alcoholic. That ratio is 1 in 3 for those social drinkers who
attend a church. Christians are more likely to be secretive about
their drinking, which is counterproductive to their Christian
walk as well as their recovery in Christ.
What is more common, however, is the problem of sexual
addiction. I surveyed the student body of a respected evangelical
seminary and found that 60 percent felt guilty because of their
With the proliferation of gaming casinos and state-run lotteries,
it is estimated that there are more people addicted to
gambling than alcohol. In many evangelical churches, it isn't
socially acceptable to drink alcohol (at least hard alcohol) or
gamble, so we have our own ways of dealing with stress. We eat
(too much) and call it fellowship. Casting our anxieties upon the
refrigerator will not be healthy in the end (pardon the pun).
Why do people-including believers-choose such destructive
Partying Problems Away
When I was an engineering student, one night my wife and I had
dinner with an Air Force captain and his wife. The captain's wife
complained that her cocktail was not strong enough. "It didn't
even give me a buzz," she complained. She needed a strong drink
to free herself from her inhibitions. She couldn't have fun without
dulling her conscience and laying aside her problems and
responsibilities. Many people do not particularly care to get
drunk, and some manage their consumption very well by setting
a limit beforehand. Others don't seem to know when to stop, or
they intentionally look for a buzz.
The Peer-Pressure Predicament
Some chemical abusers start and continue their habits in
response to peer pressure. I once spoke at a Parents Without
Partners meeting, which was on a Friday evening. My message
on parenting was sandwiched between the happy hour and the
dance. At the meeting, my wife and I struck up a conversation
with a single mother who had a cigarette in one hand and a
drink in the other. As we talked, the cigarette burned itself out
and the ice cubes melted in her drink. This woman told us that
on any other occasion she neither smoked nor drank. So why
was she doing it here? Peer pressure! It was the social thing to
do. In some settings a person would really stand out if he or she
didn't do what everybody else was doing.
While smoking no longer holds the same status in most
social circles, drinking certainly does. Why do people go to such
events and why do they do things they otherwise would not do?
Probably because we all have a need to be accepted and to have a
sense of belonging.
Many Christians in business find themselves in compromising
positions. They battle thoughts such as, I don't really care to
drink, but to make a business deal I'd better go along with the luncheon
plans and cocktail party. If I don't go along with what they are doing, they
may think I won't play ball with them. This is not the time to make some
moral stand. They may take offense if I look down my nose at their drinking
habits. It could kill the deal.
A very successful corporate officer once told me that his
unlimited expense card could buy him any vice he wanted,
including a "massage." Of course, his company made such
vices available discreetly, with no questions asked. Certainly
this man and others like him are tempted: Who would know? The
company expects me to take a few perks and write them off as business
expenses. I work hard and I deserve some fun. Everyone else does it,
How well we stand against peer pressure and resist the temptation
to throw off our inhibitions and party is dependent on
how secure we are and how well our basic needs are being met.
These are probably the primary reasons why young people drink,
take drugs or compromise sexually. No one wants to be the odd
person out. The nerd! The party pooper! Very few young people
are secure enough in their identities to be able to stand alone.
People are better able to stand against such peer pressure when
they have another group that will accept them and provide them
with a sense of belonging.
We are more vulnerable to temptation when our legitimate
needs are not being met. The question is, Are they going to be
met in Christ, who promised to meet all of our needs according
to His riches in glory (see Phil. 4:19)? Or are we going to succumb
to temptation and turn to the counterfeit attempts to fulfill
our needs, as offered in abundance by the world, the flesh
and the devil? Paul admonished, "Let our people also learn to
engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, that they may not
be unfruitful" (Titus 3:14).
The first puff on a cigarette, the first taste of beer or the first
sip of hard liquor is seldom, if ever, a good experience. So why do
so many people proceed with an act that their natural tastes and
their own body want to reject? Most are driven to fulfill an inner
need for acceptance. They want to belong. People tend to compromise
their own convictions, and children often ignore the
warnings of their parents in order to be accepted by a friend or a
group. They do not want to be lonely.
The Rebellion Game
Some people act out of rebellion to authority. They drink alone
as a way to prove they are not going to be pushed around or told
what to do. They deliberately choose an offensive group to join.
These youngsters usually come from dysfunctional homes or
legalistic religious settings. Rules without relationship lead to
rebellion. Their first taste of a vice is repugnant, too, but they
keep rebelling, claiming they don't want love or acceptance from
parents or some other authority figure. So goes their thinking,
but actually they need to be loved and accepted. They are not
going to accept rigid standards or abide by a parent's wishes if
love and affirmation are absent.
Initial attempts to overcome a child's rebellious attitude
with unconditional love and acceptance will often be rebuffed.
He or she may be testing the parent or authority figure to see if
he or she is really loved. The child wants to be certain that he or
she is not being directed to behave in a particular way just to
promote or protect the parent's or authority figure's reputation
or ego. If your own motives are pure, then you have to outlove the child,
without compromising what you believe.
The Great Escape
Work is unbearable. Nobody understands me! My boss is an unreasonable
jerk! I didn't have one sale today, and my bills are piling up! Maybe
I could get my work done if they would only get off my back! They just
laid off another bunch! Am I next? I'll stop off at the club on my way
home and have a drink with the boys. It will help me get the pressures of
work off my mind and allow me to relax! Just one drink! Well, make it
two! How about another for the road?
People drink or use drugs to escape these and other pressures
of life. That is what the happy hour is all about. The truth
is we all have a lot of pressures in life. However, running away
from them or abdicating responsibilities only makes problems
worse. Paul wrote:
We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation
brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope
does not disappoint, because the love of God has been
poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit
who was given to us (Rom. 5:3-5).
Seeking temporary release from our responsibilities with
sex, alcohol, drugs and other addictions only increases the pressure.
In contrast, hope lies in proven character-not by numbing
our feelings, but by providing a lasting answer. Paul also wrote:
Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content
in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get
along with humble means, and I also know how to live
in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have
learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both
of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all
things through Him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).
The Survivor Mode
We can learn to live by the grace of God in whatever circumstances
we find ourselves. Unfortunately, in order to survive,
some people choose to believe that their hope lies in trying to
alter their circumstances. As a result, they become possessive
controllers, and those around them become codependents. Even
the slickest manipulators cannot control all the circumstances
of life, so they turn to alcohol and other desensitizers to cover
their anguish. These are angry, bitter people.
Other people are overcome by their circumstances and feel
absolutely helpless. They drown their sorrows in booze, drugs or
sex. They have never learned how to cope with life's pressures.
Neither the control freak nor the escapist has learned how to
grow through the trials and tribulations of life. This is one of the
greatest tragedies of addiction: Growth in character and emotional
development are arrested.
The New Testament instructs us to cast all of our anxieties
onto Christ because He cares for us and He has our best interests
at heart (see 1 Pet. 5:7). The drug dealer and the bartender could
care less about their clients. To them, the addictions they dole out
are just business-the more a patron uses or drinks, the better.
What makes matters worse is that the cure that chemicals
and alcohol pretend to offer is only temporary. When the effects
wear off, the addict has to go back to the same world with the
same responsibilities, but the circumstances only get worse with
each successive trip to the dealer or bar.
The Saloon is called a bar.
It is more than that by far! It's a bar to heaven, a door to hell, Whoever named it, named it well.
A bar to manliness and wealth; A door to want and broken health.
A bar to honor, pride and fame; A door to grief, and sin and shame.
A bar to hope, a bar to prayer; A door to darkness and despair.
A bar to an honored, useful life; A door to brawling, senseless strife.
A bar to all that's true and brave; A door to every drunkard's grave.
A bar to joys that home imparts; A door to tears and aching hearts.
A bar to heaven, a door to hell; Whoever named it, named it well.
Stopping the Pain
When you have a throbbing toothache, the only thing on your
mind is to stop the pain. You do not care about politics, family or
world evangelization. You only desire one thing: stopping the
pain. This is another reason people turn to chemicals and alcohol.
Many good people have become addicted to prescription
medications because the pain they felt was unbearable.
Responsible doctors will not prescribe a dosage that would cause
a patient to become chemically addicted, yet some patients find
other sources. They may have three or more medical professionals
call in separate prescriptions, each to a different pharmacy to
avoid detection. Some people mix alcohol with their prescriptions.
There are many ways to beat the safeguards that society
has set in place, including ordering drugs via the Internet.
My heart goes out to anyone who is in great pain because of
an injury or illness, but pain is not the enemy. Dr. Paul Brand
and Philip Yancey wrote the insightful book Pain: The Gift Nobody
Wants. They correctly point out that physical pain is a gift from
God. If we could not feel pain, we would be shrouded in a hopeless
mask of scars. That does not mean we should throw out all
painkillers-sometimes they are necessary. The problem arises
because we have become a pill-happy society. Even the slightest
pain is unacceptable and must be eliminated immediately-at
any cost. This kind of thinking could potentially destroy us, as
individuals and as a society. We have to learn to live with a certain
amount of pain. It is a critical part of growing up.
The physical pains we feel in the body are not always the
worst that we will have to endure in life. The emotional pains of
failure, rejection and loss of a loved one can be just as devastating.
Years ago I counseled a couple whose story illustrates how
deep such hurts can cut. The husband was an exasperating man.
His job was not working out; neither was his marriage. I have
never seen a man so flat on his back, who nonetheless kept spitting
at everybody. By his account, his boss, his wife and even his
pastor were all messed up, but he was not! Although we seemed
to have made a connection, he even stopped calling me.
Several months after the last time I saw him, I received a
telephone call late at night. To my surprise, he had just gotten
out of jail. I did not even know that he had been arrested. His
wife had left him and his family wanted nothing to do with
him, so I was the first person he called.