When Jesus came into His hometown of Nazareth – where He could do virtually no miracles because the people would not receive Him – He spoke from Isaiah 61 that the Spirit of God was on Him and He was specially appointed to preach good news to the poor, restore the broken, and set captives free. Part of living in the tension of now and not now – of knowing He always speaks the truth and yet wondering why we sometimes have little evidence of it – is wondering why He set no one free in Nazareth.
It is not because He failed His identity as being fully God while being the Son of the God Abba that He achieved little in the town where He grew from toddler to manhood. It is entangled in the gift of human freedom, the reason Christ entered the world. It is the issue we need to engage, and there is no better context for engagement than the phenomenon of addiction and release. The people of Nazareth failed to see God in their own home not because they could not, but because they would not.
Something like one third of Americans – Christian or no – are caught in the bondage of addiction to one substance or another. There is no way to break that cycle through individual human effort; indeed, one of its principal components is the silly little fantasy that we can self-medicate our way to health and then “quit any time I really want to,” – as though it being all about me were somehow the solution rather than the problem.
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What can break the cycle is the overwhelming love of God and the people He sends to stand with the addict. It is rare for God to dramatically and instantaneously release an addict from addiction. Far more typical is the scenario in which the addict comes to a place of such desperate impotency before the bondage that he surrenders – not to the bondage but to God and those who love him enough to neither make nor accept excuses. That desperation is accelerated when his loved ones intervene with God’s love and unblinking rejection of his effort to destroy himself. Intervention is an act of faithful community, not individual machismo; subsequent treatment works through the same process, but with different players. The issue is whether we seek Kingdom community in Christ or hell with no one to turn to but ourselves.
The process is described in Matthew 18:15-20. Most people think it a formula for ridding ourselves of troublemakers, but it is really a model for progressive redemption. It is about stepping into disease processes that are the creation of ungodly choices – whether or not the chooser recognizes his dysfunction. The model is effective for any idolatry, whether it is of alcohol as pain reliever or the justification of self-righteous behavior on the grounds that nice guys finish last and if I don’t do for myself no one else will do for me either. Jesus says the one who would live should sacrifice his life in favor of eternal and abundant life.
This is not a recommendation to commit suicide, but a reminder that our lives are derived and dependent on the Life of Another. As long as we forget that we slip further and further into bondage – whether to chemicals or abusive behavior or the wasted life of narcissism. As long as we remember and bow to the reality that it is all about Him and not about us, the closer we come to the life for which we were born. And if we seem to make only baby steps each day – if we keep having to go to meetings or turn away from the same sins or submit ourselves to the same Redeemer every day – that is simply the evidence we live in the tension of now and not yet.
The created world was organized around sacrifice. Every species of animal features the sacrifice of parental lives to launch the next generation. Everyone reading this is the product of a sperm and egg that sacrificed its life to begin a new and human one. Jesus sacrificed Himself not to change but to restore that order. We are invited to join Him not in death but in life lived for others that releases real freedom from addiction to self – or anything else.
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The good news? Just as the Son ordered the formerly paralyzed man to rise and walk in Mark 2, so He speaks to us – that we can rise and walk in His grace. Of course, He’s not in Nazareth when He speaks. We need to choose reception.
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