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Addictions: The Abusive Relationship with God-Substitutes

“You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me” (Exodus 20:3)

I come from a family where several members struggled with an addiction to alcohol. Their abuse of alcohol caused me to fear it for many years. It was easier to completely reject alcohol than to figure out how to have a balanced relationship with it. I am a Christian who believes that drinking alcohol is not in itself a sin, but rather the abuse or addiction to it (Eph 5:18). I know other Christians have different views on this, and I’m not seeking to change anyone’s mind on that. I respect that others can draw the line in different places than I do.

What I do want to address very directly here is the broader category of addiction and how I see myself and other believers developing addictions to various replacements for God. My personal addiction is to sugar. I love sugar. I crave sugar. I seek sugar. I tempt others with sugar. In some ways, I worship sugar. That might seem to be a stretch, but when given the option to turn to sugar or to turn to God when I’m stressed, I’ve often chosen the comfort of sugar over the comfort of the words of God and His presence. This behavior over the past 40 years reveals that I have unknowingly attributed more power to sugar to fill my soul than to God.

In the book I’m reading entitled “Sugar Fast,” sugar addiction is likened to an abusive relationship. I love sugar, but sugar doesn’t love me. It does not ultimately meet my deepest needs, but it holds me captive. It lulls me into a non-thinking allegiance that captures me with its momentary pleasure. My mind pictures Edmond in the Chronicles of Narnia as he’s riding in the carriage through the snow with the White Witch (representing Satan). She wants to lure him into her castle so she can control him, draw the rest of his siblings into her lair, and then destroy them all since they are a threat to “her” kingdom. Edmond is hungry and she offers him anything he wants to eat. He asks for Turkish Delight, she creates it, and presents it to him immediately. As he’s stuffing his favorite candy into his pre-adolescent cheeks, his ability to think clearly evaporates. He now temporarily belongs to the witch and thinks he’s in Heaven, oblivious to the fact that he’s headed for a place bent on his (and his siblings’) demise.

In seeing my addiction and naming it, I’m now beginning to wrestle with it. All through high school I willingly abstained from all sugar. My mother’s only piece of advice for me as I headed off to college 7 hours from home was “don’t eat a lot of French fries or drink milkshakes!” I did the EXACT opposite and drank Mint Chocolate Chip milkshakes and ate French Fries routinely! The sugar addiction developed from there. So, here I am, 4 decades later, confronting the addiction and dealing with the long-term effects that only a true sugar addict can experience – health issues that require great amounts of self-control to remedy. My flabbiest fruit of the spirit is required to beat back the effects of this long-held ‘God substitute’.

Do you have an unidentified addiction? Besides sugar, there are many other seemingly harmless activities or substances that are legal, but they can become habitual, moving toward addictive: Retail therapy, as people jokingly call it; Coffee; Diet Soda; Binge-watching TV shows or news programs; Social Media; Phones; Video games; Running; Hiking; Fishing; Golf; Sex; Reading romance novels; a relationship; Smoking; betting on sports or cards. Even work can become an addiction! These are all legal things we can become addicted to, and it is not an exhaustive list. Basically, anything you enjoy or find meaning in has the POTENTIAL for becoming an addiction. In this article I’m only addressing those addictions to things that are permissible by law and by God when used in their proper context or boundary.

It's so easy to pass judgment on the drug addict who has lost everything because of their addiction. Here’s where the ‘log in the eye’ principle taken from Matthew 7:3-5 comes into play. Have you searched your heart and life to see if there are any addictions in your own life? Has any good (or permissible) thing become a god-thing in your life that is an easier, more desirable, or more imperative place to turn to than to God Himself? Does it put your priorities out of order? Do you rationalize or fiercely defend it?

Those who play Candy Crush for hours a day to numb their minds or relieve stress don’t bear the physical consequences as with my sugar addiction, but the same root issue is there…seeking fulfillment in something other than a true relationship with God. I am not saying that playing a game on your phone is wrong, or eating a sweet treat is forbidden for everyone (it may be off-limits for some with health issues or unique spiritual convictions), or that watching TV is a sin. That’s legalism. I’m saying, all people are susceptible to addictive behaviors in so many forms. Whatever you habitually turn to as a place for comfort over seeking God first and giving Him His rightful place in your life can become an addiction or a god.

Right now, I’m fasting from sugar for 40 days. I am on Day 8. Yesterday was my first terribly weak day, but I did succeed in abstaining from the most enticing chocolate cake on my counter. A friend who is slim and healthy brought it as a dessert for a meal that 12 of us share together twice a month. She has every right to eat the cake and to bring it as a beautiful offering for others to partake in at the end of our meal. She has exercised self-control over her 50+ years and has the health and figure to prove it. I desperately wanted at least one piece of cake. I thought of taking only a bite, rolling it around in my mouth, and then spitting it out after I got to taste it. I knew that wasn’t technically a sugar fast, and somehow I overcame what at moments seemed impossible. I had asked a few people to pray for me earlier, knowing the cake would be here. Their prayers and accountability got me through.

For those who don’t have addictions, I hope you will have compassion on those of us who do and help us rather than judge us. Pray for those whom you know have addictions. Lots of times they don’t even know they have it. It’s easy for me to have a strong opinion about a young person’s addiction to their video games or cell phones when I myself have not fully dealt with my own addiction to sugar and my deeply rooted sin of pride.

May we extend grace to others for their weaknesses, and may we have courage, strength, conviction, and perseverance to address our addictions and transform our lives, with God on the throne, not our God Substitute.

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