Why sing? Why are “psalms, hymns, and and spiritual songs” important? What does singing do?
In the world we live in
“There is a ‘downward pressure’ continually in operation, which seeks to take that which is penultimate, and make it ultimate… The antidote to such ‘downward pressure’ is the continual eschatological emphasis of word and sacrament, of prayer and praise, and of koinonia [fellowship] lived in the present in light of the age to come.”[i]
Truly, “unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is around us.”[ii] St. Gregory reportedly said something similar: “If you do not delight in higher things, you most certainly will delight in lower things.” Truly, “worship shapes individual and community character.”[iii] That is, all worship, good or bad, Christian or other, intentional or unintentional. Thus we must focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (see Phil. 4:8).[iv] We must keep “the good,” the true good—God and His truth—the summum bonum ever before us.
Our ultimate love, the place where we rest our desire, has an ultimate affect. So, “moral decay doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is supported by the idolatry of the society at any given time, and expressive of its worship, even if such be completely unarticulated.”[v] Moral decay happens when something other then God is our ultimate good (cf. Rom. 1).
Thus, it is important that we temper our hearts variously through singing, community, and the absorption of God’s word. That’s how we’re shaped biblically and practically. The more we have our chief end in view, through various means, the better we will live to that end.
We need deep and substantive reflection and celebration. We need to work at fostering transformative experiential worship where we can taste and see that the LORD is good. We need God to restore to us the joy of our salvation. We need God to open the eyes of our heart, we need the Spirit to move, we need God’s strength to comprehend His amazing love that surpasses knowledge.
“It is… superior satisfaction in future grace that breaks the power of lust [or addiction]. With all eternity hanging in the balance, we fight the fight of faith. Our chief enemy is the lie that says sin will make our future happier. Our chief weapon is the truth that says God will make our future happier… We must fight [our sin] with a massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the conflagration of holy satisfaction.”[vii]
Where do we turn for this? “The role of God’s Word is to feed faith’s appetite for God. And, in doing this, it weans [our] heart away from the deceptive taste of lust.”[viii] Therefore, we must feast on Scripture. And singing is an especially useful tool to help the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16).
Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and being involved in Christian community is very important because, as C.S. Lewis said, “What is concrete but immaterial can be kept in view only by painful effort.”[ix] We need each other, we need music, we need preaching to shake us awake to unseen realities. That’s why we’re told—commanded even when we don’t feel like it—to make a joyful noise to the LORD (Ps. 66:1; 81:1; 95:1, 2; 98:4, 6; 100:1).[x]
We’re told to sing because when we sing with our voice our whole body, and I would argue, our whole self (i.e. our heart) reverberates with the truth of what we sing. When we sing lyrics, whether good or bad, they get into us and shape us. We are essentially preaching to ourselves, teaching ourselves, telling our self what we should desire, we are holding up a vision of prospering and “the good.”[xi] If we are driving down the highway listening to Taylor Swift, Blink 182, or Eminem it has a very real potential to shape us. We, at least, very often, internalize what we are singing. We imagine and feel not only the rhythm and tone but what the whole artistic message is putting forth. Music shapes us by implanting seeds of desire.[xii]
We are to be filled with the Spirit, instead of being drunk with alcohol or high on drugs, in part through singing (Eph. 5:15-20). Thus,
“Worship is one of the most transforming activities for us to engage in as Christians… When we become duly impressed with God our lives change because the things that matter to us change. We no longer want some of the things we previously desired. An overridding and overwelming passion for God himself, God’s people, and God’s kingdom purposes in this world replace those desires. True worship happens when we get a glimpse of God–who he is and what he is about–and just stand there in awe of him, being impressed and transformed down to the very depths of our being by the magnificent vision of the glory of our heavenly Father.”[xiii]
Truly, “Reality is simply far too great to be contained in propositions. That is why man needs gestures, pictures, images, rhythms, metaphor, symbol, and myth. It is also why he needs ceremony, ritual, customs, and conventions: those ways that perpetuate and mediate the images to us.”[xiv] We must use a collaboration of means to remind ourselves that it is the LORD God, the Maker of heaven and earth alone, that can meet our every need. We must use good songs, good stories, the Bible, Christian community, logic, etc. to stir up our (correct) desires for the LORD and all the good He is and has for us. We must take care least there be an unworthy thought in our heart (Deut. 15:9). We must pursue things that bring light and life and reject what is rank in ruin and worthlessness (see e.g. Ps. 101).
Truly, wherever our treasure (i.e. desire, view of “the good,” or our view of the good life) is, our heart (“heart” in Scripture has to do with our whole self; cognition, volition, emotions) will be also (Matt. 6:21; Lk. 12:34).[xv] Thus, we must work at fostering worship of the one true God.
Singing sinks God’s truth deep within our souls. Singing works because it leads us to worship. Singing teaches us what we should truly desire. Singing tunes our hearts to sing God’s praise.
[i] Doe, Created for Worship, 236.
[ii] Christian worship: it’s Theology and practice, 81
[iii] Doe, Created for Worship, 234.
[iv] Cf. Payne, The Healing Presence, 140.
[v] Doe, Created for Worship, 236.
[vi] Ibid., 235 see also Jonathan Edwards very important book Religious Affections.
[vii] Piper, Future Grace, 336.
[viii] Ibid., 335.
[ix] C.S. Lewis, Letter to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963), 114.
[x] “Worship isn’t merely a yes to the God who saves, but also a resounding and furious no to lies that echo in the mountains around us. The church gathers like exiles and pilgrims, collected out of a world that isn’t our home, and looks hopefully toward a future. Our songs and prayers are a foretaste of that future, and even as we practice them, they shape us for our future home” (Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel [Wheaton: Crossway, 2013] 104).
[xi] “Music gets ‘in’ us in ways that other forms of discourse rarely do. A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do… Song seems to have a privileged channel to our imagination, to our kardia, because it involves our body in a unique way… Perhaps it is by hymns, songs, and choruses that the word of Christ ‘dwells in us richly’” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 171).
[xii] Even Nirvana communicates; even if it’s emptiness or aggression that they put forward. However, realize that I am not saying that we cannot listen to Garth Brooks or Bruno Mars. Though I am not sure how or to what end those and other artist will shape you. I would say that “For Today,” a Metal band that is explicitly Christian, would have more of intentional transformative affect upon me then most artists. This is, I guess, both because of the content of their lyrics and the package in which they are wrapped (i.e. often very active and passionate singing and yes even screaming). However, Garth Brooks could perhaps have a transformative affect for some people as well (I am not one of them). Bruno Mars may be close to a-formative. Yet, as humans, I think we are similar to water. If we are not moving, i.e. being transformed, then we are stagnating, being deformed. Our bent, since the Fall, is away from our creator. Thus, perhaps, if we listen too much Bruno Mars and the like, a-formative music, we will stagnate. If we are left to our own devises and don’t have a gaud we do not progress. Our default is digression.
[xiii] Richard E. Averbeck, “Spirit, Community, and Mission: A Biblical Theology for Spiritual Formation,” 38 in the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care). I think Eph. 5:17-21 is noteworthy here. See also “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit” by Steven R. Guthrie in JETS and “Being the Fullness of God in Christ by the Spirit” by Timothy G. Gombis in Tyndale Bulletin.
[xiv] Payne, The Healing Presence, 146 cf. 148.
[xv] “Disordered action is a reflection and fruit of disordered desire” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 177)
Sin Leads to Enslavement
Sin is like Gollum’s ring. It enslaves and destroys. It looks so good but ends in lava.
Truly, “What we revere, we resemble, either for ruin or restoration,”[i] and we all revere something. So “when we speak of ‘worship’ …we are not speaking about an activity of one’s life, but speaking of the activity of one’s life.”[ii]
Thus, “What distinguishes us (as individuals, but also as ‘people’) is not whether we love, but what we love. At the heart of our being is a kind of ‘love pump’ that can never be turned off—not even by sin or the Fall; rather, the effect of sin on our love pump is to knock it off kilter, misdirecting it and getting it aimed at the wrong things.”[iii]
Yet when we aim at the wrong thing, worship the wrong thing, and thus deprive God of His glory, He deprives us of ours[iv] and we end up empty and doing all manner of wickedness. This is woven into the fabric of the universe, our very existence.
We will worship. That’s not the question. The question is who or what will we worship and to what end. What will be the result?
One catechism asks, “With what design did God create man?” The answer: that we should know God, love and glorify Him, and so be happy forever.[v] Truly “God is to be worshipped, not simply because he demands to be, but because this is the proper destiny of his creation.”[vi] Worship is inevitable.[vii] It will and is happening. The question is not will you worship but what? And what will it lead to?
Will it damn you and lead to enslavement; or will it bring eternal shalom and human flourishing (i.e. true cross-cultural human flourishing not the mere individualistic perception of flourishing) (recall Rom. 1 and 6)? Is it true or is it false?
When we worship the LORD we are going with the grid that is innately ingrained within us since the beginning. This is innate within us but it is strangely not natural. We have been dispossessed of where we were, where we should be. Yet, it is where we should be. The worship of the LORD God is true and right but it also works, it is the way it was designed to be (and thus it not surprisingly works that way).
We were made for ineffable joy and thus we not surprisingly seek for it. The thing about the joy we seek (sehnsucht) is that it’s not quite like our hunger, thirst, or other desires; it cannot be filled within the earth. So, apparently, we with our longing seek to fill it with that which cannot fill it. We think that, similar to our other “thirsts,” it too can be quenched here on earth through tangible means. Yet experience, many wise people, and Scripture have exhorted us that that is just not the case. There is a greater thirst within us, yet also a greater quenching. There is joy unimaginable, though now not wholly obtainable.
So, hear Romans 6:20-23: “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at the time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Thus, sin is not good because it enslaves and leads to death although it promises life and fulfillment.
[i] G. K. Beale, We Become what we Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.).
[ii] Noel Doe, Created for Worship, 20.
[iii] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 52.
[iv] cf. Noel Doe, Created for Worship, 29.
[v] Longer Catechism of the Eastern Church , question 120.
[vi] Noel Doe, Created for Worship, 39.
[vii] cf. e.g. Noel Doe, Created for Worship, 230, 231.
Sin Looks Really Good
It is a graphic scene, depicted in the most vivid way. A recent celebrated movie shows the character smiling in glee as he takes his own life. This depiction is sad yet we see it week-in and week-out. The movie is The Return of the King and the character is Gollom. Gollom, previously known as Sméagol, use to be a regular hobbit but was corrupted, enslaved by the ring. His infatuation with the ring started slow (a weekend here and there) but ended desperately. Gollom loved and hated the ring. He was torn, he wanted to be free from the ring and yet relentlessly pursued it.
At the end of the movie, Gollom finally has, as he says, “my precious.” But in getting the ring he has destroyed himself and everyone, indeed, everything around him. Yet his refrain is, “my precious.” Gollom’s last scene is one of great joy (for him). Gollom fights Frodo over the ring, another character that was nearly wholly-destroyed by the ring. Gollom is fierce. He wants the ring at any price. He bites off Frodo’s finger and rejoices over his plunder. He embraces his cruel master as his beloved friend. He falls, seemingly, blissfully in the lava and as he sinks he rejoices that he has comfort from pain, he has everything, he has his “precious.” Then he sinks and he and his “precious” are gone.
This scene, though portrayed differently, is a scene I have seen too often. This scene is the climax and conclusion of far too many stories of sin. Sin looks good. It is so sad to see people enraptured in love with their cruel master and executioner.
Sin is ingeniuine. It makes big promises but never delivers. Truly the world and sin “promises happiness, and nothing less… It promises to satisfy our desires, but only increases them; it gives poisoned pills, but wraps them in sugar.”[i]
Satan sells us lies and blinds our eyes. He would have us contended with filth and miss the glorious Lord who is worthy of all praise and can satisfy our longing soul. Truly Satan is crafty and subtle in his lies (recall the way he talked to Eve; Gen. 3:1ff cf. Lk. 4:1). He is a lion that is crouched low (1 Pet. 5:8). We don’t always see him but his desire is to destroy.
Satan is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4; Rev. 2:13) and his worship leads to curses and hatred of neighbor. In him is death and he is the futility of man; whoever lives in his influence shall perish and not have life (reverse of Jn. 1:4; 3:16). The world sits on the back of this evil beast of death (cf. Rev. 17:3). The world doesn’t know it but all people follow the course the beast as set, and it’s a funeral procession, that leads to the grave (cf. Eph. 2:1-3).
So Satan, the lord of this age, is rightly called the “deceiver of the whole world,” the “father of lies” (Rev. 12:9; Jn. 8:44 cf. Rev. 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3; 2 Cor. 11:3; 2 Thess. 2:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:14). He is a dragon that smites many hosts yet not by the fire of his mouth but by the damning effects of his lies. And what do you expect his children to say? “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves” (2 Pet. 2:19 cf. Matt. 24:24; Jn. 8:44; Rom. 16:18; Eph. 4:14). Those that know not Christ are blind and would have us wonder around in darkness too (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4-6). Satan and his children boast of good, but it’s all tainted, and leads to death (cf. Prov. 5:1-6; 7).
Thus, sin is not good because although it can look good, it’s not. It damns and destroys the good world God made. The de-creation voice of Satan pulls us toward death and non-being. It may sound good, as it did to Eve, but it is anything but good. It destroys. It curses and creates confusion. It sends us guilty out of Eden, where our good lays, and into Gehenna.
[i] Thomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm, 44.
Sin, Resulting in the Fall, Explains Humanities Wretchedness and yet Greatness
I think it’s accurate to say that “any viable worldview must successfully explain the seemingly paradoxical nature of the human condition.”[i] The philosopher Blaise Pascal lamented, “What sort of freak is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, the glory and refuse of the universe!”[ii]
“the inexplicable phenomenon of mankind: unquestionably corrupt, subject to inconstancy, boredom, anxiety and selfishness, doing anything in the waking hours to divert the mind from human wretchedness, yet showing the vestiges of inherent greatness in the mind’s realization of this condition. Mankind is also finite, suspended between twin infinities revealed by telescope and microscope, and aware of an inner emptiness which the finite world fails to satisfy. No philosophy makes sense of this. No moral system makes us better or happier. One hypothesis alone, creation in the divine image followed by the fall, explains our predicament and, through a redeemer and mediator with God, offers to restore our rightful state.”[iii]
Human greatness split the atom, human wretchedness uses the same to kill millions of people. A great, though wretched, leader, Adolf Hitler, will lead a nation to slaughter millions. A great leader, Winston Churchhill, will lead a nation in their defense. As much as we are great, we bare God’s image. As much as we are wretched, we bare Satan’s. Ben Carson, with his intelligence, will fight for cures; others will inject poison. Humanity is simultaneously great and wretched. What explains this paradox? We all innately sense it but why is it here?
Humanity is fallen. So “the line between good and evil is never simply between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The line between good and evil runs through each one of us.”[iv] We are made in God’s image and thus can do fantastic things and fantastic good but we have been marred by the Fall and often reflect Satan so we can also do acts of unbelievable wickedness.
Thus, sin is not good because it wreaks havoc on our greatness, on the fact that we were created in the image of God, and distorts it to evil ends.[v] How sad that we who are capable of exploring the limitless expanse of the sea, the mind, space, and biology so often content ourselves with razing and rioting. How sad that though we as humanity are capable of such good, there is such grave injustice. I’ve read for example that a woman born in parts of South Africa is more likely to be raped then to learn to read.[vi] This surely should not be!
[i] Robert Velarde, “Greatness and Wretchedness” “How can one species produce both unspeakable wickedness and nearly inexplicable goodness? How can we be responsible both for the most disgusting squalor and for the most breathtaking beauty? How can grand aspirations and self-destructive impulses, kindness and cruelty, be interwoven in one life? The human enigma cries out for explanation” (Thomas Morris, “Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life” as quoted in Robert Velarde, “Greatness and Wretchedness: The Usefulness of Pascal’s Anthropological Argument in Apologetics”).
[ii] Pascal, Pensees, 131/434.
[iii] D.G. Preston, New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wells, and J.I. Packer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), s.v. “Blaise Pascal” as quoted in Robert Velarde, “Greatness and Wretchedness: The Usefulness of Pascal’s Anthropological Argument in Apologetics.”
[iv] N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 38.
[v] Sadly, “human nature itself, with its vast and mysterious amalgam of capacities to think, feel, supervise, love, create, respond, and act virtuously—that is, with its vast capacities for imaging God—has become the main carrier and exhibit of corruption” (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 30-31).
[vi] Yet how strange and how sad that we hate the thought of this and yet many still struggle with the wickedness of pornography. Most of humanity hates the thought of human trafficking but yet enjoys the very things that feed that market.
Sin is Humanities Death Wish
I was always told growing up that it’s not good to do bad things. And for a time I was content with that. It didn’t need to be explained to me. However, as time has gone on and temptations have increased, or at least my perception of them, I find it helpful to understand and remind myself of why “it’s not good to do bad things.”
Obviously, “it’s not good to do bad things” because it doesn’t please God but why doesn’t it please God? Why are bad things bad? We see from reflection on Scripture that bad things are bad because they are not in accord with God’s character and thus apart from being bad they do not finally work with the way things are. In short, they are against the universe. Against existence. Against the way things are. Against the way things work. This is because God is good, supremely good. And creation is thus to operate in a certain way. Sin, evil, and bad are not innate within God’s good creation. They don’t “work” and will one day soon be expelled from the whole system. Then, and only then, will all things be put right and made new.
Thus, “The consequence of human sin is not to be seen as an arbitrarily imposed penalty, like a judge imposing a fine for drunk driving, but rather as an inevitable outworking of the implications of sin.”[i] “Death is not an arbitrary punishment for sin; it is its necessary consequence,” because “the turning away from the living God which constitutes idolatry is the spiritual equivalent of a diver cutting off his own breathing tube.”[ii]
To turn from God, to sin, is not only wrong but also foolish. Why? Because “God is our final good, or maker and savior, the one in whom alone our restless hearts come to rest. To rebel against God is to saw of the branch that supports us.”[iii]
Sin is humanities death wish in everyway.[iv] To be separated from God is to die, physically and spiritually. Human flourishing, true shalom, is bond up with God.[v] Apart from union with God we can seek but we won’t find.
The world is a dichotomy. It’s two paths. The wise and the fool. New creation and de-creation. Damnation and liberation. Life and death. Hell and heaven. Where, in a very real sense, are you going?
Sin is thus not good because it is innately against true human flourishing.[vi] Sin is not good because it is humanities death wish in every sense.
[i] Anthony N. S. Lane, “Lust: the human person as affected by disordered desires” 35 in EQ 78.1 , 21-35.
[ii] N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 109.
[iii] Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 123. “Sin dissipates us in futile—and self-destructive—projects. Sin hurts other people and grieves God, but it also corrodes us. Sin is a form of self-abuse” (Ibid., 124). “Sin against God is therefore outrageous folly: it’s like pulling the plug on your own resuscitator” (Ibid., 125-26). Thus “because it is futile, because it is vain, because it is unrealistic, because it spoils good things, sin is a prime form of folly” (Ibid., 126). Proverbs 8:35-36 says, “For whoever finds me [i.e. “wisdom” which is the fear of the LORD] finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.”
[iv] “The association of sin with physical and spiritual death runs like a spine through Scripture and Christian tradition” (Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 47).
[v] “The biblical vision of human flourishing implicit in worship means that we are only properly free when our desires are rightly ordered, when they are bounded and directed to the end that constitutes our good” (Desiring the Kingdom, 176). Likewise John Frame, God’s “law is not arbitrary, but is based on his own nature… His moral standard is simply himself, his person, his nature” (Frame, The Doctrine of God, 448 see also Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 133-35). G. K. Chesterton said, “God is not a symbol of goodness. Goodness is a symbol of God” (Chesterton, William Blake [London: House of Stratus, 2000], 40).
[vi] “Human flourishing” rather is “the same thing as glorifying God and enjoying him forever” (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 37-38).
Sin is a Rebellion and a Rampage
Sin is moral. It is an act against God. It is a transgression against God’s law. But not only His law but also His good plan.[i] Sin is not merely moral or highhanded treason it is also a rampage because it is mad; that is foolish, a form of insanity. It goes against good sense. It is a rampage because sin destroys the good.
We have all seen the pain and sorrow that moral derogation has wrought in our lives. We see it for instance in sins of others against us and those close to us, we see it in sins which we have sinned against others, we see it in the world at large (e.g. my parents were divorced, a very close friend of mine was molested as a child, and a friend of mine that struggled with drug addiction committed suicide). There is, for sure, a law written on all our hearts, we go against it to the shame and suffering of humanity; and yet, we all do indeed go against it.
Humanity has and needs a moral standard. This points us to the Creator who gave it to us when He created us in His image. However, it also points us to the Fall. We all fail to measure up to the standard. We can all think of a hypothetical world where everyone followed these standards and where the result was great happiness. Yet, this is not the case. We do not follow these good (innate) standards. How odd. We know the good we ought to do, or at least that there is “a good,” and yet fail to do it.
Sin leads to terrible depraviltiy, hopelessness, and disregard for humanity or anything good. This is vividly portrayed, for example, in Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic book The Road. We don’t want to suffer what is portrayed there. We don’t even want to think of the horrors of Dachau and Auschwitz. We all know the wickedness of Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, and Joseph Kony. Yet perhaps their nearly unbelievable atrocities allow us to belittle (in our conscience) our own wickedness. However, even if our sin is so-called “low-grade wickedness” it is the equivalent of their sin, just on a micro level. It has the same seed, though perhaps it hasn’t came to full bloom yet.
What must be realized is that all sin is a movement towards un-creation.[ii] In C.S. Lewis’ words, through sin man becomes the “unman.” Through sin everything that was very good (see Gen. 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) becomes cursed instead. Sin covers beauty, boasts in badness, and hides from the supreme joy we all seek. Sin is a rampage.
Sin is a leech and parasite. It lives off of and feeds on life and vitality.[iii] And it kills it. Bleeding it away little by little until the carrier is completely eaten away and destroyed. Note that this death, though complete, can be imperceptible.
Sin leads to de-creation as well as desecration. Humans were made in God’s own image yet through sin that image has literally been put into dirt; man becomes dirt and ashes from whence he came (hence de-creation). From perfection to misdirection, from shalom[iv] to shattering. Everything has come undone. The creation groans with longing. Sin is not merely moral. It is the decay of all things. Sin wrought a wreak and we are still wheeling and writhing in pain.[v]
Thus, sin is not good not only because it is moral rebellion against a good and all-powerful God but also because it is a rampage against His good creation.
[i] “Sin represents an attack upon the harmony of the created order, and not merely a moral lapse” ((Revd Victor James Johnson, “Illustrating Evil – The Effect of the Fall as seen in Genesis 4-11,” 60 in Melanesian Journal of Theology 11-1&2 ). If Jesus is the exact image of God and we were created in God’s image then as we image Jesus—as we are recreated—then we get closer to our beginning, closer to where we were created to be; actually quite a bit beyond that. So in Christ and His truth we are being renewed but through Satan and his lies we are becoming undone. The cosmos is breaking up and will finally be dissolved because of sin and yet remade in and because of Christ.
[ii] “Evil is the force of anti-creation, anti-life, the force which opposes and seeks to deface and destroy God’s good world of space, time and matter, and above all God’s image-bearing human creatures” (N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 89)
[iii] “Sin is always the corruption of something good. Its existence is parasitic; it borrows, or rather usurps, its reality from whatever it corrupts” (H. A. G. Blocher, “Sin,” 784 in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology).
[iv] “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight… a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 10; italics original).
[v] Abnormal, sick, unhealthy, dysfunctional, maladjusted, or pathological—“wherever anything wrong exists in the world, anything we experience as antinormative, evil, distorted, or sick there we meet the perversion of God’s good creation” (Walter M. Wolters, Creation Regained, 55).
Today’s culture believes that you can’t be fulfilled unless you can have the “partner” you want, whether male, female, multiple, or in some other combination that is preferred, and yet so many signs tell us that humanity has yet to be fulfilled. Take, for example, all the recent rich and famous people, people that many of us would think would be fulfilled, that have committed suicide or died of drug overdose.
What does all this tell us? Or as Blaise Pascal says,
“What is it then that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.”
We have eternity in our hearts. We seek for good gifts, that have become tainted fruit, to fulfill. But they can’t, they were never designed to. Legalizing same sex marriage isn’t the solution. Drugs are not, sex is not, success is not… Not kids, money, things, marriage… They all fail. There’s nothing to be finally gained under the sun.
We need that for which our souls were made. We need the LORD. Jesus the promised Messiah alone gives eternal shalom for our souls.
Addiction, the affliction we embrace. Drowning in more, yet never full, we consume the poison.
Freedom from the substance, freedom from the porn, is what we yearn, yet ever embrace our shackles.
Numbing ecstasy, this misery. Bound by this high, damaged by this drink.
Party or prison, this prism through which we peer.
Addiction, this affliction, for which we ever yearn. We burn, burn out, and repeat the syndrome.
No end in sight, all is night, an endless cycle down.
Yes, dirt and sand is all this land, as we thirst for peace and joy. An empty well is where we dwell, no thirst is quenched below.
But as I gaze upon Your grave, where for me You bled, my shackles brake and to You take rest from all this hell. Slave to sin, never again; You my Master alone.
Yet why do I embrace this noose that holds me?
Lord, why do I run to a whore when I know all she has in store for me is death?
I see the light, the joy, and close my eyes, and turn away.
Why don’t I stay?
I run to the slaughter but You’ve prepared a feast. I slit my wrist, when for me You bled.
O’ the misery that is me, when I turn away.
Why don’t I stay?
You quench my thirst, all else is empty wells.
Why swallow up this gravel, when You have abounding streams?
O’ the misery that is me, apart from You.
“He is just an animal.” That is not a very nice thing to say. However, sometimes it is not far from the truth. Sin is sub-human. Think of how Professor Weston becomes the “Un-man” in C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra or think of how J.R.R. Tolkien’s Smeagol mutated into Gollum.
God created us in His image. Not in the image of a dog sniffing the air for food or…. God made us to resemble Himself, morally and spiritually. The more sin we live in, the less we are being what God created us to be, and the closer we are to being animals. The way of the fool is the way of the animal: living on instinct and unaware of higher forms of reality.
Are you an animal? That is a strange question. But the Bible talks about people behaving like “irrational animals, creatures of instinct” (2 Peter 2:12). It says that these people have their belly as their god; that is, they instinctively pursue what they crave and their thoughts rise no higher than the earth (Phil. 3:19). Actually, since the fall, that is our default position (Eph. 2:1-3). I, you, John Doe and Jane Doe—everyone—is naturally desperate.
There is a lot wrong with us. But the solution is Jesus. He transforms us. He makes us into His image. He makes us the way we were intended to be. Yet, how are we to be what we are intended to be?
If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (i.e. don’t act like an ignorant animal).
Don’t act like an animal but put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and materialism, which is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, meanness, insult, and rude talk. Don’t act like an animal! But put off the old self with its practices and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3:1-3, 5-10, 12-17).
There is a common model that says that addiction is a disease. It is a genetic malfunction. Well, I am no neuroscientists but I do believe that we have all been affected by the fall. I do not mean the season fall, of course. I mean the fall that took place in the Garden of Eden. Man disobeyed God and we have been living with the ramifications ever since. We all have a sin nature.
So, for instance, one way my sinful nature shows itself is anger. When I get mad I like to punch people in the face; and I have done that in the past on a few occasions. But just because my natural disposition is anger and a tendency to violence does not make it right. And it also does not make it a disease. I do not have a virus. I did not catch this sickness from someone else. It is my nature. That being said I do realize that many addictions have very difficult physical “side-affects.” However, those side-affects came as a result of choosing to do the addictive thing in the first place. I do believe it is clear that different people have tendencies. So, there are different factors involved; nature and nurture. But when it all comes down to it, we, ourselves, are culpable. We choose to do whatever it is we choose to do.
That being said, it does have a lot of similarities to disease which is why that model has been so accepted. Scripture even uses sickness as an analogy:
“Oh, what a sinful nation they are—
loaded down with a burden of guilt.
They are evil people,
corrupt children who have rejected the LORD.
They have despised the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.
5Why do you continue to invite punishment?
Must you rebel forever?
Your head is injured,
and your heart is sick.
6You are battered from head to foot—
covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds—
without any soothing ointments or bandages” (Is. 1:4-6).
But it uses it as an analogy. And says that the heart is sick. By “heart” is meant the “inner man,” “mind,” or “will.” It is similar to saying you have a fallen nature. All of you is affected and truly infected. It plays itself out like a rancid disease. Our sin is a parasitic cancer that eats away at our life and soul.
So, no, addiction is not a disease. Not biblically. And I would say not medically; though some make it sound like it is.
Then what is it? Addiction is sin. Yet, it is a complex sin. It is idolatry. It is a complex habit. It is a complex habit because through use the addicted has tricked their brain and body to say that they desperately need the substance (which is why professional help should be sought when detoxing). Truly, as Aristotle said, “habit is hard to change because it is like nature.”
Have you ever been off road mudding? When you go mudding it creates groves in the road, sometime huge groves, that are difficult not to drive in. Once you slip into one of those groves it takes you down that path until you can get out of it. But it is hard to get out of because it has been driven down so much. That is kinda what addiction is like. It is like a path that has been driven down a lot. It has created ruts. There are no barriers, no trees or even weeds, in the way. The neural pathways have been blazed. It is an easy path to go down now.
That is why I plan to blog about “action steps.” It is necessary to recalibrate your mind. You need to fill in those old destructive ditches and make new paths that lead to life. This reminds me of Romans 6:20-23. This passage tells us that in our natural state we are a “slave of sin.” That is, we do what our sin tells us to do and apparently it uses neural pathways to tell us what to do. However, these pathways, as Scripture tells us, leads to death. Instead, we need to be sanctified, progressively made into the image of Jesus, and this takes place, at least in part, by creating new healthy and God-honoring neural pathways (we see passages like Deut. 17:18, Rom. 12:2, Eph. 4:22-24, Col. 3:10, 1 Tim. 4:7-8, and Heb. 5:14 are important here) So we see neuroscience does not contradict Scripture. Actually, I think Scripture and neuroscience complement each other (I would like to explore this more in a future post).
 “Addiction looks like a disease, but it is a sin nature problem in the heart rather than a disease coming from the outside to the inside” (Mark Shaw, The Heart of Addiction, 20). One writer has said, “It’s a disease in the sense that it attacks a person and is degenerative. However, it’s not a disease in the sense that it takes over a person without that person making choices that allow it to happen” (Substance Abuse, 92). One of the problems is that “he ‘disease’ concept can be used to allow a person to escape moral responsibility” (Ibid.).
 “High levels of testosterone are related to higher levels of aggression…; yet malevolent violence is an expression of sin and is blameworthy.” People with “a biological predisposition toward aggressive behavior…” are “still ethically and spiritually responsible to deal with their aggressive predispositions in socially and divinely sanctioned ways” (Eric L. Johnson, Foundations of Soul Care, 477). However, he goes on to point out, “a comprehensive human understanding of such problems–one that corresponds in some measure to God’s understanding–cannot be gained by ignoring the lower-level influences and focusing only on their ethicospiritual blameworthiness. The lower-level dynamics constitute extenuating circumstances–without their being exculpating influences” (Ibid., 478-79).
 Note what Edward T. Welch who earned his Ph.D. in counseling (neuropsychology) from the University of Utah says, “There is a categorical difference between being influenced by genetics and being determined by it” (Addictions: A banquet in the grave, 27). He also says that “the scientific data… cannot support the disease approach. For example, it doesn’t account for identical twins (with the same genetic makeup) when one twin is a heavy drinker and the other is not” (Ibid.). Also see his book Blame It on the Brain: Distinguishing Chemical Imbalances, Brain Disorders, and Disobedience; especially 183-202.
 So, for instance, Kent Dunnington has pointed out that “neither neural adaptions brought on by substance abuse nor a genetic presdispostion for addiction provides sufficient evidence that addiction is a disease… The disease concept of addiction maintains, first, that addiction is a chronic physiological disorder, and second, that it therefore can be most adequately treated through medical intervention. As it turns out, however, neither of these claims is supported by the evidence. In fact, contrary to the prevailing view of addiction, most substance abusers do stop practicing their additions and go on to lead lives free of addiction, without relapse. Furthermore, the great majority of these addicted persons recover in a nonmedicalized context” (Addiction and Virtue, 24). Also see endnote 2.
 Mark Shaw defines addiction as the persistent habitual use of a substance known by the user to be harmful (The Heart of Addiction, 28). “Addiction is a ‘sin nature’ problem and the body responds to the substances in natural ways. Then, in time, the actions associated with addiction become habitual and extremely difficult to overcome” (Ibid., 15 see also Edward Welch,Addictions: A banquet in the grave, 38-39). He also says that this definition “brings more hope to the suffering Christian addict. Because ungodly, destructive habits can be replaced by godly, productive habits” (Ibid., 29). The most profound book on addiction I have ever read is Addiction and Virtue and it is very helpful here; see esp. 138-40.