The Evil Within

A number of years ago there was a column in the local newspaper written by a psychologist. The column was what one would expect as it dealt with the problems common to people, like depression, anxiety, relationships and so forth. Since the psychologist did not possess a biblical worldview, terms related to nature or nurture, mental illness and the various treatments were common until one day it all seemed to unravel for this particular psychologist.

The psychologist (not a religious person by his own admission) had a patient that he could not neatly fit into the DSM IV categories. The reason? The psychologist came to believe the man he was counseling was simply evil. The psychologist seemed to conclude that the man did not possess a moral barometer (something Christians would call a conscience). The psychologist was shaken by his conclusion and it led him to consider the spiritual nature of people-something that his training had not explored or considered as it applied to human behavior.

That is what came to my mind in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre. What we heard by way of explanation was that the shooter was “crazy”, “sick”, “distraught”, “unhinged” and so forth.  All of that was followed by the usual blame the gun, blame politicians and pleas to “do something” while never suggesting anything specific that would have mattered.

Psychology does not consider evil like the Bible does and our culture is fully immersed in psychological (mostly materialistic\Darwinian) explanations and categories.

Psychology does not consider sin (although a religious psychologist might) and is thus reluctant to deal in moral categories and thus would not label a heinous act as evil\sin but rather as a type of disease, sickness or temporary insanity. That’s what bothered the psychologist I mentioned above. He dealt with mental illnesses, not moral categories and certainly not people given over to evil and the revelation shocked him.

The Bible, on the other hand, diagnoses our fundamental problem. Here is the apostle Paul quoting from, mostly, the Psalms in the Old Testament:

Romans 3:10-18

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
       no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
        no one does good,
        not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
        they use their tongues to deceive.”
   “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14  “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16      in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

The passage turns on its head the notion that people are “basically good” and when they do bad, evil things like mass murder, they have some mental illness or disease. While not all people act out all the evil they are capable of (thank God), some do and we witness it on a daily basis. Yet, the majority of people remain blind to “the evil within.”

We really should not expect an unbelieving world to grasp all the ramifications of evil since the unbelieving world does not have a fear of God (vs 18). Without that fundamental fear of God the world will always look for solutions for people’s problems apart from considering “the evil within” and will continue to treat evil as a mental illness and\or blame game to gain political points.

Every time there is a terrorist attacks or a mass murder I go into a frustrated funk and grieve about our sin sick world. It takes me a day or two to once again comprehend what is truly going on.

A western person given over to evil can orchestrate a Las Vegas type massacre just as easily as a religiously minded Islamic terrorist.  There is little difference since both spring from a belief system that does not consider the God of the Bible nor mankind’s essential problem of the evil within us all.

What are we to do?

Our theology will control our reaction to these things or something else will. At the very least we can come to understand that God can use horrible evil situations to draw attention to the fact of evil (and the spiritual realm in general) and begin to open the minds of survivors to truth and thus provide the one and only remedy to the evil within us all:

Romans 3:21-24
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Lying Can Be a Good Thing?

“Lying is nothing unusual in small children. In fact, it’s a sign of healthy mental growth.”

So states an article titled Children’s Lies Are a Sign of Cognitive Progress in the Wall Street Journal.

Perhaps the key paragraph is this…

“Child-rearing trends might seem to blow with the wind, but most adults would agree that preschool children who have learned to talk shouldn’t lie. But learning to lie, it turns out, is an important part of learning in general—and something to consider apart from fibbing’s ethical implications. “

The article is written from standpoint of psychology research. The clear drift is that children that lie are more successful in life and lying is a skill–something to consider apart from fibbing’s ethical implications as stated above.

So parents, when little Jimmy or Jenny start lying let’s recognize “the good” and be happy they are well on their way to success in life by learning an important cognitive skill.

Don’t be concerned about ethics, the self-centeredness inherent in lying, the manipulation involved or the victimization of others in lying to get what they want. These are minor concerns compared with the larger picture that your children are learning an important skill in how to read others. [Read more…]

Idolatry by Another Name – Part 2

John MacArthur attacked the problem of incorrectly classifying addictions and compulsive behaviors as diseases over twenty years ago in his book The Vanishing Conscience:

Perhaps the most prevalent means of escaping blame is by classifying every human failing as some kind of disease. Drunkards and drug addicts can check into clinics for treatment of their “chemical dependencies.” Children who habitually defy authority can escape condemnation by being labeled “hyperactive”or having ADD (attention deficiency disorder). Gluttons are no longer blameworthy; they suffer from an “eating disorder.” Even the man who throws away his family’s livelihood to pay for prostitutes is supposed to be an object of compassionate understanding; he is “addicted to sex.”

These days everything wrong with humanity is likely to be explained as an illness. What we used to call sin is more easily diagnosed as a whole array of disabilities. All kinds of immorality and evil conduct are now identified as symptoms of this or that psychological illness. Criminal behavior, various perverse passions, and every imaginable addiction have all been made excusable by the crusade to label them medical afflictions. Even commonplace problems, such as emotional weakness, depression, and anxiety are also almost universally defined as quasi-medical, rather than spiritual, afflictions. MacArthur, J., F. Jr. (1994). The Vanishing Conscience (Electronic ed., pp. 23–24). Dallas: Word Pub.

As I noted in my blog post titled, “Are Addictions Diseases”, it should not surprise us that the world uses medical sounding language for addictions and bad habits. The world starts with the theories and ideas of men and arrives at the forgone conclusion that addictions must be diseases. Recovery programs of varying sorts then become the abuser’s best hope.

It should surprise us that the church often starts with the same presuppositions as the world does rather than to look at addictions and life dominating sin through the lens of Scripture.

Mark Shaw in his book, “The Heart of Addiction” gives us the biblical names for chemical addiction and substance abuse:

Chemical addiction problems and excessive substance abuse really have two biblical names: one is a general name and the other is more specific. In general, “idolatry” is the proper biblical name for substance abuse problems whether you consider yourself a drunkard, binge drinker, drug addict, substance abuser, or whatever name you wish to call it. The problem is biblically labeled as the sin of idolatry and it is a heart problem from within one’s sinful nature. Webster’s Dictionary defines “idol” as “a person or thing too much loved, admired or honored.” The substance abuser seeks to please himself with his “god of choice” above pleasing God… Shaw, Mark E., (2008), The Heart of Addiction-A Biblical Perspective (pp. viii-ix) Bemidji: FOCUS Publishing

Shaw writes from the perspective of a biblical counselor with a great deal of expertise in the field of drug and alcohol abuse. Yet, in the Scriptures the definition of idolatry is anything a person is enslaved too and not just drugs or alcohol. Idolatry may feel like a disease beyond a person’s control but in reality it’s slavery; it is slavery to a person’s god of choice whether it be pleasure, comfort, control, affirmation or anything else craved and worshipped other than the one true God.

Addictions1The person is so enslaved they believe they can control the idol because they get something they want from the idol (pleasure, control, affirmation, and power, to name a few) but in reality the idol controls them in a vicious cycle.

There are four examples of the word “idolatry” in the ESV version of the Bible in the New Testament:

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14 ESV)

Much could be said about verses 1-13 as to why Paul concludes this particular line of thought as to why the Corinthians should flee from idols but perhaps verse 11 offers the best reason why:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV)

In verses 1-13, Paul makes reference to Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and despite the fact that Christ was with them in spiritual form (vs 4) their cravings were their undoing and God was not pleased with them and all but a few perished in the wilderness. The idols were not the ones made of stone or wood but rather the idols that reside in the heart or inner man.

Paul’s warning to flee from the gods that can enslave us via our own cravings (James 1:13-15) is hard hitting. Paul is telling New Testament Christians to not follow the example of the people who perished in the wilderness. Calling an addiction disease or any other life-dominating sin a disease does not serve the person because it creates a victim mentality that says, “I can’t help it.”

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul lists idolatry as a “catch all” for the types of things that enslave us. He makes it clear in verse 21 that a person who is enslaved to these things he lists will not inherit the kingdom of God. It’s a significant warning and it does not serve a person to classify their idolatry as a disease simply because it may feel like a disease and thus believe they cannot control their cravings whatever they might be. Paul is clear that if we are controlled by idols via our own desires (James 1:13-15) we will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. [6] On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:5-6 ESV)

Each one of the sins listed takes place in the heart before they become behaviors. A good example is Matt. 5:27-28 in Jesus’ warning against adultery. He identifies the issue primarily as a heart issue rather than “a change the behavior” issue. The person who refuses to repent of their controlling idols has more in common with the unbelievers who do not know the true God and whom will experience God’s wrath.

In each of the three verses cited above the use of the word idolatry conveys a significant warning. By calling controlling idols “diseases” and giving life dominating sin a medical sounding label gives the person a false sense of security that simply is not biblical. That Christian churches often take the psychology route and use the world’s terminology to soften sin and turn it into a disease should concern anyone who belongs to such a church. Do not soft pedal that which God condemns.

The last use of the word “idolatry” is found in 1 Peter 4:3:

Cross-and-BIble2-300x200Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, [2] so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. [3] For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.(1 Peter 4:1-3 ESV)

It’s interesting that in two of the Scripture examples the word “passion” or “passions” is used. In Scripture the word always means something bad as opposed to how we use the word “passion” or “passionate” as in, “he or she is passionate about his or her work.”

We use the word usually in a positive sense while Scripture equates the term with evil desires, cravings of the heart or otherwise in a negative sense.

All desires are not evil. They become evil when they become demands.

For example, the person who is passionate about their work may be craving affirmation and if they don’t get it they may act out angrily or vindictively. By the same token a person who is passionate about the work may be perfectionistic and may hold others to an unreasonable standard if they are in a position of authority over them.

In the passage, Peter simply calls the little gods that can control our hearts examples of “lawless idolatry.”

Lawless obviously means “without law” or lack of restraint. A biblical writer never equates life dominating sin with kid gloves and infers some kind of mental illness or sickness.

Instead the Bible calls for repentance and victory over life dominating idols:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

Verse 11 gives genuine hope from that which can enslave us while the disease model can only offer coping devices. The consequences of ignoring what the Bible says about idolatry and issues of the heart are too terrible to contemplate. A person should know where their church stands on these issues for it reveals what the leadership really thinks about the Bible and the sufficiency of Scripture to deal with idolatry and the issues of the heart.

Idolatry by Another Name: Part 1

After I posted Are Addictions Diseases and received some feedback, I was curious as to how many bad habits are listed as addictions and therefore diseases if you follow the popular medical model of addictions.

I found a website (http://www.addictionz.com/addictions.htm) out of British Columbia that listed addictions. I was stunned by the number listed and even more stunned when I read on the website that the list was only partial.

The list is organized alphabetically and within it you can find the usual addictions we’ve become accustomed to, like alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, shopping, tobacco and caffeine.

The list is so broad you can also find coin collecting because according to the website coin collecting is; usually a nice hobby but any hobby can become a compulsion in the hands of a multiple addict.

Here are some more samples from the website that I bet most people never thought of:

  • Art
    • Getting high to produce better art is common. Also the lifestyle of an impoverished artist can be addictive.
    • Collecting art one cannot afford may create adrenalin like compulsive shopping or gambling.
  • Imagination
    • A good characteristic in most cases, but a luxury for an early recovering addict … and a self-destructive minefield for a practicing addict.
    • Living in “your head” is common amongst all addicts
    • One statistic is that addicts do approximately 80,000 words of self-talk per day – so this addicted ‘ head ‘ is a very busy place
    • One saying in 12 step programs is that the head is like ‘a dangerous neighborhood, do not go there alone’
    • The lack of reliable structure in today’s daily life leaves a lot of room for imaginative research
  • Religion
    • It is wise to examine ones attitudes in all areas.

Clearly the authors of the website are willing to list everything and anything as being addictive or compulsive.

junkie1

The use of the word compulsive (under the subtitle of Art above) is revealing because the word compulsive means “compelling” as if the person has little or no choice. Furthermore, the word compulsive leads us to a minor distinction between addiction and compulsive behavior.

The Oxford Dictionary defines Compulsive this way:

1. Resulting from or relating to an irresistible urge, especially one that is against one’s conscious wishes: “compulsive eating”

Synonyms: irresistible · uncontrollable · compelling · overwhelming · urgent · obsessive · obsessive · obsessional · addictive · uncontrollable

2. Irresistibly interesting or exciting; compelling: “this play is compulsive viewing”

Synonyms: fascinating · compelling · gripping · riveting · engrossing · enthralling · captivating

Both definitions use the word “irresistible” while the first definition uses the synonym “uncontrollable.” Both words are self-explanatory and imply that a person has no choice.

Now let’s look at WIKI’s definition of compulsive behavior:

Compulsive behavior is defined as performing an act persistently and repetitively without it necessarily leading to an actual reward or pleasure. [1] Compulsive behaviors could be an attempt to make obsessions go away. [2] The act is usually a small, restricted and repetitive behavior, yet not disturbing in a pathological way. [1] Compulsive behaviors are a need to reduce apprehension caused by internal feelings a person wants to abstain or control. [3] A major cause of the compulsive behaviors is said to be obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). [2][4] The main idea of compulsive behavior is that the likely excessive activity is not connected to the purpose it appears to be directed to. [1] Furthermore, there are many different types of compulsive behaviors including, shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling, trichotillomania and picking skin, checking, counting, washing, sex, and more. Also, there are cultural examples of compulsive behavior.

Now let’s compare the WIKI definition of compulsive behavior with the WIKI article on addiction derived from the DSM-V:

Addiction is a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences;[6] it can be thought of as a disease or biological process leading to such behaviors.[1][7] The two properties that characterize all addictive stimuli are that they are (positively) reinforcing (i.e., they increase the likelihood that a person will seek repeated exposure to them) and intrinsically rewarding (i.e., they activate the brain’s “reward pathways”, and are therefore perceived as being something positive or desirable).[1][2][5] ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral and drug addictions.[8][9][10]

alcoholism

And…

Potential addictions can include, but are not limited to, exercise addiction, food addiction, drug addiction, computer addiction, sex addiction and gambling addiction. Currently, only substance addictions and gambling addiction are recognized by the DSM-5, which uses physical dependence and the associated withdrawal syndrome to identify an addictive state. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addiction)

And…

The official list of addictions can be found in the DSM-5, psychology’s Bible (http://www.myaddiction.com/addiction_categories.html) where the following are addiction classified as medical disorders:

Alcohol Addiction, Ambien Addiction, Amphetamine Addiction, Benzodiazepine Addiction, Caffeine Addiction, Cocaine Addiction, Crack Addiction, Eating Disorders, Ecstasy Addiction, Gambling Addiction, Heroin Addiction, Hydrocodone Addiction, Internet Addiction, Marijuana Addiction, Meth Addiction, Nicotine Addiction, Opioid Addiction, Percocet Addiction, Oxycontin Addiction, Pornography Addiction, Prescription Drug Addiction, Ritalin Addiction, Sex Addiction, Shopping Addiction, Smoking Addiction, Sugar Addiction, Teens and Addiction, Video Game Addiction, Work Addiction, Xanax Addiction

From these definitions one can deduce the psychology community and the vast majority of Americans believe there are addictions (compulsions) that are behavioral and addictions that are chemical (addicted to drugs or alcohol) and result in physical dependence. The commonality is the perceived “reward system.” In other words we do these things habitually because there is a pleasant pay off even if the consequences can be quite negative.

(In a 1990 survey 87% of Americans believed the disease model of addictions.)

We can also observe there is some level of debate between those who believe certain behaviors are genuine addictions and others who categorize the same things as compulsive behaviors and would therefore fall under the heading of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder rather than a genuine addiction.

The DSM-V is the latest edition of the DSM and in each upgrade the list of disorders and addictions has multiplied. This accounts for the assumption of what is called the medical model of addictions and compulsive behaviors. What that means is if I have a behavioral addiction or a chemical addiction the critical component is: ΔFosB, a gene transcription factor, is now known to be a critical component and common factor in the development of virtually all forms of behavioral and drug addictions.

In other words, addictions and compulsive behaviors are connected to DNA via gene transcription factors.

I should point out that even within the psychological community there is some level of disagreement between those who emphasize choice (minority) and those that emphasize the disease model.

What is the Bible-believing Christian to make of this trend that classifies everything as an addiction or compulsive behavior and is treated as a disease? I’ll discuss that issue in Part 2.

Are Addictions Diseases?

The other day I was half paying attention to what was on television when I heard someone refer to a drug addiction as a disease.

It immediately reminded me of what one of my biblically counseling teachers said when he noted, “if it’s a disease then it’s the only disease you can catch voluntarily.”

Whether the issue is porn, spending, overeating, video games, a lot of time on the internet, modern America is quick to call these behaviors “diseases” as if they are something we catch, like cancer.

If they are diseases then my instructor was quite right is saying they are the only diseases we catch voluntarily.

The disease model of addictions first gained notice with AA.

The folks that started AA made the observation that the symptoms of alcohol abuse and addiction looked like a disease and thus implied that the user was under attack by something beyond his or her control. It was assumed that because it looked like a disease it must be so.

Addictions1Today the disease model is accepted as “truth” and applied to everything that looks like addictive, compulsive or habitual (I’m addicted to chocolate) behavior.

There are many downsides in accepting the disease model as truth but perhaps the most obvious is the implication that the abuser can’t help it. In other words you can’t hold someone responsible for catching a disease. The disease model makes the abuser a victim rather than someone who has been irresponsible and makes poor choices.

The disease model is controversial in secular circles. This link to The Disease Model of Addiction at Addiction Research explains.

The disease model is a far cry from the biblical model where an addict is an idolater who is slave to his or her lusts and really only concerned with serving self. Addicts of all sorts are pleasure seekers and the pleasure they seek has come to dominate them or in biblical language is a slave to. The slavery to the idol of pleasure is what the world calls a “disease.”

It should not surprise us that the world has adopted non-biblical terminology to describe problems common to man. It should surprise when the church of Jesus Christ does.

To help the church think biblically about addictions Mark Shaw has written a book titled The Heart of Addiction, a Biblical Perspective where he takes the disease model to task and provides scriptural solutions for addictive behavior. Although the book deals primarily with drug and alcohol abuse there is wide application to other behaviors like porn and anything else labeled additive or compulsive.

Mr. Shaw has a little extra credibility to write such a book because is a certified Master’s Level Addiction Professional (MLAP) with the Alabama Association of Drug and Alcohol Addiction. He is also a member of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors the same organization I am part of.

The book is divided into four parts following the 2 Timothy 3:16-17 model:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)

Section 1: Teaching

Section 2: Reproof

Section 3: Correction

Section 4: Training in Righteousness

Eleven appendices follow 214 section pages to bring the total number of pages to 253.

The book is comprehensive and unlike popular books like Celebrating Recovery, The Heart of Addiction (Mr. Shaw’s book) is all Bible, unlike Celebrate Recovery which takes an “admixture approach.” (Admixture means psychology plus Bible.)

I highly recommend the book as a “Bible only” counseling resource. A workbook can also be purchased.

Amazon is selling the book for $12.50 and the workbooks for $8.95.

For more insight by Mr. Shaw follow this link, Is “Addiction” Rooted in a Disease, Demon or Decision at the Grace and Truth Blog. The comments following the article are worth the time to read.

Although this link, Do Christians Overhype Porn Addiction  deals with “porn addiction” it’s well worth the read because it deals with same controversy of the disease or (medical) model versus Scripture.