Summary: Addictive behaviors are sins that we simply ought not to start; and they are sicknesses that stem from low self-esteem. Christ is able to deliver from both sin and sickness.
When washday comes at our house, I go on alert. I go on alert for a certain noise. If we are washing something heavy, like bathroom mats or a bedspread, I can predict that during the washing process, I will hear great clunks and thunks arising from the basement. It will sound as though somebody is hammering on the walls, as though some thief was trying to wrestle all our worldly goods out the back door. The pipes will rattle and the walls will vibrate; our little dog will perk up her ears and jump; the whole place will suddenly be alive with ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. What’s going on?
It’s the spin cycle. Our washing machine has gone into the spin cycle, during which it is supposed to turn at higher and higher speeds, until most of the moisture has been thrown out of the fabrics being washed. The spin cycle is perfectly all right, it’s normal. But when you put heavy fabrics in a washing machine, it’s easy for them to drift to one side of the drum. And that throws the machine off balance, so that not only does it vibrate madly; not only does it punctuate our conversation with ceaseless ka-chunks; but also it staggers across the basement floor, bumping things as it goes. And if I just let it go, there’s a very good possibility that the washing machine may damage itself. If I don’t do something during its unbalanced spin cycle, it may end up broken and ruined.
A great many of us live our lives in the spin cycle. We are busy about lots of things, we keep going and going and going, like the Energizer rabbit. We may not be going anywhere in particular. We’re just busy. Just frantically energetic. Go, go, go. In the spin cycle, at high speed, feeling a little wrung out. You know: the kind of person who is always juggling job and family and household and volunteer work and civic affairs, who never seems to stop? The kind of person who takes on so many things he has to leave one activity early so that he can be at the next one late? Someone has suggested that we need an addition to the list of Biblical Beatitudes: "Blessed are those who spin around in circles, for they shall be known as Big Wheels." It seems important to us to stay busy, doesn’t it? It seems as though we measure our value by how many things we get into.
We even have this kind of behavior in church, you know; someone laid a few more dates on my calendar this week, and I repeated a nursery rhyme parody, "Mary had a little lamb; it would have been a sheep. But it became a Baptist, and died for lack of sleep." Most of us know what it is to live in the spin cycle, wrung out from going faster and faster. But that’s normal, it’s OK, we can handle it, usually.
But if in our lives there is an imbalance of some kind; if into our lives we thrust a heavy-duty ingredient; if we deliberately allow something to get hold of us; then we are going to go ka-chunk, ka-chunk. We are going to stagger and stall and we may end up hurting ourselves, sometimes beyond repair. We’ll be out of balance in the spin cycle.
I’m talking about the range of things that we call addictive or compulsive behaviors. Things that we at the beginning choose to do, but we find out that they take us over. And not only do they take us over; they injure us, they hurt us, and, in some cases, they even kill us. At the very least they hurt us spiritually. Addictive behaviors like eating disorders, alcohol abuse, drug use, viewing pornography, sexual promiscuity, gambling, unchecked spending, and a good many others. Some folks would even add work to this list, or even church. But that’s another sermon.
When any behavior takes you over and makes you stumble and stagger and drives you to the brink, it’s addictive. And it’s dangerous. Like the heavy item in the washing machine, when there’s an imbalance during the spin cycle, when we use an addictive behavior to help us deal with a busy life, we are going to get hurt.
Well, I have a question for you. If we are going to talk about addictive behaviors, are we talking about sin or are we talking about sickness? Are we talking about something we do, which we could change, but don’t, and that’s sin? Or are we talking about something that happens to us, attacks us from without, and, poor things, we have a problem, we’re sick, and we need to be healed? Which is it, sin or sickness? My answer is Yes. Yes to both. Addictive behavior is both sin and sickness. Both something we take on and something that takes us on. Yes. Both. But I am also going to insist that there is a remedy for both. Just as the Psalmist said that ours is a God "who forgives all your iniquity, [and] who heals all your diseases", I am going to speak not only of sin and not only of sickness. I am going to speak of salvation. We can be redeemed even when there is an imbalance in the spin cycle.