This column, written by Dr. Heath Lambert, originally appeared in the print edition of the Florida Baptist Witness.
Throughout my life I have walked with many people down the hard road of addiction. The path is a painful one, and is often a very complicated experience to understand. I was recently reminded of this reality from the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.
Secretary Clinton proclaimed on Twitter that, “Addiction is a disease—not a moral failing. We should support those who are struggling with it.” Clinton linked to an article on her campaign website where a great deal of helpful information is related about the quiet epidemic of addiction, and how so many are afflicted with this problem. Clinton is right to be concerned about addiction, and yet her statement is wrong on two counts.
First, with intense moral clarity Clinton pronounced that addiction is not a moral failing, but a disease. This statement is not true. Christians must make a distinction between moral problems we call sins, and physical problems we call disease. Diseases are problems of physical pathology in the body’s tissue, and are not necessarily connected to any personal moral failings. On the other hand, Christians understand that moral problems are sin, and trace back to the rebellion that exists between God and man, for which we sinners are always held accountable.
It is very important that Christians make correct distinctions between these two categories. If we do not, we will rebuke people who are not responsible for their medical conditions like Parkinson’s disease, or we will seek to offer encouragement and medical care for problems, like sinful anger, that God means to address through the truths in Scripture.
Clinton does not make a correct distinction in these categories on the issue of addiction. She believes addiction is a disease, but the Bible considers it a moral failing. Consider a few biblical examples as evidence: the drunkenness of addiction is understood to be debauchery, and at odds with a life characterized by the filling of the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18); in the moral list of qualifications for their office deacons are forbidden to be addicted to wine (1 Tim 3:8); Scripture forbids the greediness of a drunk that demands another drink (Prov 23:35); the food addiction of a glutton is understood to be idolatry (Phil 3:19); and the act of being overcome by a corrupting substance is referred to as spiritual slavery (2 Pet 2:19).
Presidential candidates are certainly entitled to their opinion, but Christians have a higher standard to meet when making our own moral declarations. We must submit to God’s Word, and the Bible is clear that addiction is a moral failing. It is a sin against the living God for which people will be judged.
I mentioned that Clinton’s statement was wrong on two counts, and her second error is at once more subtle and more dangerous. When the secretary says that, “We should support those who are struggling with it” she assumes that declaring addiction to be sin will be at odds with genuine support and care for addicts. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is at this point that the beauty of God’s Word shines the brightest light on this dark problem. As Christians we know that God has made provision for every sin through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Christians know that there is a solution for sin. When we say that addicts are sinners like everyone else, that is the bad news we declare before we pronounce the glorious news that Jesus saves from every sin. If Christians agree with Hillary Clinton that addiction is a disease it will lead us to pursue the sort of secular solutions that have increased the addiction epidemic over the last 50 years. When we agree with God that addiction is a sin, then we can begin to point addicts to the help and hope that comes through Jesus Christ alone.
For more information on how to help people who are struggling with addition, check out Mark Shaw’s session, “Addiction Counseling in the Local Church.”