2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is from God and all of it can be used for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” With that in mind, anyone who is dealing with addiction — or who is trying to help or understand someone who is struggling with substance abuse or alcoholism — might turn to the Scriptures for comfort and advice.
As always, God’s word is full of many bits of wisdom and comfort applicable to the situation, and our blog has covered a number of Scriptures relevant to topics such as alcohol, drug abuse, depression and anxiety. But what if you’re looking for specific examples? You might wonder: are there stories of people struggling in addiction in the Scriptures?
Addiction comes in many forms in the scriptures
The Bible addresses addiction in a number of ways, though you don’t find Jesus telling the parable of the man addicted to a specific substance. The Bible does talk about drunkenness and use of substances in an addictive way as a sin; the point often made in Scripture is that an individual who clings to addiction is not putting God first, and that creates an idol of the addiction or the substance itself. While modern medicine knows that addiction can be caused by a chemical reaction and is, in fact, partly a physical illness, clinging to it and refusing to allow God in to help you can distance you from God and cause your relationship with Christ to falter.
Taking that concept of addiction, we can see numerous “addicts” in the Scripture. Some are addicted to money. Some are addicted to glory. Others are addicted to the idea that they are right and good and lawful.
Some stories of people who put things and situations before God
Following the definition above, one “addict” might have been the rich man. His story is in the gospels: he comes to Jesus, saying “Lord, I want to follow you.” Clearly, the rich man sees something here in Jesus, and he knows it’s good. He wants this good thing for himself, just as many of us do.
Jesus tells the rich man, “Lay down all you have — give it all up and follow me. That’s the only way you’ll be able to do it. The only way you can follow me and get to Heaven.”
The rich man thinks about it for a while, but he just can’t. He can’t give up all this, not even for the great thing he sees in Jesus: in some ways, he’s addicted to the security, privilege, or life that the wealth affords him, so he turns away from Chris.
Another story about someone who put worldly things before God in a big way was King Saul in the Old Testament. God anointed him the first king of Israel. He made Saul leader over all his people, and all he asked was that Saul put him first and lead Israel in a godly way. But Saul became so concerned with the glory and riches of being king, he no longer put God first.
When God decided to anoint another person as future king of Israel because of this (he chose David), Saul was so addicted to being king that he tried to kill David multiple times and led armies against him, even though David was a loyal servant and friends with Saul’s son.
Finally, for a different type of addiction, we can look at another Saul. This New Testament Saul (who would later become known as Paul), was a Jewish religious leader and teacher. He actively participated in and even led persecution of Christians, likely in Jesus’s time and just after Jesus was resurrected.
Paul, like many of the Pharisees that Jesus spoke out against, was addicted to traditions, what he thought was knowledge, and being right. Unlike the rich man and Saul, who never turned back to God for help and who continued to cling to their addictions, Paul went through a sort of “rehab.”
One day while on the road to Damascus, Paul and his men saw a great light; they heard a voice, but they didn’t see anyone. It was a message from Jesus to Paul, and the impact of the event was so great, Paul was temporarily blinded as a result.
Jesus also gave Paul some instructions, and he separately asked his apostle Ananias to go and teach Paul about Jesus. Despite Ananias’s fears that Paul would revert to his old ways (and persecute Ananias himself), Paul began to seek a recovery in Christ.
What individuals dealing with substance abuse disorder or addiction can learn
That moment on the road to Damascus was like an intervention for Paul. Suddenly, after that, he was on the road to recovery. It wasn’t an easy road. Paul dealt with severe persecution. He was arrested and beaten. He was held in jail and on house arrest numerous times, cut off from his community and friends. He was shipwrecked at least once, and his New Testament writings show that he struggled with some type of affliction (he called it the “thorn in his flesh.”)
If you’re dealing with addiction, are in recovery or are considering seeking help, perhaps you can relate to some of Paul’s story or to the stories of the rich man or Saul.
Numerous people throughout the Bible struggled to put God first in their lives, and that showed up in different ways. Maybe they clung to a belief, a desire, or material possessions. Maybe they actually clung to an addiction.
But Paul, who decided after the intervention at Damascus to stop clinging to things that weren’t Christ, made a recovery. He didn’t do it alone, and it wasn’t easy. But his writings show that he didn’t return to his old ways and that he served Jesus the rest of his life.
That’s the message that someone struggling with substance abuse can take from these stories. You don’t have to do it alone. It won’t be easy. But it’s possible. With God, all things are possible.
The Road to Recovery exists to help you find that possibility. Call us today if you are ready to start working on a new life.