The Common Good

A Sermon on My Alcohol Addiction, the Tyranny of the Will, and Romans 7

Crossphoto © 2004 Phil Whitehouse | more info (via: Wylio)Even I can't help admitting that there is a bunch of stuff in the Bible that's hard to relate to. A lot has changed in the last 2,000 to 4,000 years, and I have no form of reference for shepherds and agrarian life, and I don't know what it's like to have a king or a Caesar, and I don't know a single fisherman, much less a centurion, and I guess I can't speak for all of you but personally I've never felt I might need to sacrifice a goat for my sins. That's the thing about our sacred text being so dang old -- it can sometimes be difficult to relate to. Things have changed a bit over the millennia.

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But one thing has not changed even a little bit is the human condition. Parts of the Bible can feel hard to relate to until you get to a thing like this reading from Romans 7, in which Paul says, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do."

Finally. Something I can relate to. This I know about. I too do not understand my own actions. I too can't manage to consistently do what I know is right. Paul's simple description of the human condition is perhaps a most elegantly put definition of what we now call addiction.

It's no secret that I am a recovering alcoholic. By the grace of God I have been clean and sober for more than 19 years. But, boy, do I remember that feeling of powerlessness that comes from not being able to control your drinking. I'd wake up each morning and have a little talk with myself: "OK Nadia, get it together. Today is going to be different. You just need a little will power." Then, inevitably, later that day I'd say, "Well, just one drink would be OK," or, "I'll only drink wine and not vodka," or, "I'll drink a glass of water between drinks so that I won't get drunk." And sometimes it worked, but mostly it didn't. In the end, my will was just never "strong enough" Like Paul, I did the thing I hated. But that's addiction for you. It's ugly. Yet on some level I feel like we recovering alcoholics and drug addicts have it easy. I mean, our addictions are so obvious. The emotional, spiritual, and physical wreckage caused by alcoholism and drug addiction has a certain conspicuousness to it.

But the truth is, we are not actually special. I mean, our whole culture is addicted. It's not just drunks who wake up in the morning and say, "Today, it's gonna be different." Perhaps some of you have done some "self-talk" recently. Perhaps some of you have tried to garner up just a little more will power. "Today, I won't eat compulsively," or, "I'll not yell at my kids," or, "I'll not spend money I don't have on things I don't need." Today, unlike yesterday, I won't consume pornography or flirt with my married co-worker or look up my ex-boyfriend on Facebook. Today, I will finally stand up for myself. Today, I will not play video games. Today, I will really look for a job. Today, I will not lie to myself. Today, I will start meditating and become a vegan and start training for a marathon and go back to college and go to the container store so I can organize my closet and be in control.

But we're not. We're not in control. That would be the point. We're addicted to poison, and people, and praise, and possessions, and power. And sometimes I think the church and society fuel a very particular addiction to proving our worthiness.

We live in a worthiness driven culture. The pressure to be successful, hide your weaknesses, get ahead, make your own way in the world

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