Do I Have a Disease or Do I Have a Choice?

Do I Have a Disease or Do I Have a Choice?

So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. John 13:26-27

It’s common, when reading about modern medicine’s understanding of addiction to come across a statement like this. Under the old paradigm, we understood addiction as a moral failure or defect. Those who suffered from it were sinful and lacked self-control. Now, we understand addiction as a disease that has nothing to do with sin or character flaws.

I read the same statement just the other day, except in reference to obesity instead of drug addiction. It’s simply natural for scientists and physicians to desire to explain those conditions which plague us in scientific terms. If we can find a genetic or biochemical cause in a test tube, then the answer lies in science, not in church. Scientists and physicians aren’t evil. They’re just trying to make the world a better place through means which they can address.

In doing so though, modern medicine attempts to redefine – or even eliminate – the behavioral problem of sin. If we’re born with a tendency to do a thing, then we cannot call it sin when we do that thing, right? The problem for the Christian of course, is that we don’t believe morality to be determined by our genetics or our preferences. Right and wrong is determined by God alone.

In today’s passage, we’re told that Jesus predicted Judas’ betrayal. We’re also told that Satan entered into him, provoking him to do it. If Jesus predicted it, if God used it, and if Satan provoked it, then Judas had no choice, right? This is the same argument used by modern science. If one is predisposed to do a thing, then it’s not a sin when he does it, right?

This can be taken to the grotesque extreme. If someone has a predisposed sexual attraction to children, then it cannot be a moral failing when he follows that desire, right? That is, of course, absurd. Most would agree that the pedophile’s mind is diseased, but we still call such behavior evil and sinful. The perpetrator of such horrible evil must be held responsible, no matter what his genetic/environmental background may be.

So, in my drug addiction, do I have a disease, or do I have a choice? Yes. It actually shouldn’t be an either/or question. Using adult onset diabetes as an example is helpful. I can be genetically predisposed to have the disease. Then, I can live a life of sloth and gluttony, manifesting my apparent genetic destiny. Did I consciously choose the disease? No, not consciously. Did I engage in voluntary behaviors that contributed to it? Obviously. Do I have a choice in treating it? Absolutely. If I have adult onset diabetes, I have a responsibility to seek and comply with medical treatment. If I fail to do so, I will suffer the disastrous consequences of my disease.

It’s not that different with drug addiction, greed, lust, or any other self-destructive, addictive behavior. We’re all born with different predispositions. We can’t control that. That’s our diseased flesh nature and it’s the hand we’re dealt. It’s not a sin to have a natural appetite for drugs. It is however, sinful to lie, cheat, and steal to obtain and abuse the drug.

The addict has both a predisposing disease and a responsibility to treat that disease. When the addict indulges in his natural self-destructive desires, he sins. When he chooses to abandon his own path to follow God’s, he treats his disease, finding life, faith, and recovery. We must be able to say the addict isn’t at fault for the disease and we must be able to say that he is responsible for seeking the treatment of it. If the addict has no choice, then he is simply destined to fail over and over until some physician happens along to fix him.

In his wisdom, God has allowed us to be born with self-destructive desires. If we follow our diseased nature, we will engage in sin and suffer the consequences. Thankfully, we aren’t meant to live enslaved to our natural destiny. Through Christ, God has provided the treatment to our disease. In daily doing whatever it takes to abandon our nature to follow him, we may find life and hope, instead of disease and misery.




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