Behavioral Problem or Disease?
Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. Romans 5:12
One of the first things modern medicine teaches about addiction, is that we once viewed it as a sin (behavioral problem) and thus, we saw addicts as terrible sinners. This is the old model of addiction. Now, because we’re enlightened, we see it as a disease, and we treat it as such – without judgment or blame. This is the new model of addiction.
I rejected the disease model when I first sought recovery because I felt like it let me off the hook. If I had a disease, then I wasn’t responsible, but I was convinced of my culpability in my destructive behavior. It felt profoundly insincere to claim I was the victim of a disease.
In today’s passage though, I think Paul brought the two models together, illustrating that it isn’t one way or the other, but rather, both. Paul said that when Adam sinned, all of nature fell, with death and disease becoming an inherent part of our reality. Now, we’re all broken. Our flesh body and our flesh nature are both deeply flawed. Our physical bodies are in a constant state of decay and our human nature longs for the self-destructive. What started with an evil behavior, led to a diseased state from which we all suffer and which leads back to more self-destructive behavior.
We all have appetites and impulses which aren’t good for us. This is the result of mankind’s broken and diseased condition. We may not be responsible for inheriting whatever our struggle is, but having a pathologic appetite doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for our behavior. The diabetic isn’t responsible for his illness, but he’s absolutely responsible for his response to it. He can either live however he wants, suffering the disastrous consequences, or he can daily choose to do what it takes to treat his illness.
This is where we find ourselves. We may not all be prone to drug addiction, but we’ve all got broken impulses, thoughts, and desires. We may not be responsible for our pathologic condition, but that doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for our behavior. Daily, if we want to know life, joy and peace, then we must do whatever it takes to abandon the old self-destructive life to experience the healing and new life found only in Christ.