Pills and God

Pills and God

We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. 2 Corinthians 1:12 (NIV)

When I first sought recovery, I was told that I needed to learn a healthy relationship with medications. I was offended. I was a physician. I knew medications better than most. Honest introspection however, revealed that I did not have a healthy relationship with medications. This wasn’t just about pain pills. I once tried a diet pill that worked by blocking fat absorption. The instructions clearly indicated that lifestyle change was required and that the pill alone couldn’t make me lose weight. That’s not how I took the pill though. I took the pill so I could eat more fat. I’d eat a pizza, and then take the pill, hoping to lose weight. I relied on the pill to do everything, and I just kept living however I wanted. I actually gained weight.

I see this often as a physician. A patient with anxiety or depression wants a pill to feel better. I tell them that counseling and significant life changes may also be indicated, but no one wants to do those things. Just give me the pill doc. It’s often the same with insomnia. Attaining good sleep usually requires difficult lifestyle modifications, but that’s a lot of work. Just give me the pill doc. I see it with addiction as well. There are medications that can help cut down on drug or alcohol cravings, but addiction is a disease that, by definition, involves diseased behavior. There is no pill that can miraculously stop self-destructive behavior. For a medication to be helpful in recovery, it must be accompanied by radical life changes. If an addict’s plan to stop using is simply to take a pill, he will certainly fail.

We often do the same thing with our faith. In today’s passage, Paul reported that he relied on God to direct his behavior. As Christians, we know that we must rely on God, but our version of faith would be quite foreign to Paul. Too often, we think that relying on God means that we do nothing. If he wants to change me, he’ll do it. For some reason, we think it’s faithless to take action and so we sit back, do nothing, and call it faith. Our version of faith then, actually becomes an obstruction to change.

We are absolutely granted a new life when we come to faith in Christ. We still, however, are affected by the gravity of the old life. If we do nothing except what comes natural to us, we won’t change. Spiritual growth happens when we have faith in God and then act accordingly, radically changing our behavior. The Christian life is one of daily striving to make our lives fall in line with who God asks us to be. Obedience is necessary for growth but is rarely natural or easy. If our plan for transformation is to sit back and just let God (or a pill) do it all, we will fail.

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