Disease as an Excuse
God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel . . . So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15
When I first encountered the concept of my addiction as a disease, I struggled with it. Part of me that liked the idea. I was told that it was as if I had a cancer. It’s not your fault. Everyone who’s been addicted has probably found some comfort in this idea that the disease model of addiction absolves us of responsibility for our terrible behavior. At the same time though, there was another part of me that knew this was wrong. If I wasn’t responsible, who was? It was me who’d lied. It was me who’d broken trust. It was me who’d lost my job. If I had no control over it, then I was lost because I that also meant that I couldn’t do anything to fix it.
Now, looking back, I can accept that addiction is a disease, but I also understand that I’m not absolved of responsibility just by saying that. I absolutely had – and still have – pathological thought patterns. When I go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, I still find my eyes looking for the bottles of opioid pills. That’s not normal. That’s diseased thinking. Here’s the thing. I’m still responsible for dealing with it. If I had diabetes or cancer, I may not have chosen it, but I alone am responsible for seeking and following the prescribed treatment. Just because I have a pathologic predisposition to a self-destructive behavior doesn’t mean that I’m absolved of responsibility for it.
We’re prone to a similar mistake of logic as Christians. In today’s passage, Paul taught that we were chosen, called, and sanctified by God. The temptation then, is to cling to spiritual fate. God chose where I’m at. If I’m struggling, that’s where he wants me. He’ll fix my addiction when he’s ready, I guess. This version of faith actually becomes a hindrance to transformation because it causes us to sit back and do nothing.
Paul also taught, however, that in response to God’s work, we must stand firm, holding to the truths we’ve been taught. We do need to believe that God initiated a work in us, but now we must respond. Spiritual growth is not a spectator sport. It is a mutual effort, between the father and us. God always does his part in our transformation, now we must do ours. If our faith relieves us of responsibility, leading us to do nothing, then we’re doing faith wrong.