Worshipping at the Altar of Addiction
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:21
When I began abusing opioids, it was something I did because I received immediate gratification each time I used. Simply, I liked the way it made me feel and I continually wanted more. As I repeatedly engaged in drug use though, it rewired my brain, becoming a compulsive behavior which gradually grew to dominate my life. I began to spend all my time and energy on my addiction, abandoning everything else for it. I thought about my pills when I woke up and when I went to bed. Eventually, I pursued my pills above all – my wife, my children, my faith, and my career. My addiction was the altar upon which I sacrificed everything. Those pills became my god, and I worshipped them.
We don’t often use this language of gods, worship, and altars, but it’s the language of the Bible and it’s the language John used in today’s passage. In it, he warned us to abstain from idols. John taught that we must follow God above all and that anything that supplants God in our lives is an idol.
Despite growing up in church, I’ve always struggled a little with the idea of worship. Does God really need me to tell him how great he is? I’ve always assumed worship was simply for God’s pleasure. Perhaps it is, but when I consider the idols in my life, I’ve come to understand that worship is for my own good. Worship isn’t simply singing songs on Sunday morning. Worship is daily assuming my right position as child of God, looking to him as my heavenly father. I must daily follow him and his will above all. That’s how he created me and that’s how I find my ultimate joy, purpose, and meaning.
As John warned, anything that I pursue above God, is an idol and becomes my god. Seen in this light, idols don’t have to be explicitly evil, like drugs. Idols can be any distraction. Even good things can become idols. If I pursue career, status, and financial success above God, then my those things become my idols and my gods. The problem with idols of course, is the same problem with drugs – those things aren’t God and they can never truly satisfy. They may provide temporary gratification, but God is the only answer to my life’s greatest needs and anything I pursue above him is a false idol – leading to misery in the end.
As Christians, we’re told we must worship God. He does apparently find joy in this, but I suspect this is because he knows that it is only in worshipping him that we find authentic life, joy, and peace.