Practical Thinking About Drugs
Results of Doing Theology—April 2015
The wisdom or rightness of whatever we are doing depends primarily upon our motivation or purpose for doing it. "Why?" and "what for?" make a difference. Jesus followers know why they are alive and what to live for.
The Apostle Paul masterfully helps us with our decision making about activities that could "go either way" in several of his letters—"Is this action wise or right?" For instance, in his day there was a debate about what to do with food that comes from the temple "store" after having been sacrificed to idols. He writes:
The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. (Romans 14:3-9)
We may not have a similar circumstance in our own time (although some people think eating genetically modified foods might be something sacrificed to a corporation). But lately we have had the debate about ingesting drugs of various kinds; there is a parallel. This is the second half [previous post] of some thoughts we explored in our last "Doing Theology" time; Paul is a good guide to questions we have to keep asking.
This might be a question more suitable to what we are discerning:
Is it right or wrong to drink and glass of wine or smoke a joint?
The Bible seems to teach it depends—who is doing it, where and when? For myself, I rarely drink any alcohol in public and usually don't serve it because I am aware that some people should never drink any alcohol and I am in solidarity with them. In his argument about eating temple meat, Paul, likewise, says that even though he feels free to eat whatever he chooses, he abstains when he is around people who are against eating such things because he doesn’t need to do anything—especially if it causes someone to stumble over a debatable matter. He has enough confidence in his freedom not to need to exercise it just to prove he has it. His argument (above) easily applies to most ampliative drugs, since they are unnecessary.
More important to most of us is this question:
Are you using drugs to enjoy the gifts of God to the glory of God and to edify the body? Or are you trying to escape or numb pain? Is your drug use about God and others or just about you?
An ampliative or therapeutic drug is just a substance. It can (at least many drugs can) be used for good or it can be used sinfully or ignorantly. Instead of its potential good impact, it could have unintended or sin-ridden consequences. Like anything, it can take on meanings beyond what it is and have undue influence. Whether you use a drug or not, if Jesus is Lord and extending his kingdom motivates you, then you will be able to work things out – God has accepted you even if you have an alternative approach to someone else's, or you interpret your needs differently, or even if you are just plain wrong at this moment.
You could use a drug and think “nothing can touch me. I am free and strong!” Or you could use a drug in fear, to escape what you should be facing. You could use a drug and feel holier than everyone else. Or you could not use a drug you need and be a big detriment to everyone who has to make up for how badly you behave. You could use a drug ignorantly or rebelliously and become addicted.
We’ll have to work it out.
How does one decide about using therapeutic drugs or attempting to use ampliative drugs therapeutically?
Here are some important questions to ask on the way to answering that question:
- Are you avoiding the hard questions that the drugs might help you avoid?
- Will the drug/medication aid your maturity or will it numb the process or even blind you to it?
- Are you praying things through or is the drug your refuge?
- Do you have friends and therapists to talk to or does the drug help you avoid scary relationships?
- Is taking the drug/medication an expression of faith and service or is it running and numbing? Conversely is refusing to take it relying on yourself instead of humbly admitting your need?
- Will not using the drug/medication build up or tear down the body?
Questions that help do theology from where you are starting:
How are you presently using drugs of all kinds?
Have you or your loved ones (friends or family) ever been prescribed or used drugs to their detriment? What happened?
What are the most important parts of this dialogue so far for your future health and the future health of Circle of Hope?
What is God telling you about using ampliative or therapeutic drugs?
Here are some "one-liners" we collected at the end of our Doing Theology time. These are not 'last words," just the wisdom some people were willing to offer:
- Talking about drug use more lets everything that might be suppressed get out into the light. Not talking can leave us lost in feeling defective.
- As a church, it is better to be known as a fertile ground for recovery than as a place where one is free to party.
- Peer pressure is a big thing in a community. It runs things. We need to remember that what we do influences others.
- Drinking wine could be joyful if Jesus is behind it. He obviously thought so.
- We should handle substances relationally, not legally. Our sin addiction keeps us isolated and prone to cutting people off.
- Avoidance is part of humanity. The Zoloft user could easily tell the alcoholic to get the speck of sawdust out of his eye while she has a plank of dependency in her own.
- Jesus can transcend the space of our deepest suffering, dependent on a drug or not. We yearn for transformation.
- Suspicion of one's personal capacity is warranted. None of us is all that self aware. None of us is capable of competing with the billions of dollars spent to get us to use unnecessary drugs.
- The body of Christ is useful in all healing processes. Just learning how to be the body is healing. The therapeutic dyad central to psychotherapy amplifies this truth.
- Where does my necessary suffering end and unnecessary begin? I cause a lot of my own suffering. We all need the mirror.
- Getting connected to something beautiful usually starts before sobriety.
- How do we get to the place where we can ask the question: "Show me how I work so I can be healed?"
- Rationalization and spiritualization are enemies of transformation.