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Thursday, 22 February 2018

Helpless Addict or Slave to Sin?

In a previous post, I asked the question, “What are you living for?” I suggested various things that people live for and how these can become idols if we don’t keep them in their proper place.

What happens, though, when we find ourselves obsessed with things that seem to have the power to control us? When we’ve already succumbed to the temptation and find ourselves in the grip of an addiction from which it seems impossible to break free.

I’ve just finished reading, The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. Perhaps, some of you are already wondering why on earth I would be reading such a book. Don’t worry, I found myself wondering the same thing several times as I progressed.

I read this book because I wanted to see whether the perspective of the author on shopaholism is what had resulted in the crazy numbers of sales of this series. In other words, I was curious about how the author would deal with something that, judging by the title, she classes as an addiction. What solutions would Sophie Kinsella offer for those trapped in these situations?

I definitely set the bar too high by expecting to find anything really useful in a worldly book written to appeal to the masses. Kinsella takes a light-hearted, humourous, (and in places offensive), approach to the subject of shopping addiction. She recommends; ignoring debt letters until your cards are cancelled, continuing to spend like a crazy person whenever you feel unhappy or just whenever you see something you want, lying to all and sundry about anything and everything, including lying on your CV to get a job that you know nothing about, and borrowing from strangers. Oh, and sleeping with someone because they are rich and famous.

Kinsella’s message is not very subtle: poor Becky Bloomwood is at the mercy of her addiction and unable to do anything about it. First, she tries cutting down her spending only to find that she ends up spending more money by investing in things she needs in order to cut down. She abandons this plan and decides she needs instead to make more money. After a few failed projects, she eventually manages this by a stroke of luck, and that is the solution to her shopping addiction because now she can get out of debt and continue spending in a self-indulgent fashion.

I’m aware this is a fictional character, but the author is attempting to comment on the realities that some people face. This isn’t Alice in Wonderland where everything is topsy turvy and things get curiouser and curiouser in a nonsensical universe. Becky Bloomwood is, by all accounts, a relatively normal girl attempting to navigate life and struggling due to her addiction to buying things, whether or not she can afford them.

Kinsella turns her character’s very real obsession with spending and shopping into a joke, or at least something that is normal. She underpins and cements society’s erroneous belief that if they could just make more money, then everything would be okay, and they would be happy. She forgets that most people live to their income; they increase their standard of living according to how much they earn. It will always be the same people in debt and struggling to make ends meet however much they earn. Even those who win huge sums of money often end up bankrupt and miserable.

Money cannot buy happiness. The Bible tells us to be content with what we have and not to covet/desire the things we don’t. The more things we have the more we will want because eventually we will become dissatisfied and want something better.

"Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13 vs 5

As someone who has struggled with addictions to, among other things, gambling, alcohol and smoking. I can look back and see the point where I gave in to the temptation to play the slot machines, drink too much and buy a pack of cigarettes. Each time I did these things after that first wrong choice, it became easier, and I needed more of whatever it was to keep me interested and satisfied. The more I gave in, the more the thing began to take over my life and to control me. At times, I was living for my next drink/night out and the thrill of risking (losing!) some money to make more. It was all I could think about and my life revolved around the obsession.

This is how I know that, despite what the experts may tell us, addiction to anything begins with giving in to a sinful temptation. The Bible speaks about our consciences being seared with a hot iron or becoming dulled if we persistently ignore them. Ending up addicted to anything is not about genetics, or life’s circumstances, it’s about sinful choices. This is evidenced by the lives of those who come from terrible backgrounds but still manage to make something of themselves.

Kinsella’s book is full of bad language, in particular frequent uses of God’s name as a swear word. At one point, the character, Becky Bloomwood, even writes a diatribe about having become a “born again Christian” to her bank as a reason for not paying off her debts. The tone used in the reply from the bank is contemptuous towards the character but also towards God. I was surprised to find this mockery of the Christian faith in this book as it has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject matter.

On reflection, I realised that God has everything to do with this subject. Sophie Kinsella has thrown in a laugh at the expense of a God who she rejects and considers worthy of contempt. The fear of God, in generations past, has all but disappeared, leaving a dangerous irreverence and willingness to mock a Deity who is considered insignificant and irrelevant. These books have become so popular because the author’s modern-day readers feel the same way about God and are not afraid to join with her in expressing it.

Kinsella no doubt began by blaspheming as a child, she ignored her conscience telling her that it was wrong to speak God’s name in this way. It became more frequent and her conscience was dulled. Now, she has become a best-selling author and is helping to sear the consciences of her readers who soak up this material and allow the name of God to be profaned without a second thought.

I’m sure you can see the parallel between the willingness to use bad language and the way other addictions develop. It all starts by ignoring our God given conscience and choosing to give in to sinful temptations. (Of course, sin begins in our hearts which are corrupt, but that’s another topic.)

Do people end up at the mercy of their addictions? Yes, of course they do. We can see it all around us, whether it be addictions to shopping, drugs, alcohol or something else that has taken over our lives and become an unhealthy obsession that consumes us.

What, then, is the solution?

The first thing is to recognise that whatever it is that has enslaved you began with a sinful choice. Don’t blame it on someone else, or your background or circumstances. Take responsibility for it and face up to the consequences.

The good news is that there is hope. God created us and knows exactly how we are wired and how our bodies and minds function. He is the only One who can truly help us to break free of these addictions by enabling us to exercise self control. We may also need support and help from other people and practical advice about changing habits and behaviours, but it all starts with acknowledging that we have sinned against God and by asking for His help.

All sin is against God and the Bible says that we are all guilty. Giving in to temptation and allowing any substance, habit or material thing to take over our lives is a sin as it has become an idol to us. God sent His only Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sin. Jesus paid the penalty so that we don’t have to. He literally stepped in and took our place. It is through Jesus that we can be free of addictions and obsessions that are controlling our lives.

I read another book recently, From Alcoholism to Africa, on the subject of addictions, and extracted this quotation which sums up how all addictions, (including shopaholism), can be dealt with:

“Whilst I was reading the Bible I could not find any sin called 'alcoholism' or any reference to me being a sick person, it was called 'drunkenness' and the Bible said if I acknowledged, confessed and repented my sin I could be forgiven. Also in 1 John 1 it says that if I am without sin I am calling God a liar and the truth is not in me. The Word of God is the Truth and it is the truth that sets me free. God was definitely working on me as I read the Bible.”

Praise God that we are not helpless addicts, nor do we need to be slaves to sin, because Jesus died to set us free!