Addiction and the cross

Gerhard Forde in his book, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, uses the analogy of addiction to describe sinful humankind’s addiction to law-abiding self-sufficiency (a theology of glory) until the “medicine” of the cross intervenes and the sinner “bottoms out”:

The addict [addicted to drugs, booze, sex… etc.] may not be so far gone as was thought and may be able to quit.  But when we shift to the relationship with God it is another matter.  The “intervention,” the cross itself, exposes the absolute depth and hopelessness of our addiction.  Before the cross there can only be repentance.  Even when the person is able to quit, he may be dancing on the edge of the abyss of pride and its constant companion despair.

To turn from the language of analogy back to the language of theology, it must be recognized that the righteousness we are talking about that we fail to attain through the law of God is not what was later called “civil righteousness,” worldly justice, but the righteousness that enables us to stand before God.  It is sheer gift to be received only by faith, by being called into a relationship as an entirely passive receiver.  God, that is, insists on being related to us as the giver of the gift.  What God “demands” is, as Luther will put it a bit later, “naked trust,” pure receivers.  To be a receiver, to believe that the gift is complete, it be “right with God.”

This means there are two ways we can miss the mark of righteousness before God, two ways the relationship can be destroyed.  One is more or less obvious: outright sinfulness, unrighteousness, lawlessness, self-indulgence, what the Bible would call “worldliness” or, perhaps in more modern dress, carelessness or heedlessness. In other words, we can just say to God, “No thanks, I don’t want it, I’ll take my own chances.” The other is much less obvious and more subtle, one that morally earnest people have much more trouble with: turning our back on the gift and saying in effect, “I do agree with what you demand, but I don’t want charity.  That’s too demeaning.  So I prefer to do it myself. What you are offering is ‘too cheap,’ I prefer the law, thank you very much.  That seems safer to me.”  What this means, of course, is that secretly we find doing it ourselves more flattering to out self-esteem – the current circumlocution of pride.  The law, that is, even the law of God, “the most salutary doctrine of life,” is used as a defense against the gift.  Thus, the more we “succeed,” the worse off we are.  The relationship to the giver of the gift is broken.  To borrow the language of addiction again, it is the addiction that destroys the relationship.  The alcoholic can be either a drunk or a “dry drunk.”  While the latter is more socially preferable, there is little to choose between them in broader religious view.  Once can be addicted to either what is base or what is high, either to lawlessness or to lawfulness.  Theologically there is not any difference since both break the relationship to God, the giver.  (Forde, 26-27.)

To learn more about deliverance from the curse of sinful addiction to the law through the gospel of Jesus Christ, you can read this sermon on justification by faith alone from Galatians 2.

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