Tuesday, 18 February 2014

of Alcoholism and Separation Anxiety

“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:21; ESV)

I recently received an email in which the distraught sender reminded me of something I had apparently said somewhere before. It concerned my musing on the idea that maybe some of our problems are there because something is not right in our relationship with God. Interesting, I thought, how the words we use follow us.

However, perhaps that’s a topic best saved for another day. Today, in this post, I’d like to reflect a little on one specific section of that email. (For the record, the sender of the email did give me permission to use its theme as blog fodder.)

Can anything separate us from God?

That question probably sums up the email. On the one hand, we all know the answer to that; it’s Christianity 101. If we are in Christ, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Period! Paul makes that pretty clear (Romans 8: 38-39). But what about when we get ourselves side tracked, taking our eyes off the Lord, and before you know it, we’ve essentially shipwrecked our lives? We all know people like that; maybe you’ve even done it too. I know I have, and I know that the person who sent me the email wonders if he hasn’t done so too. Can anything separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? No, absolutely not! List the ten worst sins you can imagine and then ask yourself: If I committed any of these, would that cause separation from God? Again, not from His perspective, for sin is sin; but maybe it does from my perspective.

While nothing can stop the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus, my correspondent wondered if there is something in us that potentially could cause us to stop loving Christ, and thereby create a separation of our own making. Could a life that was shipwrecked by our own hands make the love of God one-sided? “Maybe there is something that can separate Christ from the love that is in us,” suggested the email, as its sender went on to describe his grievous and gut-wrenching progressive journey into the depths of alcoholism.

As I thought about that, I also thought about how many other things so many of us wrestle with day to day. While for some it is alcoholism, for others it might be pornography. For one it might be prescription drug abuse, for the other it is a family broken apart by infidelity. For yet another the problem is depression or overwhelming stress. The point is, there are a plethora of demons in our fallen world whose mandate from their father, the devil, is to keep us so inwardly focused on these problems that it becomes difficult to keep our eyes on Jesus. Is it possible that there are a lot of things that can separate us from the love of God … if we allow them to? That was essentially the question that I was being asked. If we allow something to separate us, can we still be one with Christ? Yes, but while we separate ourselves, let’s not forget that, thankfully God doesn’t separate Himself.

“As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.” (1 Samuel 12:23; NIV)

So what is the answer to the heart-cry behind the email I received that day? Well first of all, it is acknowledging that, there but for the grace of God go I. Having said that, I am not immune either; I too wrestle with my own demons. Secondly, I believe that the church needs to, perhaps ironically, recapture the idea of praying for one another. I alluded to this in my post,  Intercession: Can We Pray for You? Perhaps, if one sin can be called greater than another, high on that list is the sin of not earnestly praying for each other. Thirdly, it may be that we need to revisit the idea of being “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:21) and all that is implied with that.

If you are a Christian, you are “in Christ.” It has nothing to do with denominations, institutions, or whether or not you believe in speaking in tongues, or whatever other doctrines there may be that historically divided us. Even alcoholism and other addictions aren’t a determining factor. The question is simply do you believe in Jesus as God’s only plan for your salvation (Acts 16:31). If so, then you are “in Christ.” There is no other magical formula; there are no other conditions. I like how Watchman Nee once illustrated being “in Christ.” He said:

The Lord God Himself has put us in Christ. Our destiny is therefore bound up with His. When preaching in the villages of China one must often use very simple illustrations. I remember once I took up a small book, and into it I put a piece of paper. “Now look carefully,” I said. “I take this paper. It has an identity of its own, quite separate from this book. Having no other use for it at the moment I put it into the book. Now I do something with the book. I mail it to Shanghai. I do not mail the paper, but the paper has been put into the book. Then where is the paper? Can the book go to Shanghai and the paper remain here? Can the paper have a separate destiny from the book? No, where the book goes the paper goes. If I drop the book in the river, the paper goes too, and if I quickly take it out again I recover the paper also. Whatever experience the book goes through the paper goes through with it, for it is still there in the book.” To be in Christ is just like that. It is to be identified with Him in all He has gone through. He was crucified. Then must I ask God to crucify me? Never! My Saviour’s destiny is already become mine.

Not seeing does not equal not being

Deep down inside I know that my correspondent knows all these things too; he’s been a Christian for many years. It could just as easily have been him saying these words to me as the other way around. Then what is the issue? While alcoholism, or any other consuming addiction (or lower-case “g” god), can easily mean that something is not right in our relationship with God, perhaps at the heart of the problem is the separation anxiety caused by the alcoholism.

The Bible does not forbid alcohol consumption; Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:9), and Paul actually encouraged Timothy to drink some wine (1 Timothy 5:23).

One form of tithing even goes so far as to permit “fermented drink” as a part of worship (Deuteronomy 14:26), so long as it was done in the context of fellowship (I dare you to preach that one from the pulpit next Sunday – LOL).

I realize there are some Christians who feel that these were references to non-alcoholic beverages, but as I’ve already discussed my views on that in a previous post, WWJD: What Would Jesus Drink?, I will not do so again here. However, while the Bible doesn’t speak against having the odd alcoholic drink, it does speak to abusing alcohol and allowing it to become a problem in our lives.

Still, God has not separated Himself from the alcoholic; the alcohol can, however, separate the drinker from God just like a clothes rack in a department store can separate a young child’s view of her parent. Mom and Dad are still there, it’s just that the clothing carousel is suddenly now between them and caused a separation anxiety. Alcoholism can do that too; it can cause separation anxiety in us by making us think that God is no longer there and has abandoned us. But not seeing does not equal not being; it may be just a case of something clouding our vision, such as the alcohol itself.

Can anything separate us from the love of God? Are you in Christ? If so, then nothing can separate us. Sure, we all have our demons, but Christ is already victorious over them too, even if we cannot always see it manifested in our day-to-day lives. Can we rest in that? That’s both where I want to be, and where I am; granted not always perfectly on my part, but that doesn’t change the truth of the matter on God’s part.

Be encouraged, in Christ God has forgiven you; now go and forgive yourself. He’s there; check the other side of the clothing carousel, rest in His love, and receive His peace. Oh, and by the way, I am praying for you too. God bless.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

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