When Harold met Jim at work several months ago, Harold, a Christian, sensed immediately that Jim was lonely and in need of a friend and mentor. Once he had established a rapport with Jim, Harold shared the gospel with him and Jim accepted Christ as his Savior. Several weeks later, Jim told Harold, “I love God. I’m really trying to resist the temptation to act out sexually, but it’s overwhelming me. What shall I do?”

“Brother, just read your Bible and pray,” Harold admonished. He cared about Jim and was eager to help, but he was not a recovering sex addict or a counselor, so he didn’t have practical advice to offer. Instead of recognizing and admitting that he didn’t have the answer, however, he offered the only solution he knew.

Clinically speaking, while Harold’s suggestion has merit, it’s somewhat simplistic. Although there is a spiritual component, God and religion are not the only issues involved in the process of recovery.

Addiction is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual phenomenon, a disease that is primary, chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal; a disease that at its most extreme point ends in one of three places: jails, institutions, or death.

Multi-faceted problems require multi- factorial solutions. No single answer—whether it’s religious or psychological or medical—is adequate, though any one of these things or a combination of them may be part of an effective treatment plan.

I am acquainted with several church-oriented drug addicts who persisted in practicing their addiction to the verge of death because they were convinced that lack of faith in God, lack of Christian commitment, or lack of willpower was causing their compulsion. They were equally convinced that they could cure their disorder if they would practice the right religious discipline in the right manner at the right time. Some of those who insisted on adhering to this philosophy succumbed to their addictions and died because they never received the help they needed. Hence, my passion on the subject.

Conscientious Christians must not continue to oversimplify the complex problem of addiction. The notion that we can “fix” addicts and alcoholics using some mystical or magical approach places us at risk for intervening in an inappropriate fashion.

We end up helping the person stay sick. Inexpert interference can prevent an addict from getting viable help. The concept that we have a miraculous cure for addiction is known as magical thinking. Magical thinking appeals tremendously to people who are desperate for an answer. But it doesn’t work—not even when couched in religious terminology and righteous motives.

I’m not suggesting that miracles don’t happen, because they do. But even when an addict is miraculously delivered of the desire to drink or drug through prayer, there are other complicating factors that can and will contribute to relapse if they are not addressed. Prayer and scriptural teachers are, at best, only part of the total answer.

“Aren’t you limiting God’s power?” someone may ask. I resoundingly affirm that God is the ultimate agent in the healing process. But when I have a medical emergency, I call a physician. If someone I love is injured in an accident, I take her or him to the emergency room. Although I pray en route, I submit the sick or injured person to the care of trained professionals.

When I have a personal problem, I ask my church to pray for me. But I don’t expect them to fix me. I don’t ask them to create my treatment plan or perform major surgery! Nor do I prescribe for myself. I seek the skills of the best specialist I can find, all the while praying and praising God for the outcome. And once I have sought and found the best help available, I follow directions carefully. I don’t substitute my own ideas or my pet theories for the recommendations of people better trained than I. Thinking that I know what’s best for myself or anyone else is arrogant.

It is in a spirit of humility that we can best minister to individuals and families suffering from addictive disorders. And that same spirit of humility in receiving the help of others who have experience and skill is the addict’s best hope for recovery.

By: Carol Cannon. Originally published in Signs of the Times, March 2000