We are considering the topic of deception today and how it holds up or supports an addiction. It has been my experience throughout my years of counseling that God does not just bring people to me for the purpose of using me in their lives. He works both sides of the equation and uses them to teach me as well. So, as you will hear, in having me deal with many kinds of deceptions over the years He has also called me to look at my own deceptive heart. I pray He will do that for all of us this afternoon.
I want to start this by giving you a bit of information about myself so that you know the route by which I come to this very important topic.
I am a psychologist who loves Jesus Christ and His Word. I have been in practice for 35 years. My two primary areas of interest and expertise have been trauma survivors and Christian leaders. Unbeknownst to me, such emphases were to lead me into an intensive study of self deception. Sometime during the first two years of working I sat down with a young woman in her twenties and heard the words, “My father used to do weird things to me”. I frankly did not know what she meant.
Those were the years before public or professional discussion of childhood sexual abuse. When I went to a supervisor I was told that women sometimes tell these stories and your job is not to get hooked by them. You will contribute to their pathology if you believe them. In other words, these women are deceiving you, Diane, and you should not believe what they say. Over time, other women mentioned similar things to me and ultimately I chose to believe the women rather than the supervisor. It was, in fact, the supervisor who was deceived, not the women. Unknown to me I was beginning a crash course in deception. I began hearing about rape and domestic violence, acts full of and surrounded by, deception. I heard about evil and suffering unlike anything I had ever imagined.
These events were profoundly shaping and through the course of my work God began to teach me about His love of truth, rooted in His character of truth, as well as His longing that truth be reproduced in the lives of His followers. He showed me that to be a member, even an esteemed one, of the church, does not necessarily mean that a person’s citizenship is in heaven. He taught me that truth is sometimes about speaking of or exposing hideous things and that He is not surprised by nor does He ever minimize evil. As I saw the impact of deceit on human lives I began to understand that deception is soul-deadening and results in bondage and despair.
Somewhere in my first ten years of working God also brought me pastors – He brought me pastors who were weary and burnt-out and many who had been chewed up and spit out by their churches. He brought me missionaries who crawled home on all fours after too much work and too little support, and traumatic experiences on the field. I was tending to victims and to shepherds and sometimes shepherds who were victims. I was greatly saddened by what I saw among the shepherds. Many were weary and used up and often tossed aside by the people of God.
And then one day, God allowed the worlds to collide. I entered the murky waters of shepherds who made victims out of sheep – Missionaries who raped the nationals they had gone to serve, leaders who “unwound” from the pressures of ministry through a pursuit of pornography or prostitutes and pastors who abused their power to feed off the women in their pews or counseling offices. I encountered churches that closed ranks to protect the abuser rather than the victim. I saw sin hidden and ignored rather than exposed to the light of God. Shepherds and churches became the predators. Institutions and organizations were protected rather than sheep. Deceitfulness seemed rampant. It was not just something individuals did but was also often systemic – even in the body of Christ. Deception was in the church and the lives of some of its shepherds.
I must confess to you that I struggled. I struggled with disbelief, anger, cynicism and judgment. I wanted to make whips and turn tables over and then a subtle arrogance crept in. Arrogance assumes superiority. Cynicism expects the worst of people. And I, who had judged others in the body of Christ for being whitewashed tombs full of deception, abuse and immorality, had myself become a whitewashed tomb full of the deceit of pride. Deceit not only lies without; it is within. I had become that for which I had disdain – a deceived and whitewashed tomb tending other whitewashed tombs. I was at the end of me, my skills, my stamina, my endurance and my willingness. I did not see how I could go into one more dark and poisonous place. I was myself full of the disease with which I was working.
Over time I have learned from the One who was so carefully teaching me – about evil and deceit and suffering – that He did not simply want me to see what was in humanity or to see what was in His church but also to see what was in my own deceitful heart and then to more fully understand His heart for all of us who are His children. He has gently insisted that part of His teaching is the giving of His heart for He what reveals – His heart full of both grace and truth. Without that such information would corrupt and disfigure the one who held it – as it was, in fact, disfiguring me. As you know so well, there is a terrible poison in this world and in us. It has been here since Eden. You cannot live with that poison, in your own life or the lives of other, without being contaminated and marred unless you learn to stay very close to the God who is truth and who will, by His Spirit, call you to face the deceitfulness of your own heart in the light of His Word of truth.
Now He has given me His heart for His church, she who is still blemished and spotted, she whom He died to redeem and purify. He has said that loving Him means loving His body. One cannot love the Head and despise the body for they are one entity. He has said that if I love Him then I will love His people. Failure to love His people, even His predatory shepherds, is a failure in my love for Him. He has taught me also that loving as He does includes a call to truth and light. Whenever we ignore, hide or excuse sin in the body of Christ we work against Him for He came to bring about the death of sin. Any pretense that sin is somehow tolerable – whether in my own heart, my own relationships or in the lives of those with whom I work – is actually a choice to infect and poison the body of my Lord.
These experiences have comprised an intensive course in deception. It is crucial in studying anything that is the antithesis of God’s character to steadily immerse ourselves in Him at the same time – the failure to do so was evident in my own life for a time – as my “course” in deception was clearly disfiguring me into its own image. The very study of sin (which is a natural and necessary part of counseling) can either seduce us into tolerating it in ourselves and others or so paralyze us that we sink into despair – deceived into believing that God is not able or over all. If we despair we will fail to fight evil in ourselves and lose the courage to work for the deliverance from it for others.
So the pathway of a study of deception has looked something like this for me – first a study of victims, their suffering and the lies they carry as a result – about themselves, about the world and about God. It then moved to a study of oppressors and the multitudinous ways they deceive first themselves and then others. I began to grasp that underlying abuse of power was a powerful self-deception, followed by the use of deception to control victims and finally the use of deception to try and manage or prevent exposure. I have watched this web ensnare individuals, families, institutions and nations. Using the lessons from my clinical work I want to tell you what I have learned about deception and how it works out in human lives so that you, as part of the body of Christ, will recognize it in yourself and in others more quickly.
This conference is about addiction and it is critical when working with addictions to understand the role of deception and how it holds up addiction; it functions as a supporting column. Deception is the core of all addictions. If we do not understand this we run the risk of helping someone stop addictive behavior but leaving them still living in bondage to deception. Deception is poisonous; it destroys lives and it mars the name of our Lord. It is by its nature often hard to see but according to the Scriptures, the cost of deception is ultimately slavery and death.
I am assuming all of you here today are involved in ministry of some kind – whether ordained or lay. You have encountered suffering people. Many of you deal with sexual abuse, domestic abuse, or addictions in the lives of others. Some of you have sadly had to intervene or work with those in leadership who were leading double lives and who have done great damage to the body and Name of our Lord. Any of you who have worked with batterers or pedophiles or addicts understand something of the role of deception in their lives.
How can a man sexually abuse a child for years, or beat the wife he promised to cherish or live enslaved to an addiction until his life falls down in ruins and sit there and look you in the face and say he is not guilty? He got there by way of deception. Deception is clearly involved in his relationship with the victims, but it is preceded by years of deception of the self. We as human beings have a seemingly unlimited capacity to hide truths that are painful to us. We have an uncanny ability to push down or cover over knowing what in fact we know. We do so by, at least initially, twisting the truth just a shade.
The most powerful lie of all is the lie which contains a likeness to the truth in some way – not unlike the lie the enemy told Eve. As a result self-deception can become the root of terrible evil. As Tim Keller said in a sermon on Saul – self-deception is not the worst thing that you can do but it is the means by which we do the most terrible things. Deception works on us little by little. We would not be deceived otherwise! Almost every pastor or Christian leader I have worked with who has destroyed his ministry by immorality or an addiction of some kind has sat in my office with his head in his hands and said, “I have no idea how I got here”.
There are a couple of passages of Scripture that I think help us understand the process of deception that leads people to such life-devastating results. In chapter 17 the prophet Jeremiah quotes Jehovah: “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord…for he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness…blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water that extends his roots…and will not fear/be anxious when the heat comes…the heart is deceitful more than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:5-11)?
These Scriptures offer us fascinating insight into the mechanisms of self-deception. A deceived person trusts in something human for heart/soul sustenance to the extent that eventually he does not recognize when true good comes. He may put his trust in others – for affirmation, approval, love – or in a job, an achievement, a ministry success – or in a substance such as drugs, alcohol, pornography, food and makes those things the place under which he shelters himself. Of course, his expectation of fulfillment is continually frustrated for such things never satisfy the soul; he has planted himself in a desert. And, having given him self over to something or someone, he becomes the slave of the one he has chosen to obey (Romans 6:16). Hence, an attachment (meaning in its original French – “nailed to”) or addiction ensues.
An addiction simply means that one’s desire has been nailed to something resulting in enslavement to that thing. To be addicted is to be devoted habitually to something; as Peter says “by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved”. Indeed, “cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength”. Jeremiah goes on to say that over time, convincing himself that what he is doing is okay or good, such a man loses his capacity to discern good from evil. The result is that he who feeds himself in this way lives in stony wastes and does not even see where he is. As Alexander Pope said in his Essay on Man, “Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, as to be hated needs but to be seen; yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace”.
The addict becomes enslaved with chains of his own making, and eventually lives with such a level of deception that he not only cannot free himself, he does not even see the chains for what they are. He has called good that which is evil.
In contrast, the one who trusts God to Himself be his sustenance is not afraid when drought threatens but remains green and bears fruit for his roots draw from an infinite God, rather than finite man. Following this, almost like a commentary, is the well-known verse about the deceitfulness of the heart that concludes with a question suggesting amazement – “who can understand it”? The process of such deception is subtle; it paints a false color on things, cheats those who invest in them and finally results in their ruin.
Obviously, deceitfulness resides in the heart of every human. Anyone who has raised children knows that the capacity for deception is demonstrated at a very early age and never has to be taught! For some, especially those who grow up in homes full of deception and pain, self-deception can easily and unknowingly become a habit of the mind. Deception can essentially function as a narcotic for it protects us from seeing or feeling that which is painful to us. Such a narcotic is understandable if you think of a little five or seven year old girl who is being repeatedly abused in some way and cannot escape. She is repeatedly taught lies; schooled in them – It is your fault; you are bad; you are not loveable; no one will believe you. She is nurtured in an environment of deception and will begin to use it for herself as well – first, by believing the lies told to her and then to tend to her pain – perhaps eventually falling into an addiction – to a substance, or even to a socially acceptable one such as straight A’s – to attempt to silence the lies and to numb the painful feelings.
People do not just use deception in order to commit wrong but also to endure suffering. In our example of the little girl we see her experiencing pain she felt she could not tolerate and so having been taught lies she learns to habitually “inject” the narcotic of self-deception. She uses deception in order to stay sane and survive. It gives us a glimpse into why Christ spoke so harshly about those who mislead little children and cause them to stumble. To do so is to lead a little child in ways that are the opposite of God and are not for her good. Children are vulnerable, dependent and easily led. They are severely limited in knowledge and they are malleable. We concern ourselves with their nutrition because we know what they consume will affect their physical selves, not just in childhood, but in adulthood as well. Raising children in an environment of love, truth, wisdom and patience shapes their characters. Raising children in an environment of fear, evil and deceit shapes their characters as well. To raise a child on a diet of deceit is profoundly shaping.
A person who is skilled in deception is a person who is essentially addicted to deceit. Deception deeply habituates the soul to look at things diametrically opposed to the way God sees for He is a God of truth. Deception is about hiding, pretending, ignoring, camouflaging and covering.
Let’s consider the more common deceptions – one which we have all used – and which are the basic building blocks for more complex and enduring patterns of deceit.
Have you ever seen someone on a sidewalk or in a store that you did not want to encounter? Have you then had the experience of suppressing what you know? You turn your head or your eyes; you go a slightly different route in order to “keep from seeing them”. The deception can be carried even further if you encounter them in spite of your maneuvering and you respond with “surprise” that they are there. We deceive them and work to deceive ourselves about our awareness of them in an attempt to protect ourselves from an undesired encounter. We do a similar thing when we want to protect ourselves from an undesired or failed responsibility – “Oh, I did not hear you…I forgot…etc.”
In addition to pretending not to see, another manifestation of the “art” of self-deception is our ability to justify to ourselves that which we know is wrong. I speed because I am late, I eat too much chocolate because I worked hard, or I speak harshly to a family member because I was stuck in traffic. I know speeding, too much chocolate and harsh words are wrong but I use external difficulties to convince myself of a justification for breaking the rules. It is painful to me to face my wrongdoing and so I deceive my self, I administer the narcotic of deceit, in order to avoid that pain.
We also deceive ourselves by the use of comparing or contrasting – a way of minimizing our wrongdoing. We compare a bad thing we are doing to a good thing with the implication that the good somehow lessens the evil of the bad. For example, I may cheat on my taxes but at least I go to church or I hate my mother but at least I have never told her. We apply the narcotic of self-deception in order to maintain a good feeling or image of ourselves, even though what we are doing is wrong.
A fourth way we often deceive ourselves is by the use of misdirection, blaming or the “dodge-and-weave” technique. This occurs in many relationships – I see it all the time in marriage counseling. Your spouse tells you something you did wrong and you respond by pointing out something wrong with him or her. A weakness or failure in the person who is correcting you becomes your focus rather than facing the truth about what was said. Again, the narcotic is used to avoid the pain of facing the truth about us. In all these instances, we are living in the stony wastes and do not see what is happening to our souls.
We use all manner of self-deceptions to protect ourselves from information that would cause us to view ourselves in ways that we do not like. We use these to avoid facing our habits of anger, impatience, criticism and selfishness. This mechanism enables us to ignore others, commit wrongs, and feel justified or even righteous when in fact we ought to be facing our failures, abuses and sins.
The deception then goes another step because the deceived one attempts to draw others into his/her web of deception.
When you study the concept of “grooming” as used by sexual predators– you see the ways in which an abuser seduces a victim and you see that deception is the foundation, first of the self; then of the other. The self is first deceived into believing that the evil desire is good. The deceiver engages in a universal human habit – the habit of letting the eye, the desire, cheat the heart and the conscience and blind us to its conviction. Then reaching out to include another by buying gifts for the victim, or the use of words that hide something’s true nature (“I’m just loving you,” “You are special to me”, etc), all are deceptive. Soon deception is urged or forced on the victim – “Don’t tell anyone. Bad things will happen to you if you tell. No one will believe you. I know how to present things so no one will believe you”.
Addicts do this all the time. The lies they tell themselves, they also tell their families. They say they are fine; they can stop anytime; it is no big deal; no they have not been drinking, or they only drank a little bit; or they had a rough day – all of which are for the purpose of pulling others in so they will collude with the deception and be lulled, along with the addict, to allow the soul-deadening behavior to continue. The web of deception surrounding abuse or oppression or addiction is huge. It can occur in an individual life, an institution’s life, a community’s life as well as an entire country’s life. We see it in alcoholics, in corporations that hide research data, in churches that protect clergy who abuse, in families who cover for alcoholics or drug addicts or in the Rwandan genocide. These are all examples of widespread deception. A deception that began in the heart and envelops a life and then its tentacles reach out and pull in those around it – whether it is a family, a church or a nation.
Biography of Deception
Based on some of the things we have said let me walk you through the biography of deception or the growth of deceit in the character of a human being as seen in another portion of Scripture. I credit George Adam Smith, Scottish theologian and Hebrew scholar, with many of these reflections on Psalm 36 given in his book, Four Psalms.
We have said that deception’s origin is in the human heart and that none of us is exempt. It is there; you and I know its presence in our own hearts and we have heard its whisper. If we are honest, all of us have yielded to its whisper. All of us know the heart experience of temptation and its accompanying deception, and then the immediate response of our own self-deception, seemingly working in concert with the temptation to convince us of its rightness or to justify it in some way. We have mentioned ordinary examples already such as speeding because I am late.
Do keep in mind the object of our deception can also be good things, used wrongly – for example, verbal skills or theological knowledge. It is easy to use such wonderful gifts to lift ourselves up, to cover wrongdoing and render ourselves never wrong or at least unaccountable to anyone. When we have a fear of God in our hearts then another powerful factor is introduced into this battle in the soul. If there is no fear of God or we silence the conviction that comes then we can easily move into thinking by way of the deceptions we have used, that we can engage in the sin without harm to ourselves.
This is not unlike what the enemy told Eve – You will not die; it will not hurt you. We convince ourselves we can stop any time; one more time will not hurt; one more bite; one more look; one more late night; one more injection – of a substance or a human response of approval. If we engage in such self-delusion long enough we will, over time, lose our taste for the good and our power to loathe evil. We eventually silence the voice of God and our response of a proper fear and obedience to that voice. The problem of course is that sin will hurt us and contrary to what the enemy told Eve, it will lead to death.
Once we begin removing our taste for good and our power to hate evil, then we only habituate that which causes our death or as the psalmist says in Psalm 36:4 – “He sets himself on a path that is not good.” As deception becomes a way of life, evil can be easily practiced by an increasingly dead soul that then becomes presumptuous, planning and actively participating in evil. You see this if you work with addicts because they begin using all of their energy in support of their habit; it becomes the governing force in their life. Over time the possibility for penitence is destroyed, the soul is enslaved and the habit ends in soul death.
Think about this biography of deception and think about situations you have known or worked with involving sexual abuse, domestic violence, clergy sexual abuse, embezzling of funds, addictions – certainly drugs and alcohol, but also food, pornography, and more so-called common looking ones like infidelity or lack of integrity, gossip, lawbreaking – or the seemingly innocuous ones such as approval, rightness, and affirmation. Temptation arises, self-deception or delusion joins in, evil is termed good or at least justified, the choice is habituated and the prisoner is trapped, actively participating and barreling toward death, no longer able to stop.
When it is laid out like this, it all sounds horrifying and repellent. However, it can show up in our ministries and our lives in very subtle ways and even in pretty packages. I fear many people who are suffering terribly because they live with evil such as I have described have gone to leadership only to be sent home, disbelieved or even considered deceptive them selves. Deception and great evil can easily lie below the surface of high position, great theological knowledge, stunning verbal skills and excellent performance. If the enemy of our souls can appear as an angel of light then surely an evil human being who is in fact mimicking him can appear well-clothed, theologically articulate and beautiful to the human eye.
Suppose a woman comes to her pastor and she is timid and not very articulate, perhaps a bit hysterical and afraid. She tells him that her husband is addicted to pornography. She tells it haltingly, without much clarity, nervously pulling on her sleeve. Her husband is a successful business man who gives large sums of money to the church. He is an elder and well-known to the community. He is quite charming and everyone thinks he is a very fine man. In such circumstances it is very easy for two things to happen.
One is to presume outward appearances tell the story of the heart. We allow the eye to tell us the story that we want to hear. Surely someone with characteristics such as I have described would not possibly also be someone who is buried in pornography. We think, “I know this man; this is not how he acts”.
Two, if any doubt creeps in, it is easy and often desirable for the hearer to lean on his/her own capacity for self-deception and talk them selves out of considering the truth of what has been told. In other words, I will discredit the wife because of her presentation, and credit the husband because of his success, plus – how can I disrupt the church and community with this. If it were exposed and shown to be true, the church would lose money, reputation and possibly be divided over it. And of course things get even more complicated than this.
Suppose the wife is telling an elder and the man she is accusing of a sexual addiction is the senior pastor. The fact is, the hearer/witness is potentially very invested in the truth not being heard and exposed and so the truth-teller is sent away, discredited and unprotected. You see, often we think our positions, places, institutions, organizations are worth more protection than truth because if we stand with truth – or even exploring the possible truth of something – we risk the loss of what we hold dear. We do not, in fact, believe that sin is the worst thing in the world. And in that we are of course, just as deluded as the one we are hearing about or sitting across from in our office.
It is so easy to get caught up in the externals and believe that their destruction would be the worst thing that could happen. This is why families often silently collude with addicts and never speak up about the sin going on behind closed doors. And when they do speak up and come forward and expose sin the first response is often to either silence the truth-teller or to fail to grasp the depth of deceit involved and think a few words and a few tears equal heart repentance. We do so out of a misplaced concern about how the truth will damage the marriage, the church, or the institution. The governing force then becomes: protect the form at all costs, even if its substance is rotten.
Yet our God of truth, in response to the Israelites when they were continuously disobedient to Him, was to destroy the forms so the substance could be exposed and cleansed and eventually transformed. He hates evil and nothing is of enough value to protect it over and above dealing with that evil. Marriage is good and God-ordained, but evil in marriage is never acceptable. Church is good and God-ordained, but evil in the church is never acceptable.
Whenever sin is exposed it creates a crisis and crises do two things: they reveal character and they are also what we might call “separating” times. A crisis reveals character because in the moments of crisis we do what we have been practicing. We display what we have habituated. We demonstrate what or who we live in obedience to. That was clearly demonstrated when Katrina hit the Gulf States – the poor and the disenfranchised were left behind and forgotten because that was what had been practiced over the decades preceding the storm. They were always there and always in need and others had not practiced going back for them to care for them. When the crisis came people simply did what was practiced and did not go back.
The character of how a people habitually responded to the poor in their midst was revealed in the crisis. A crisis is a revealing time. It reveals what is in the person who has come to you, it will reveal the heart of one who is accused, it will reveal your heart to you and it will reveal the heart of the structure or organization that is threatened by the truth. It is absolutely crucial that what is being revealed be seen and understood and responded to in obedience to the Word of God.
A crisis is also a separating time. It separates the two roads that can be followed and exposes the heart of the chooser. Let’s consider what can happen at the point of crisis with someone in bondage to an addiction. The crisis comes – pornography is found on the church or work computer, the cell phone records expose an affair, the drugs or alcohol are found hidden away. What happens? Usually one of two things happens – outright denial (“I did not do it”) or an admission and a promise (“I did it and I won’t do it again”).
There are many variations of these two responses but they are the basic categories. They both serve the same purpose – they are an attempt to right the boat, to make things okay, to get things back to how they were prior to the exposure. People will marshal all their resources to that end – they will use tears, pleading, threats, justifications, blame and even Bible verses.
Why is this? Remember what an addict is – an addict is someone who is devoted to the practice of a particular habit. To be devoted means to give one self up, to give one’s time, energy, thought and action to something. Devotion is a matter of the will; of giving the self over to something or someone. So an addict is one who has given him/herself over to the practice of a habit such as ingesting a substance (drug, alcohol, food), or engaging in illicit sex of some kind. The habit is practiced, repeated, nurtured and protected. The self will eventually do whatever is necessary to insure ongoing practice of that habit. It seems necessary to and even good for, life and well-being. The thought of separating from the habit is frightening, and any threat results in holding one more tightly, i.e. desperately looking for new and better ways to deceive. Slaves, who have habitually served masters, do not suddenly walk or think free.
Addictions, however, are neither right nor healthy. Drugs and alcohol addictions destroy minds and bodies and families and careers. So does pornography. Repeated affairs, visiting prostitutes, homosexual activity, and pedophilia destroy fidelity, purity, marriages and children. Excessive eating causes obesity and incapacitates and destroys bodies. Habits of anger and bitterness and criticism destroy relationships. So how is it that normally intelligent people, even those who claim to know Christ and have at least some teaching in His Word can maintain such blatantly wrong and destructive behaviors and seem to live somewhat untroubled and oblivious to their impact?
I believe that the engine that drives addictions and habituated sin patterns of any kind is self-deception. Layers and layers of deception undergird and surround the devotion to the practice of a sinful and life-destructive habit. We use all manner of self-deceptions to protect ourselves from information that would cause us to view ourselves in ways that we do not like. It is crucial that we understand the anatomy of addiction or we will fall terribly short in our efforts to help those who are so enslaved. You can have a crisis of exposure and as a result a man can quit visiting prostitutes or using pornography but if the engine is still running he will continue to live with deception and simply find other ways to satiate him self that are less obvious to you or even to him self.
Underlying addiction is the engine of self-deception. Under the self-deception is a history which is important to explore and understand because it will help us see why the addiction developed and took the forms that it did. Addictions are often wrong responses to wrong things or they can be wrong solutions to right desires. Ultimately, underlying both deceptions and history is a human being who has claimed ownership of his/her life for him/herself.
In our example addictions were the response of a little girl to an abusing father. The child lived in an environment infested with evil. She was hammered with lies until they became truth for her. She learned to believe that she was trash, stupid, inadequate, and not of value. She is terrified those things are the truth and finds that intolerable. She devotes herself to attempts to prove those things wrong. She can do that by nurturing hatred, anger and revenge; she can do it by proving herself to be better, different and end up enslaved to success, arrogance and the need to be right; she can do that by numbing the excruciating pain with alcohol, drugs or sex. In doing so she is anesthetizing herself with the narcotic of deception. She has made flesh her strength and lives in the stony wastes. But she does not see. She will be tenacious in holding onto her addictions, i.e. deceptions, because to let them go means confronting the fear that the lies she learned growing up are in fact true and she would rather devote herself to self-protection by way of deception than to face that possibility.
It is important that we understand such things because we will often meet with a staggering tenacity when working with those trapped in addictions and unless we understand how the lies and ensuing behaviors and choices were developed we will likely respond with harsh judgment and impatience and expect change to come far more easily than is realistic. Those who grow up and are shaped in homes of repeated sin and evil and depravity are fed toxins for their souls. Those who have lived a lifetime of slavery are not suddenly free. Those who have claimed mastery of their lives rather than acknowledging God as Master will not learn to die to themselves quickly. Such poison is not removed merely by verbally challenging someone to change their behavior or choices though that is a necessary piece.
The work of counseling with addicts is the work of changing life-destroying behaviors. It is the work of understanding the role of deceit in the life and heart of the addict. It is the challenge of learning to habituate obedience to God, the only Master with whom we can walk free. It is the supernatural work of learning to die so that we might, in fact, live.
Something fascinating came up in my study of the verse in Jeremiah about the hearts capacity for deceit. One of the meanings of the word “deceitful” is “foot-tracked”. As I searched I found that this pertains to detectable evidence of a visible track of a substance. My husband and sons hunt. They know about detectable evidence of a visible track. They see it in the rubbings of buck in the woods. They see it in their footprints and in their droppings. Basically, what that means is that if we look carefully, we will see that the deception of a heart over time leaves “droppings”. It also means that we must go back to find the trail. The little steps of the trail with its detectable evidence will help us understand the outcome.
Counseling is, in part, the work of going back over life’s trail and finding the detectable evidence of a visible track. Without that the work will be shallow and fall short of the deep transforming work God desires to do in all of our hearts. With that work there is hope that the attachment to the flesh, which only brings bondage, will be broken, and the heart’s devotion will be habitually directed toward God Him self who alone brings freedom.
I want to close by giving you three elements that are necessary if we are to do this work and do it well.
First, know about people. Know about addictions. Understand what addiction does to human beings. Understand the biography of deception in a human heart. And yet, in knowing, never assume you know. No matter how many addicts you see, each is unique. If we do not understand this we will arrogantly make wrong judgments. We will prematurely expect change. We will give wrong answers. We will fail to hear because we think we know. Listen acutely. Study avidly.
Second, know God. Know His Word. Be an avid student of that Word. If we are going to serve as His representative to others we need to know Him well. We are often so presumptuous and we speak for Him where we do not really know Him. We need to be so permeated by His Word that we learn to think His thoughts.
George MacDonald said: “If you say, ‘The opinions I hold and by which I represent Christianity, are those of the Bible,’ I reply, ’that none can understand, still less represent, the opinions of another, but such as are of the same mind with Him’.” May we never forget that to know His Word, according to Him, means it is woven into our lives and we are obedient to it. Where we do not live according to His Word, we do not know God. We cannot work with addictions and deceit unless our roots go down deep into the one who is Truth allowing His surgical work in our own deceitful hearts.
Finally, do not do this work (or any other for that matter) without utter dependence on the Spirit of God. Where else will you find wisdom? How will you know when to speak and when to be silent? How will you discern the lies from the truth? How else will you love when you are tired or be patient when you are weary? How can you know the mind of God apart from the Spirit of God? How can we possibly expect to live as a person who demonstrates the character of God apart from the Spirit of God? How can we think that the life-giving power of the work of Christ crucified will be released into other lives unless we have allowed that cross to do its work in our own lives?
To work with addictions is to work with lies, darkness, and evil. It is the work of the enemy of our souls. You cannot fight the litter of hell in a life unless you walk dependent on the Spirit of God. You cannot bring life to the place of death unless you walk dependent on the Spirit of God.
Counseling is a work that is a privilege to do. It is a work that is difficult to do. The task of being a servant of God in the midst of lies and deceit – things we engage in so easily ourselves, is far beyond any capability of yours or of mine. It is a work however, that if you let it, will take you to your knees with a heart hungry for more of God that you might in turn bring His presence in very concrete ways into places and lives where He has not yet been known.