We’ve had a young man (lets call him Vijay) get involved with us this year, who when we first met him was a hopeless drunk. He was usually tanked up at any time of the day, and found it very difficult to conduct his life as a result (as you can imagine). He comes from a family with a history of alcoholism.
Vijay took to hanging with my co-leader Christian, and their first meal together they went to the local RSL. They had a couple of drinks, and to Vijay’s surprise, he found himself able to stop at a couple of drinks. Normally, after two he would go on irresistibly to get smashed.
This meal made a deep impression on him. Here was someone (Christian) who drank but didn’t get drunk, and in his company Vijay found he could do the same. That was the start of many transformations we’ve seen in his life this year, as he’s become a part of our Christian community. Vijay now finds that he can drink without losing it. He prefers not to drink usually, but he hasn’t taken a vow of abstinance or anything. He’s just not addicted any more.
We’ve always been aware of his problem with drink, and wondered how to treat him re alcohol. In practice we’ve continued Christian’s approach of having a drink sometimes when he’s around. Some people in our church said, shouldn’t we just avoid drinking around him, but we haven’t automatically done that. We’ve asked him, does he mind, does it make things difficult for him? But he says, no, go ahead. It’s no problem. We have a common cup of port for the lord’s supper, and he drinks.
It’s clear that alcohol has lost the power it once had over Vijay. We’re not assuming that’s complete and permanent. But we haven’t seen him drunk in ages now. There is no doubt in my mind that coming into our community has been the turning point for him. We’ve loved him and spoken to him of Jesus, we’ve prayed with and for him. He tells us that he feels he’s getting control over his life now. It’s pretty exciting to see.
Now Vijay is concerned for his alcoholic friend. He’s persuaded that if he can bring him into our community, the same thing will happen for him. The news he’s excited to tell this friend is ‘With these guys you can stop at two.’
So all this makes me want to rethink what I’ve always been taught about alcoholism. I.e. that the only cure was complete abstinence. That’s the prevailing wisdom. But it isn”t how things have gone for Vijay.
What made me reluctant to hide the drink was that we keep claiming Jesus has defeated all the powers, that his lordship rescues us from their enslaving grip. It didn’t seem like necessarily the right thing to treat alcohol as something to go on being afraid of. If he just learnt to avoid it, wouldn’t it maybe always exercise a certain power, cast its shadow over his life? The fear of it, wouldn’t that itself be a kind of power?
We like to think of the Christian community as a place of redemption, of healing. It’s here that Jesus’ reign is most clearly expressed on earth, this is the place where his power is known. When a person in the grip of another hostile power comes into the Christian community, what do we expect to happen? Aren’t we expecting something new? That they will find those destructive powers are losing their hold? Don’t we believe Jesus is lord of all, that his power can extend even to the ‘demon’ of alcoholism?
To push this a bit, could we say to an alcoholic, ‘In our community alcohol has no power’.? Could we make that claim for Jesus? And let them find out whether it’s true or not. Is it true? Is it perhaps partly true, or even mainly true? Could we claim ‘In our community many people find that alcohol loses its power. You might find that too.’?
We didn’t actually make any of those claims specifically with Vijay. We just talked about Jesus more generally, and left it to him to sort out his drink problem.
I hope you’ll understand I’m in questioning mode. I’m not making any definite claims, I want to try to rethink this issue. I’m not saying it’ll work the same way for everyone that it did for Vijay. I love the idea of someone getting away from their dependence on alcohol by getting ‘on the wagon’. Running away from the danger is far better than falling into it. But I like even more the idea of an alcoholic gaining control back through Jesus Christ, so that the drink has no power any more, no fear. That seems to me a more complete rescue, a truer freedom.
You might not think it’s a good analogy, but when a sexually promiscuous man comes to Christ, things have to change. He has an addiction to be broken. Augustine’s approach was to become celibate. But fear of sex and the path of celibacy has not been helpful in the long run for the church or for western civilisation. Luther’s approach I think was more redemptive: to uphold and encourage marriage. Turn the corrupted ‘good’ into a redeemed and true ‘good’. Sex then ceases to be a thing of fear, a threat. It loses its power, becoming a ‘normal’ created thing, something in which the believer can rejoice as he/she takes control of it and uses it in the way God intended. Surely nothing redeems sexuality as thoroughly as Christian marriage.
Could alcohol be treated in the same way?
What I have in mind is that instead of assuming an alcoholic will need to abstain completely, we ask them. We give them a chance to experience alcohol under the rule of Christ. Then it would be up to them which way they went, but they would have a choice, not a blanket prohibition.
‘Jesus Christ: lord over alcohol‘. Hmm, what do you think?