by Shea Oakley
One of the times we are most likely to indulge in sins that provide illicit pleasure and distraction is when we are suffering. Psychologists use the term "self-medicating" to describe the tendency of those in significant emotional distress to seek relief from its pain in the unhealthy indulgence of agents like drugs, alcohol, sex or overeating. The result of such indulgence is the lessening of whatever the suffering is for a short time. In short, we choose sin over suffering in an attempt to escape it.
Unfortunately it does not take long to realize that what we have done to escape pain has actually exacerbated it. The usual result of giving into the temptation to act out these "sins of escape" is to add feelings of guilt and alienation from God to the pain is we are trying to relieve. It is, quite literally, a devil's bargain. We exchange our suffering for more suffering.
Nevertheless, believers today seem more and more to be falling victim to the allure of the quick, sinful fix. Why? The answer lies in the wholesale embrace of the spirit of the culture that we are supposed to be in, but not of.
The philosophical heart of contemporary secular culture is the avoidance of pain at any cost. It is reinforced by two attractive lies. The first is that human beings are naturally good and therefore deserve to feel good all of the time. The second is the idea that we can have perfect fulfillment in this world. We are bombarded by these two self-deceptions every time we tune into any kind of mass media in the West today. Christians have been seduced by both of them and the result is the disturbing increase in addictive behavior within the church.
The only real answer is to embrace our suffering. By this I do not mean some kind of masochistic "cult of pain." Suffering is not a good thing in and of itself. We should no more go looking for discomfort for its own sake than we should go looking for sinful relief from suffering we cannot avoid. The key is in the last four words of the preceding sentence, "suffering we cannot avoid."
Much of our pain cannot in any way be circumvented. The fact of the matter is that we live in a terribly fallen world of our own making. Our corporate and individual pain is the deserved result of our race's rebellion against our Creator and His perfect order. This is a hard reality and human beings have a tendency, sinful in itself, to avoid reckoning with it at any cost. But it is only in reckoning with it that we can both live in the truth and find a loving God's way of deliverance from the results of our disobedience to Him.
When Jesus Christ came to redeem us He did not avoid suffering; He fully entered into it. The Bible tells us that He learned obedience to His Father through suffering and those who follow after Him are called to follow the same path. The pain of this world serves two purposes in the child of God: to create in us the character of Christ and to bring us into the deep dependence on His Father, which is our ultimate good.
We must choose to suffer without sinning so that, in the fullness of God's time, we may be fully delivered from that suffering forever. Making this choice is one of the hardest requirements of the Christian walk. It can only be done if we come to want God's presence and purpose in our lives more than we want relief from the pain that is the unavoidable result of living in a sin-cursed world.
Learning to seek God in moments of suffering, rather than seeking illicit relief in sinful actions, will most likely not happen overnight. The habit of indulging in moral transgression to find temporary relief from whatever is hurting us is difficult to break but it is only in breaking it, with divine help, that we will know the release that is ultimately to come.
Brother Oakley has written for a number of Christian Web magazines.
He makes his home in West Milford, New Jersey