Lunch Special: 40 Lashes and a Pot of Meat

What is it about the human heart that so often causes us to prefer personal destruction to redemption and renewal?

I’ve been wrestling with that question for most of my adult life, but never more so than in the past few years as I have begun helping facilitate various recovery ministries at The Crossing. I had the issue pressed upon my heart yet again this past week as I finished reading Mike Wilkerson’s truly excellent book, Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry.

Yeah…why is it that so many people willingly choose to embark upon a path that they know full well will lead to their demise?

Having spent approximately 20 years of my adult life enslaved to alcohol and other drugs, I have come to understand that we addicts will regularly return to the things that are destroying us for three simple reasons:

  1. the enslaving behavior – at some point – provided a sense of comfort where none other was to be had;
  2. we mistakenly believe that we control the besetting sin; and
  3. in a world filled with relational brokenness and loneliness, the darkness of addiction is at least “familiar” and “known.”

Never mind that it is slowly killing us…a bottle of Wild Turkey is a known quantity, whereas in a relationship with another human being, anything might happen!

If you spend enough time with someone who simply cannot stop drinking, smoking, shooting up, downloading porn, and so on, you will discover that this person’s back-story almost always includes a painful lesson; at some point, most addicts have “learned” – in a traumatic way – that human relationships are dangerous, not at all what they should be. Often, someone very close to that person – father, mother, sibling or relative – enacted some sort of hellish scenario that left that person “hollowed out” whereas, had everyone been attentive and seeking to live out God’s good plan for family and friendship, there might otherwise have been a solid core of assurance and security. Clear examples include physical and/or sexual abuse as a child or teen, abandonment by parents, and/or ongoing emotional abuse. To compensate for this heightened feeling of emptiness, the addict learns to “medicate” themselves with whatever previously brought escape and/or comfort.

For those who live with and/or love an addict, I think it’s important to understand that ongoing, habitual behavior is almost always nothing more than a misguided attempt to relieve pain of one type or another. The addict in question is not capable of clearly thinking their way through the destructive behavior; oftentimes they really cannot see that the “cure” they have self-selected is very often worse than the original pain. All they want, particularly in the moment, is to make their pain go away as quickly as possible.

Wilkerson very obviously gets all of this, and his book effectively uses the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as a classic example of how distorted the human perspective can become in the face of harsh realities.

Seeking to closely tie 21st-century recovery efforts to the pages of Scripture, Wilkerson interweaves the Exodus narrative with modern-day stories of tragedy, wandering, lostness and redemption. While this approach is by no means unique, it does carry with it the advantage of being a storyline with which most people are at least somewhat familiar. If your attempts at earnest Bible study start and stop with taking your kid to see The Prince of Egypt, then you already know enough of your Bible to follow as Wilkerson takes up the subject of “voluntary slavery.”

You may recall that in Chapter 1 of the book of Exodus, Pharoah is afflicting the Israelites with heavy burdens, instituting the genocide of all male children and tossing helpless Jewish babies into the Nile. The oppression and systematic brutality inflicted upon God’s people could hardly have been worse, and the Jews cried out for roughly 400 years to be delivered from their enslavement. To bring them out of Egypt, the Lord in turn afflicted all of Egypt with various plagues, culminating in the death of Egypt’s firstborn. Clouds of smoke and fire, the parting of the Red Sea and the subsequent drowning of Pharoah’s army…God “pulled out all the stops” to bring Israel up out of the house of slavery.

To the modern reader, then, it seems nothing short of insane that by Chapter 16 the Israelites are in revolt against Moses, and longing for “the good old days” when they sat around eating pots of meat, having their fill of the culinary delights offered to them by their harsh taskmasters (Exodus 16:1-3). “Sure, I’m still carrying multiple scars on my back from being whipped all the time, and yeah, it upset me when they tried to wipe out an entire generation of our boys, but you know, those bowls of Egyptian chili sure beat the heck out of this bread that God has been raining down on us every day.”

Wilkerson uses several case studies to demonstrate how deeply traumatic events resonate in the soul and result in destructive behavior patterns that can last for years, sometimes lifetimes. Even after the devastating consequences finally break through to the awareness of the addict, it is oftentimes too late to work one’s way out of the darkness by sheer will power, corrective theology and/or 12-step programs. Without a dramatic intervention from God, countless souls are inexplicably “satisfied” to consume their particular “pot of meat” even as the lash is being applied to their already scarred, disfigured flesh.

I have read quite a few books on the topic of addiction, all from the vantage point of a former addict redeemed by the grace, mercy and power of Jesus. The truth I’ve come to understand is both sobering and hopeful. Deeply broken human beings, left to their own devices, will continue to destroy themselves in an attempt to escape their particular pain. However, God can and does continue to bring people out of slavery. Not only do I hold myself up as an example, giving God all the glory, but I know of several other men who are now living lives as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Chances are very good that you know someone suffering from some form of repetitive, destructive behavior. Depending on how emotionally invested you are with that person, you may have preached yourself silly trying to get that person to change, perhaps to little effect. Ongoing anger, threats and shouting typically yield little in the way of real, lasting change. Our most potent weapons are sometimes the ones we leave for last: prayer, patience, and getting our hands on anything that will assist us in understanding the mindset of someone who will gladly endure outrageous amounts of suffering in the service of their particular “pot of meat.”

For whatever this is worth, I just added Wilkerson to my list of top reads on this subject. I’ve listed a few more below. May God give all of us wisdom, insight, and compassion as we pray for those in our midst who just can’t stop themselves from yielding their backs to the whip.

Book Recommendations for Addiction Recovery

Exodus 1:15-22
Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”

Exodus 16:1-3
They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

So who exactly is this Mike Wilkerson guy? Well, according to the back cover of the book: “Mike Wilkerson, a pastor at Seattle’s Mars Hill Church since 2004, is passionate about restoring gospel-based counseling to the local church and leads Mars Hill’s Redemption Group ministry.” If interested, you can find additional resources at Mike Wilkerson’s page.

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