Meet the New Boss. Same as the Old Boss.

Everyone has their own unique preferences, of course, but if I were ever tied to a chair and forced to give a life-or-death response to the question, “What’s the greatest rock song ever recorded?”, my answer would almost certainly have to be “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who, the eight-and-a-half-minute epic which closes out the band’s 1971 album, “Who’s Next.” (As far as I am concerned, the entire album is worth its price tag just for the concluding scream voiced by Roger Daltrey somewhere around the 7:40 mark.)

Released at the height of the “Peace and Love,” ban-the-bomb, anti-Vietnam war youth movement, the lyrics to this rock classic don’t leave a whole lot of room for interpretation. Surrounded by an overly-idealistic youth culture that truly believed it was ushering in a new “Age of Aquarius” – a more-enlightened era in which we would all finally throw off the oppressive influence and morality of the older generation, and, not so coincidentally, the authority of the church – The Who’s primary songwriter Pete Townshend begged to differ. He famously showed his disdain for one of the movement’s de facto spokesmen, Abbie Hoffman, by knocking him off the stage at Woodstock because “he got in the (expletive) way.” Even a quick sampling of the song will very quickly showcase Townshend’s bored, we’ve-seen-this-all-before cynicism:

Smile and grin at the change all around,
pick up my guitar and play,
just like yesterday.

I was ten years old when “Who’s Next” was released, and so it would be several years before my own inner sense of “seen it all before” caught up with Townshend’s, but certainly by the time I went off to college I was extremely skeptical of just about everything, the church included. In no sense did I ever believe that the youth movement of the 1960s and early 1970s had ushered in a new era of universal peace and love, but as a young man just beginning to explore the darker realms of alcohol, drugs and “liberated” sexuality, I found myself grateful – in a really God-dishonoring way – that the morals of the previous generation had in fact been swept aside, just in time for me to enter into a world where expectations which might previously have served as some form of restraint had now been lowered to the point that I could do pretty much whatever I pleased and not be “oppressed” by anyone else’s ideas of right and wrong.

In other words, I was free to co-opt the “revolution” to suit my own purposes, and I did so with complete abandon. Most parents were slightly confused about “the morals they had worshipped,” and I for one was willing to hurl myself headlong into the gap. And thus began a 20-year enslavement of my own making.

Nowadays, I am spending a fair amount of time soaking in one of my new favorite books, Redemption by Mike Wilkerson. Believe me, I have read plenty of books around the topic of addiction and recovery, but this one is fast being added to my list of all-time favorites. This is my second time through the book, and I am finding that reading Wilkerson again affords me the proper distance with which to stand back and not only confront the relentless evils of addiction, but also to seriously reconsider the lifelong themes of “freedom” and “slavery.” Specifically, I am blown away by how many times I fell into slavery which had been marked out by my peers as “freedom.”

Looking back now over decades, the grand theme that emerges in my own personal history of addiction is exactly the same one that shows up among God’s chosen people in the book of Exodus. Wilkerson uses the Exodus narrative to frame the entire book, and thus the themes of liberation, disappointment, entitlement, grumbling and full-on rebellion float to the surface again and again. Just like Townshend’s epic rock song, Wilkerson is not making any attempt to hide his true feelings from readers. Addiction is slavery. Freedom – true freedom – is only to be found in the arms of the risen Lord. Apart from Jesus Christ, the things that we think we are “free” to enjoy will actually lead us to a miserable death. Again and again, Wilkerson effectively drives home the point that we fallen image-bearers of God are naturally bent to take the good things that God has freely given us – food, sex, alcohol, you name it – and almost immediately worship them as “ultimate,” as the source from which our true happiness flows.

Anyone who is presently caught up in sinful excesses of one type or another – Wilkerson steadfastly brands it all sin, and does not fall into the trap of categorizing – will appreciate the loving, pastoral approach taken in this text. For example, Wilkerson takes pains to show that natural human urges – comfort, food, security, sex – are very much not the problem. God made us to crave all of these good gifts, and a heart rightly attuned to His plan for these blessings will be able to receive all good things in their proper context, with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4). “God never condemned the Israelites for wanting bread,” Wilkerson points out (pg. 107). While clearing away a few key misconceptions about addictive behavior patterns, Wilkerson is quick to acknowledge that the needs themselves are never the issue. Rather, the fallen trajectory of the human heart – an attitude that values the gift over the Gift-Giver – is the battleground where most will fall into the pit of insatiability. When we focus on the gift, we will never be satisfied. When we instead focus on the Gift-Giver, our hearts will be eternally grateful and able to receive God’s wonderful gifts in an appropriate context.

As a teen and young adult, I came of age in a time when the American credo was “Don’t get hung up by an oppressive, outdated morality…go for it!” And I did. As did countless millions of others. The heartbreaking results of “gift-grubbing” are plain enough to see in every city across the world. (Don’t even get me started on the statistics our new “freedoms” have given birth to!) An unhinged sexuality, in particular, has wrought immense destruction in the lives of countless individuals, myself included. As someone who regularly meets with guys who are now living out the devastating consequences of their own no-holds-barred forays into sexuality (among other things), I firmly believe Wilkerson’s book should be required reading for anyone who claims Christ but simply cannot control themselves when it comes to food, sex, alcohol, drugs or any other number of futile attempts to numb the pain of a disconnected-from-God trek across the modern desert of American “freedom.”

Though God’s plans for my own life were (and are) perfect, it’s difficult to look back at the 1970s and suppress the thought, “Gosh, if only I had known then what I know now.” Like so many others who came of age during the era of “Who’s Next,” I once believed that freedom meant the ability to do pretty much whatever you wanted, as long as everyone involved was a consenting adult and no one got hurt. What has since become clear is that the first person to get “seriously hurt” was me…followed by everyone who had the displeasure of dealing with my life and the logical consequences attached thereto. Like most kids my age, I disliked God’s requirements for living out a life consecrated to the Lord, and I rebelled against God in a desert of my own making. “Free” to pursue whatever, whenever and whoever, I succumbed to precisely the same story that God has preserved for all of us in the book of Exodus. Where I used to arrogantly chuckle at the ancient Israelites for their foolishness, I now see a mirror…and it’s no longer amusing.

Flash forward four decades.

In America today, our culture makers and power brokers are very busy “redefining” God’s good gift of marriage. Seeking yet again to throw off the “oppressive” bonds of God’s good plan for sex, personal fulfillment and families, we once again find ourselves on the brink of an intoxicating and exhilirating new era in “freedom.” The details may be different from the “freedom” promised decades ago, but as I read through the various op-ed pieces in The New York Times and other modern media outlets, I can’t help but have the distinct feeling of déjà vu. It’s almost as if I’ve previously heard our culture celebrating the new “freedoms” about to be ushered into our midst, and I have to wonder what messes we’ll be cleaning up 40 years from now, and how many regrets we’ll have, thinking, “If only I had known then what I know now.”

Then I get on my knees and pray: “We don’t get fooled again.”

Ecclesiastes 1:4-9 (ESV)
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.

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