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Is Therapy Enough?


by Dennis Pollock

Tiger Woods' admission of multiple infidelities and his entrance into a treatment program highlighted our nation's preoccupation with therapy. To his credit he did admit, "I've done some pretty bad things in my life…" In much of the psychological literature, the idea of good and bad are dismissed. Behaviors are not morally right or wrong; they are merely more appropriate or less appropriate.

In an ESPN interview Tiger expressed his reason for optimism about his future: "Now, after treatment, going for inpatient treatment for 45 days and more outpatient treatment, I'm getting back to my old roots." And in a Golf Channel interview, he declared, "What I know I have to do is become a better person and that begins with going to more treatment." Clearly Tiger's hopes rested in his therapy, and no doubt many Americans would have nodded their heads in agreement. Surely these experts and all the counseling sessions would be able to fix his problems.

This emphasis upon therapy as the answer to personal misbehavior has become the standard American response – particularly among the rich and famous. (Poor and middle class people usually can't afford to spend thousands of dollars and take months off from their day jobs.) You can find lengthy lists on the Internet of celebrities who have been in rehab for various addictions, and the lists include movie stars, singers, television personalities, and athletes.

This therapy-based perspective can also be seen in other nations that view themselves as progressive and modern. Chuck Colson described a guided tour of a Norwegian prison: 

Throughout the tour, officials bragged about employing the most humane and progressive treatment methods anywhere in the world. I met several doctors in white coats. That prompted me to ask how many of the inmates, who were all there for serious crimes, were mentally ill. The warden replied, "Oh, all of them." I must have looked surprised, because she said, "Well, of course, anyone who commits a crime this serious is obviously mentally unbalanced." 

According to this prison warden, all serious crimes are the result of mental illness, not moral failures, and therefore the answer is therapy and counseling. Obviously repentance has no place here. No one would repent for getting cancer or Lou Gehrig's disease or diabetes. If the worst of all crimes are the result of mental illness, then the only criminals would be the petty ones. If you steal a candy bar you are a criminal and should be punished; if you rape and murder a dozen women you are ill and in need of counseling and someone to pat you on the back and tell you everything will be ok.

George Will wrote an article which described how modern psychiatry is turning virtually all misbehavior into syndromes. In psychiatry's encyclopedia of supposed mental "disorders", known as The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), nearly every kind of deviant behavior is given a fancy name. Here are a few of the syndromes they list: 

  1. Oppositional Defiant Disorder - a pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient and hostile behavior toward authority figures.
  2. Antisocial Personality Disorder - a pervasive pattern of disregard for the rights of others … callous, cynical… an inflated and arrogant self-appraisal.
  3.  Histrionic Personality Disorder - excessive emotionality and attention seeking.
  4.  Narcissistic Personality Disorder - involving grandiosity and the need for admiration … boastful and pretentious.

George Will stated that the manual was being revised and promised to include even more syndromes. Some of the ones he thought likely to make it in the new manual included:

  1. Hypersexual Disorder - a great deal of time is devoted to sexual fantasies and urges, planning for and engaging in sexual behavior.
  2. (Pertaining to Children) Temper Dysregulation Disorder with Dysphoria - a child frequently gets angry and moody.

What we are seeing is a tendency to convert bad behavior and poor character into physiological and psychological illnesses. Our sins have become disorders and our great need is no longer repentance and faith in Jesus but rather therapy and sometimes medication. In this perspective there is no such a thing as character or the lack of character. Some folks are simply better adjusted than others. This, of course, runs completely contrary to the Bible. At the heart of the Scriptural revelation is the idea that men are personally responsible for their behavior, and that, apart from the new birth, they will be held accountable for their sins – regardless of how many addictions or disorders they may have had.

Clearly folks are beginning to appreciate this new perspective and use it for their advantage. A computer hacker named Albert Gonzalez hacked his way into computer databases for years, amassing $2.8 million he used to buy a Miami condo, a car, Rolex watches and a Tiffany ring for his girlfriend. When he was caught he admitted his crimes and pleaded for a light sentence, declaring his misdeeds were a result of being addicted to computers since childhood, and abusing alcohol and illegal drugs for years. He said his crimes got out of control "because of my inability to stop my pursuit of curiosity and addiction." In Gonzalez' thinking, the judge surely would be lenient on him. After all, that nasty old Internet had reached out and addicted him! The judge didn't seem too impressed, however, sentencing him to 20 years in prison, the longest prison term yet given for computer hacking crimes. 

The Bible & Addictions 

Slavery / Addictions

The Bible does recognize the addictive nature of sin. God is well aware of the fact that the more you dabble in sin, the stronger the grip it holds over your life. Jesus said, "He that sins is a slave of sin." A slave cannot do what he wants, live where he wants, or work at the job he wants. Every aspect of his life is controlled by his master, and Jesus declares this is precisely the hold sin can have on our lives. Paul describes this dilemma vividly in Romans where he says, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice (Romans 7:18,19).

This is clearly describing the condition of addiction. Many an alcoholic could say these exact same words, as they watch the destructive nature of alcoholism destroy their relationships and drag their lives into greater and greater depths of despair. And yet they return again and again to that substance they know is costing them everything. The evil they hate is the very thing they practice from day to day and year to year. Sin has captured them. As Paul would put it, "It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."

Despite this condition of slavery, the Bible makes it crystal clear that, without forgiveness through Jesus, God will hold us accountable for our sins. Paul writes, "Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.  Forwe must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:9,10). In the book of Revelation John is given a glimpse of the awesome judgment bar of God: "Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books (Revelation 20:11,12). 

At that judgment there may be some who will dare to plead, "But Lord, I had hypersexual disorder. I couldn't help but sleep with all those women." Another may lament, "Oh, God, please excuse me. I had oppositional defiant disorder and I just couldn't afford the therapy." Somehow I doubt those excuses will carry much weight with Him whose eyes are "like a flame of fire" and whose countenance is "like the sun shining in its strength."

Alcoholism, in particular, has been labeled as a sickness by many, with no moral component to it whatsoever. The alcoholic is the way he or she is simply due to a genetic defect or disorder. They should no more be condemned for their drinking than a cancer patient for his cancer. If this is indeed the case, then God is being most unfair when He declares in His Word: "Do not be deceived, Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9,10). Notice God does not say diabetics, nor those with Alzheimer's, nor heart attack victims, nor those with Parkinson's disease will not make it to heaven. He speaks of people who regularly and flagrantly sin, and this includes drunkards (today we call them alcoholics). 

Our Need 

Man's great need is not behavior modification! It is a right relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. An alcoholic's problem is far greater than the fact that he drinks too much and has lost his job and family as a result. A serial adulterer's problem goes beyond his sexual urges and his frequent yielding to them. They need a new heart! In Ezekiel God tells Israel: "Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die…?" (Ezekiel 18:31). Any therapy which does not deal with the issues of repentance and faith in Jesus is only dealing with the symptoms. It is no better than the doctor who places a Band-Aid over a woman's oozing, cancerous sore, and tells her, "All better!" 

The Biblical solution starts with an admission of guilt. John tells us "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8,9). As long as we label our sins "disorders" we will never find wholeness. With acknowledgment of our sin, we then repent (change our mind, leading to a change of behavior) and put our faith in the Lord Jesus, believing His cross, His resurrection, and His blood are sufficient to cleanse and deliver us from all our sins. 

Yes, but…! 

There is a remaining problem that needs to be addressed. When a prominent newscaster suggested that Tiger Woods (who is a Buddhist) would find what he needs in Christianity, many were outraged. I'm sure some would have responded with, "You Christians have plenty of scandals of your own. Look at some of your most famous radio and TV preachers, and what they have done!" 

In many cases where professing Christians totally disgrace and dishonor the name of Jesus with their immorality and licentiousness, they were never born-again in the first place. Some people are naturally religious and take up Christianity the way one might take up a hobby. They have never received a new heart. And yet there is no doubt that sometimes genuine Christians have fallen into terrible addictions and sins. They love Jesus, they have a clear testimony of their new birth, and yet somehow they have lost their way. In these cases they almost always have been distracted from the abiding life that is so vital to our strength and spiritual health. They have taken their eyes off the Savior. 

Counseling may be helpful for them but alone it is not enough. The best counseling will always expose the sin and point the person to the Lord Jesus. He is the ultimate behavior-modifier, because He goes to the root of the problem. There are no chains strong enough, no pit deep enough, and no addiction great enough to resist His divine power. He says to all the prisoners, "a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:35,36).

For a full listing of all devos (written and audio) go to our Devos Catalog Page.


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