He said, “You can’t twelve step your way out of addiction. You either die an addict or die a sober addict, but you're always going to be an addict. There's no cure for that. Same goes for church. You either die a sinner or you die a forgiven sinner. There’s no remedy for the sinners in church this side of the resurrection, except in God’s promise. On account of Jesus' bloody suffering and death we’re all forgiven. All the sinners in church, even you.” That’s all it took. Nostalgia kicked in. Now I’m sitting here writing it out. Sobriety check. When I used drugs, I hurt myself. That may seem obvious to a casual observer, but to a drug addict it’s a revelation that sometimes only comes after years of living clean. I harmed others too. I knew that was true when I was using. I didn’t care. All that mattered was maintaining the high. I was an emotional wood-chipper fueled by whiskey and narcotics. The more I used, the more I hurt myself. The more I hurt myself, the more I hurt family, friends, and whoever had the misfortune to be in my way. That’s the way it went for me until I used up myself, my family and friends, and all my tomorrows. I had hit that “bottom” people in recovery talk about. I’d even used up all my lies. Why am I still drinking? Why am I still using? I don’t even like it any more. Nothing. Stripped of all excuses, all that was left to me was the truth. I was an addict. I was going to die.
Then he showed up. God. Not the god at the bottom of a whiskey glass or at the bottom of a bottle of pills or curled up with me around a pipe. This wasn’t any of those gods. This was “Him.” I knew it. The one I denied. The God I hated in secret. He showed up and didn’t even ask for my permission to come in.
I was strung out. Now God had to go and get involved. I didn’t need a personal God. I wasn’t looking to pray, or join a church, or whatever it was religious people did. I wanted to believe there was more to life than survive, suffer, and die. But, I was comfortable curling up with a joint and reading the Tao Te Ching. My attitude was, “If there’s a God, he doesn’t give a shit about me. He doesn’t give a shit about me, and judging by what’s going on in my life he likes to dump other people's shit on me.” Addict logic in a nutshell.
“Why now,” I said to no one, or to myself, or to God. Whoever. I was drunk, strung out, mostly dead, hopeless in the darkness. I knew I’d done it all to myself. I didn’t need God to drive the point home. Still, I tried to blame other people. Better yet, now I had God. “So you’re really there,” I said to the ceiling. “You really did dump all this shit on me.” It was like I’d discovered I’d been on a stage in an empty theater and God was the whole audience. I was angry before. Now I was possessed by fear-induced rage.
I wanted to know what it meant, God showing up. I read the Koran, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita. I sat cross-legged on the floor in used bookstores reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead, learning about folks religions, witchcraft, Egyptian burial rites. At some point, I started going into churches. I went where other people who believed in God went for answers. All I took away from those incursions was a fleshing out of my caricaturization of Christianity. It was summed up one morning at the conclusion to a pastor’s sermon. He said, “And Jesus loves you just the way you are!”
There’s nothing quite so exhausting, so damning, to a drug addict than being told, “Jesus loves you just the way you are.” Addiction. Shame. Pain. Self-destruction. Really? I grew bored with preachments that highlighted Norman Rockwell sins picked up and pardoned by a Norman Rockwell Jesus. I walked away.
God, in His divine foxiness, walked me right back into another church, surrounding me with people I loathed. Spiritual frauds. Born-again moralists. Precious Moments Christians. Smells and bells to the left of me, slappy-clappy Christians to the right. There I was, stuck in the middle. As much as I tried, I couldn’t get away from them. And like God’s prophet, Jonah, the more I tried to get away from God the closer I was to where He wanted me to go. It wasn’t the people or the church I loathed. No. I resented God.
Jump ahead a couple decades. I’m a pastor now. The congregation I serve is a Nineveh kind of congregation. Twenty years trying to get away from Christians. Ten years trying to get away from the Church. I’m vomited up onto a pulpit. A Lutheran pastor. For the first three years, I went back and forth. In one moment I’d imagine I was their Moses, who would lead them out of slavery. The next, I was like Jonah, begging God to kill me. He revealed to me that I’m neither another Moses or Jonah. He pointed me instead to Christ Jesus.
God did for me what I could never do for myself. Pull me out of my own head and through an addict’s self-justifications. He put me in another place; at the foot of the Cross. The place I didn’t want to be. He tore me away from myself. He put me in Christ by faith, and in my neighbor in love.
He made me a pastor, father and a husband, an artist and musician. So much more, wearing so many more crosses than I’d ever imagined. I’m a recovering drug addict. I still secretly hate God. There’s no getting round it. The addict still misses making an unholy mess, gripping tight the illusion that he's in control. He’s not at peace with my brother and sister Christians, my church, or my God. When he starts replaying old tapes sanity starts to slip away from me. When he recites the same tired, old lines of dialogue I scream my frustration at the ceiling. That’s when the God I hate to love shoves His flesh into my mouth. He pours His blood down my throat. He says to me, “This is My body given into death for your sins... This is My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sin...” I say, “Amen.” That’s enough. The addict is quiet, for now. I begin to cry. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. I want to love you. Make me love you. Tell me how. I’ll do it. “My grace is enough for you, because My strength is made complete in weakness.” Amen.