Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Right Use of Things 

I received a question about the Christian view of addiction and the right use of things- tobacco in particular. Here is my answer-

I think it's pretty wise for young people to refrain from smoking until they're in their early twenties- maybe 25 or so. By that time, most people have developed the self-awareness and discipline to do something like that without much risk. Most people who get addicted to cigarettes, it seems to me, do so in their teen years. I don't have statistics to back that, but it's my own experience.

Addiction from a medical perspective is defined by consequences. If you are doing something to the point where you are starting to cause yourself real-life serious consequences- losing relationships, productivity, health, money, etc- then you're addicted. I think Biblically this is a good definition as well, of when something stops being "moderate" use. To tell if someone is a drunk, the number of drinks they have in an average day or week is not necessarily useful- one fairly large male might have two or three drinks a day and it not be a problem, whereas an average sized female might be getting drunk every night on the same amount. Or one person who drinks two a day= 14 drinks a week and is never drunk, but another person doesn't drink at all during the week but on the weekend goes out and has five drinks on Friday and Saturday at a club. The first case is drinking more overall than the second, but the second is being much more reckless and irresponsible.

So I think you have to look at it in terms of consequences. Are you using this substance in such a way that it is causing problems in your life, or is likely to down the road?

In the case of smoking in particular, if you're not smoking every day, then you're probably not addicted and don't need to worry much about it. If smoking became a daily habit, or even very close to it, I would become worried and dial it back.

Biblically, the principle is that we are to receive all created things with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Thanksgiving is the key. If I am thankful for things, then I recognize that they come from God, and that God therefore defines the right way to use them. Things are never evil of themselves. But all things have a proper use, discerned by "the word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:5). So if I am concerned that I am not using something right, or do not know the right way to use something, this is the process- recognize it comes from God and is therefore good, when used properly. Then I pray for wisdom, and search the Scriptures for guidance. The Proverbs are very useful here.

Christians are to be sober, serious, disciplined, and hard-working. We are not to be wasteful and self-indulgent. At the same time, we are not to live in fear, and are to rejoice in God's creation and enjoy it. Proverbs 21:17 is a good one for the self-indulgent. So in general, we need to be governed by the broad principles of Scripture about what kind of person a Christian is to be, what the nature of God's creation is, what the true nature of sin is, and use the things of God's creation in compliance with all of these principles.

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