Sermon Resources: Addiction and Idolatry in the Wilderness

“Addiction is any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human desire. It is caused by the attachment, or nailing, of desire to specific objects.” ~Gerald May, Addiction and Grace


“Spiritually, addiction is a deep-seated form of idolatry. The objects of our addictions become our false gods. These are what we worship, what we attend to, where we give our time and energy, instead of love. Addiction, then, displaces and supplants God’s love as the source and object of our deepest true desire. It is, as one modern spiritual writer has called it, a “counterfeit of religious presence.”  ~Gerald May, Addiction and Grace


Addictive traits of idolatry: 


  • Idolatry was controllable. We choose addictions because they provided a controllable substitute to love. Loving a god or people is hard because they are, well, people. We can’t control them. But idolatry was controllable. The god was represented by a statue that sat still in one place.
  • Idolatry was selfish. Idolatry existed to meet my needs. There was a quid pro quo about idolatry. The essential act of idolatry was to feed the god and then the god would do something for you. There weren’t the same moral and ethical requirements that the Hebrew God made. There was just, offer this sacrifice to me and I’ll do something for you.
  • Idolatry was sensually rewarding. Frequently the act of making a sacrifice was actually enjoyable. You bring food as an offering and you get a feast. Heavy drinking was often involved as was sex. You go to the temple to have sex with a temple prostitute in order to promote the fecundity of your crops.
  • Idolatry was convenient. You could set up an altar anywhere. Throughout the OT, a frequent judgment against Israel is that every high hill has an altar on it.
  • It was normal. Everyone did it. It was just how the world worked. Accept it.
  • It was rationalize-able — addicts are always able to rationalize their addiction. In a diverse world with diverse needs and diverse preferences, everyone should have their own god to meet their own needs.



“In he day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship – be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.”

~David Foster Wallace, as quoted in You are What You Love by James K.A. Smith

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