The opioid crisis in America is real. It’s here, and it appears likely to stay for a long time. From the urban centers of California to the small towns of Ohio to the tourist meccas of Florida, people are caught in a vicious trap that ruins lives, careers, families, and marriages and often leads to death. In the last few years, I’ve come to know more people addicted to opiates than at any other time in my life. I spend time each week teaching and counseling in our county jail through the chaplain’s office and often seek to help addicts get their lives back on track after their release. Addicts have poured out their hearts to me. They have lied to me, deceived me, and cried in front of me—and then nearly overdosed the next day. They promise it was the last time: “That’s it! That’s the last time. I’m never using again!” And they really mean it. They desperately want it to be true, only to end up back in the tentacles of their life-controlling idol.

The lives of addicts are a mess and they know it. They are ostracized from their families. They can’t hold down a job. That athletic scholarship they could have had is out of the question now. They are in and out of jail. Their youthful hopes and dreams for a career are a fading memory. No one asks them anymore, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” even though many of them in their twenties and thirties are still adolescents on the inside. They spend their lives couch surfing with whoever will take them in and often end up sleeping in the woods. What a miserable life.

The Allure of Addiction

Have you ever wondered why so many people turn to drugs in the first place? What is the attraction? What’s the temptation? What does Satan use to lure them into an idolatrous trap that only destroys their lives and futures? I often think of the amazing wisdom penned nearly four hundred years ago by a minister in England named Thomas Brooks. He wrote an incredibly insightful book titled Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices. First published in 1652, it is as contemporary in its application to life as any biblical truth. Every single device mentioned to lure the seventeenth-century person into sin is still part of Satan’s modus operandi today. Early on, the book features these words: “Satan’s first device to draw the soul into sin is, to present the bait—and hide the hook; to present the golden cup—and hide the poison; to present the sweet, the pleasure, and the profit that may flow in upon the soul by yielding to sin—and to hide from the soul the wrath and misery that will certainly follow the committing of sin.”

You can certainly reflect on any past sin in your life and trace the deceptive tactics that Satan used to draw you in to committing it. Have you ever thought about this in regard to the use and abuse of drugs? What is the “bait” that allures someone into hard-core drugs? What is the dazzling “golden cup” in their case that hides the poison of life-destroying addiction? What is the pleasure or profit? I started asking these questions to men I know who are now sober, men who have been sober for months so that their minds are finally clear and they are able to look back with clarity.

The opioid crisis in America is real. But the gospel is real, and the power of the living God is greater than the power of opiates.

One young man in his twenties, who is currently in a recovery program in our community, said that the allure was the lifestyle of powerful people. For him, the “positive” role models were the Hollywood drug dealers he saw glamorized in movies and on TV. That was what he wanted more than anything: the respect of the people he saw as idols. He wanted approval from those who mattered to him. In the end, those idols brought only misery.

Another fellow in his early thirties said that the various drugs he started using in his teenage years seemed like the only way to numb his pain. He had grown up with constant, appalling verbal and physical abuse from his mother, father, and older siblings. The golden cup offering peace in his heart was the promise of a powerful sedative to deal with the emotional trauma of a home without love. From that sedative he fell into further sinful behaviors so that he is now facing several years in state prison for a non-drug-related crime. He told me recently that he lives with the constant, horrible awareness of a wasted life. Just last week, I saw him smile for the first time in the months that I’ve known him, as he is hearing the hope of the gospel for the first time.

Over the last few years, I’ve met an alarming number of millennials who were actually introduced to opioids by their parents. Unfortunately, I hear that storyline every few months or so: “My mother introduced me to drugs” or “I had to leave home; my father is an addict and I knew I needed help or I’d end up like him thirty years from now.” How hard it is to resist when your mom or dad leads you by the hand into Satan’s trap.

The Gospel for Addicts

Like many contemporary idols, the life-dominating power of opiates is overwhelming for the human heart. As I often tell those who are caught up in the snare of drug use: “You have to admit this is bigger than you. You are not able to set yourself free from this on your own. You need a Savior—and the only One who can help you is the God who made you.” I then present to them the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: that Jesus Christ came into the world to save rebels, just like them, and was raised again from the dead, conquering the greatest enemy of all. I promise them from God’s Word that the Lord Jesus offers complete forgiveness of their sins and the hope of a new life. Because addicts feel the contempt of those who look down on them, many of them can readily relate to the story in Luke 18:9–14 where the tax collector and the Pharisee go up to the temple to pray. I have also found that men and women who are addicted to opioids must come to the end of their rope before they will be willing to listen to me. They must realize that they will die if they don’t get help.

If you know someone caught up in opioid addiction, do not despair. Offer them hope from the God of hope, and point them to a reputable, gospel-based, addiction recovery program. Do the legwork for them. Research the options. In such programs, they can be separated from the people who drew them into sin, they can detox their bodies from the chemicals that caused them to depend on those idols, they can hear the good news of the gospel, and the Lord can restore them to their right minds and rebuild their lives with accountability and the tools to stay drug free.

The opioid crisis in America is real. It is here, and it will be here for a long time. But the gospel is real, and the power of the living God is greater than the power of opiates. Jesus Himself said, concerning the salvation of a man caught up in the idolatry of riches: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). Let us pray and work and believe that prodigal sons and daughters can be restored to their families, and that one day they themselves can sing along with you: “You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again. . . . My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praise to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed” (Ps. 71:20–21, 23).

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on May 25, 2018.

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