If you ever meet Mike Wilkerson, thank him. In his concise book Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry, released in February, he has diligently summarized the best evangelical theology has to offer on idolatry, as well as the best biblical counseling has to offer on addiction, abuse, recovery, and healing. The footnotes and bibliography alone are worth the price of the book.
As Wilkerson notes in the opening pages, “Why me?” has probably been on the lips of every victim and “What’s wrong with me?” on the lips of every desperate addict. He begins with the very real felt needs that drive those questions and doesn’t waste any time moving to the unfelt needs underlying them.
Among our unfelt needs, probably none is more unfelt than our need to be set free from our idols. Wilkerson shows how the theme of idolatry elegantly unites both the abuser and the abused, both the addict and the victim, under one banner, by asking one question: What are you delighting in more than God? or What do you want more than God? Whatever we want more than God is automatically an idol. Whatever we want more than God is what we worship, and what we worship is ultimately and inevitably what masters us. While idolatry may not always be the most talked about problem in the average counselor’s office, idolatry is the most talked about problem in Scripture.
In light of these things, Wilkerson concludes that—irrespective of the contributing and interlocking factors of history, brain chemistry, psychology, and sin—addiction is ultimately a worship dysfunction. Wilkerson starts from that premise, and the results are piercing. “[T]his brings us all the way back to the core of our problems and therefore to the brink of the solution. We love the wrong things, so our worship is distorted. We have exchanged the worship of God for golden calves. The solution: renewed worship.”
In other words, Wilkerson is arguing that at the root of all our addictive patterns of sinful behavior lies the simple truth that we desire the wrong things, and our desires motivate us to act to satisfy them by any means necessary. Thus, we need transformation of not only our behavior, but even more urgently, our deepest desires. Wilkerson, channeling the best of Tim Keller, David Powlison, and others, uses the biblical account of the Israelites’ exodus as a framework for retelling our stories of addiction and abuse redemptively. He writes:
The Israelites didn’t have just a natural desire for food; they wanted food, and they wanted it on their terms, and they disbelieved that God would provide… [T]heir desire wasn’t simply for a daily fill of bread. That was merely a thin cover over a bottomless pit of desire to have life on their terms. They wanted bread, and they wanted it now. Gathering it a day at a time wasn’t good enough; they wanted to stockpile.
God set the Israelites free from physical slavery, but they soon discovered that their hearts were still enslaved to a myriad of sinful desires that were repeatedly exposed whenever they encountered suffering and hardship.
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