Austin Farrer, in one of his sermons at Oxford, told about a college that required its applicants to write an essay on the subject of sin. He asked why young Englishmen, "more clever than wise, and rather more wise than Christian," would know anything about sin—not because they weren't sinners, but because so many didn't know they were.
Farrer guessed that most applicants would dismiss a discussion of sin as morbid, and would use most of their essay time explaining why an essay was unnecessary.
I would love to write an essay about sin, but I'm afraid that many of my already slim readership would agree with those undergraduates. It's bad enough being a sinner without having to think about it too; and if we don't think about it, maybe we can forget it.
We may not be interested in sin, but we are interested in addiction. The care, feeding, and maintenance of addictions today comprise a sizeable share of the gross domestic product of the United States. Not nearly as large, but certainly noticeable, is the amount of effort and attention given to overcoming addiction.
The second effort is smaller than the first, probably because there is less money in it.
Addiction is what's happening when you really can't help doing what you are doing, even when you think you want to stop. The thing to which you are addicted may, in itself, be quite wholesome; but to the degree it impairs your freedom, your addiction to it is evil. I knew a pastor who left the Christian ministry for a time to recover from his addiction to work, and didn't re-enter it until he succeeded in breaking the addiction.
Addictive substances and habits are not wholesome, for the very reason that they are addictive; they themselves cause the condition of "can't help doing it." They put people into bondage. As one recovered alcoholic put it: "The drinker's problem is that he drinks. If he has a bad marriage beside, he has two problems." Ogden Nash said it in verse:
He drinks because she scolds, he thinks;
She scolds because he drinks, she thinks;
But neither will admit what's true,
That he's a sot, and she's a shrew.
Alcohol is an addictive substance; shrewishness is an addictive behavior. There are an infinite number of examples of substances and behaviors for them. These come to mind because Nash so adroitly turned the problem into a poem.
If you know something about addiction, you will know something about sin. Both are simple things.
· They are conditions, not behaviors;
· They are beyond the powers of resolution and will;
· They require the intervention of God.