We are in the middle of a pandemic that has created a ripple effect in many ways. Our normal routines have been shattered. Non-essential places are closed. We can’t meet with friends in-person. Group gatherings have been banned. In addition, professional sporting events are cancelled causing gamblers to scramble for alternatives. Will they quit gambling or just adopt another “tool”?
The Heart of Addiction
Biblically, addiction (idolatry) resides inside the heart of a person. Proverbs 4:23 states: Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. In other words, it is your responsibility to keep, or guard, your heart because it is the source that will lead you if you let it. The Bible never says to follow your heart but to guard it and direct it. Proverbs 3:5-8 emphasizes these same truths:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.
The Addict in All of Us
Addiction resides within the heart desires of all persons. Anyone can be an addict because addiction is not some specialized disease found only in “some” persons but is potentially in all of us because of the flesh. Galatians 5:16-23 reveals important truths for Christians to understand in how the flesh and the Holy Spirit are opposed to each other and produce opposite results in our lives:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Did you notice that drunkenness and idolatry are on this list of works produced from living according to the flesh’s desires that proceed out of the heart? All sorts of evil that the world might re-label as addictions are on that list.
Is Gambling Compulsive or Just Another Heart Habit to Be Replaced?
Gambling is not on that list although you could argue it fits with “idolatry, jealousy, envy, and things like these” that do show up on that list. The Mayo Clinic describes a gambling disorder, or compulsive gambling, as a disease though it does not use the word disease explicitly. Using words like remission, compulsive, and treatment demonstrate a secular, disease concept mindset at Mayo Clinic.
But just think: if they handled gambling and other addictions biblically by addressing the selfish heart issues called sin, they could then share the hope of the Gospel for those struggling with the heart of addiction pointing them to the Lord Jesus Christ. Forgiveness and freedom are available. Way more effective than meds and therapy. And free!
I wrote a short booklet on the different thought struggles within the minds of many gamblers.
Though the gambling industry is suffering from the 2020 pandemic, thanks to the human heart, it won’t be for long! Not surprisingly to me or any of us who believe the Bible is true about addiction, the world found another object to enable the human heart to gamble on: the weather.
“Beat your local meteorologist. Make money…” is how these sites lure readers in and tempt the pride inside the human heart.https://www.onlinegambling.com/news/now-you-can-bet-on-the-weather/
In the absence of sports, gambling on the weather makes sense. Gambling is just like all other pursuits of an addictive nature.
Sports are not the problem. Gambling is not the problem. The problem resides within the desires of the human heart.
Specifically, 1 John 2:16 lists three core heart issues that plague every person: For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. The human heart will find anything to gamble upon and weather is the latest trend, but there will always be others. I develop these three desires more fully in the booklet Understanding Temptation: The War Within Your Heart.
Any addiction offers the addicted person a distraction from the fallen world around them. Similar to Proverbs 23:35 which says “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.” The concept here is that alcohol offers a “safe place” where pain can be ignored temporarily.
Addictions of all types offer a “safe place” for the addict and betting upon the weather keeps the often brilliant, addicted mind a distraction to focus upon. One weather gambler was quoted in the article as saying:
“It [gambling] lets me come home from work and have something to watch, something to pay attention to,” he said. “Without that, there’s a void in my life.”https://www.onlinegambling.com/news/now-you-can-bet-on-the-weather/
How hopeless. But it is a reminder that the emptiness and lack of purpose in an addict’s life is a product of self-focused living.
Only Jesus can fill the void.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic closed non-essential places of business, sports, and numerous other activities, it didn’t “close” the human heart.
If you take away all the sports in the world, people are going to find a way to gamble. If you take away all the alcohol, people will still find a way to abuse another substance. The Bible stands true: the human heart is the root of the problem.
In the biblical approach, the hope is that the addict can be taught the truth of God’s Word and encouraged to live a disciplined lifestyle under the power of the Holy Spirit. The addict transforms from an idolater who pursues his own futile desires into a new creation pursuing God’s desires in accordance with Galatians 5:23:
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
COVID-19 has changed a lot of things in the world but it has not changed the human heart. It also has not changed the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to transform an addicted person. Hallelujah! Anyone can be given a new purpose and identity through the joy of living for God’s glory alone by surrendering their lives and purpose to Jesus Christ. Salvation starts a new ripple effect that produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
To dive deeper into this topic, check out our most recent podcast!
Contact a TAC Commissioned Addictions Biblical Counselor for help by clicking here.