The fight for the lives of people created in the image of God

By Johannes Adriaan Snyman

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. – Mother Theresa

The moment one start to lose the significance of what we are doing, the moment one losses perspective on the importance of the struggle we find ourselves in, at that moment we are the most vulnerable facing the very threats, each and every individual faces, struggling with addiction.

What we do, though not always visible and even though on so many different levels, is no different from the firemen or paramedics and policemen saving so many lives every day. And like them, we cannot save every life that crosses our path, but through what we do, lives do get saved, and yes, most of the time there are no credit given for success. We don’t do what we do for credit or reward, or even because it is expected of us. We do it because of who we are, and when it comes to maters of the human being, that is crucial to making a difference.

One can have all the knowledge, all the theory, and all the will power in the world, if the love, compassion and connection with people are lacking, then all effort will be in vain.

Because of the apparent overwhelming problem, it is often very easy to lose perspective, because of a variety of factors. We don’t have uniforms, we don’t have blue or red lights on our vehicles, and there’s no government authority to back us up in time of need or emergency. Our society, along with the people in authority, view the problem as one that can be dealt with a fair amount of ignorance. Our society has created and maintain the idea that the problem of addiction can be ignored, and when that becomes a problem in itself, should be handled by medical professionals.

Another factor why it is so easy to lose perspective is that most people working in the circles of addiction are working in isolation, either because of geographical elements, different social classes, a difference in our approach to dealing with the problem or in many cases the presence of a stubborn religious spirit. None of which are valid excuses when compared with the size of the problem we are facing.

We are indeed, without any doubt in the business of saving people’s lives, and one of our main concerns should be on how to improve on the methods already in use. To do that, I will in short look at the problem of addiction as it appears on the surface, the chemical dilemma, the Spiritual reality and the real issue at hand.


On the surface

I firmly believe that addiction in itself is not a problem, but rather a secondary effect of a social problem of which I will refer to later. For the moment I will however refer to the problem of addiction when I state that it presents itself in many forms, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Socially acceptable forms of addiction includes the smoking of cigarettes, moderate drinking patterns, certain forms of sexual behaviour, certain prescribed medicine like pain killers, and even something as basic as an addiction to eating or the consumption of sugar and/or caffeine.

It is only when it appears that a person has been involved with the more familiar illegal substances that society starts to raise their eyebrows while drawing own preconceived conclusions about the individual, the family and the neighbourhood.

A person for example addicted to heroin in Pretoria west, a much poorer neighbourhood is more than likely to be treated in a different manner than a person with the same addiction living in Waterkloof. Because of a social class, there might be difference in behaviour between the two people, but the fundamental elements which consists of the chemical reaction in the body, the basic of human needs and the presence or lack of will power, resilience, intelligence, wisdom and faith remains the same.

On the surface, the problem of addiction stretches over socio-economic classes, over different cultures as well as geographical and religious borders. On the surface we are aware of existing drug dealers, one or two people in our community addicted to drugs or alcohol, and our perception of what goes on in prisons. On the surface we have made up our minds to the apparent danger the problem hold to ourselves and to our children, yet most of the time it is based on a very limited understanding of the problem as a whole.

On the surface, drug and alcohol addiction is an existing problem, but for as long as it doesn’t touch myself as an individual, there is no need to address it.

Though I stated that it is very difficult, maybe even impossible to confine the problem to a certain class or geographical border, I would like to point out that apart from spiritual borders which I’ll discuss later, there is an element playing a vital role in the battle of addiction.

When I go the pet shop, and I buy myself a gold fish as pet I put it in the pocket of my shirt. I give it everything it needs, feeding it at the right times of day, gives it a bit of water to drink and even pet it with my hand a little for comfort. How long will that gold fish survive in the pocket of my shirt? I’m no expert on the survival of fish but I don’t think he will last more than ten or fifteen seconds. He can have everything he needs, but if he is not living in the right atmosphere, he will most certainly die.

The analogy is relevant to both the individuals struggling with the problem, and the problem itself. There are most certainly homes and environments within communities, so healthy on various levels of existence that it is virtually impossible for a person to fall into any addictive behaviour. Likewise are there environments in existence with such an atmosphere that it is very difficult for the problem of addiction to survive and thrive in a person’s life. Creating that atmosphere however, both in theory and practically is a discussion in itself. Yet in order to do that we will first have to have a basic understanding of the wonderful way we were created.

That brings me to the next facet of the secondary problem.


The chemical dilemma


Psalm 103 v 3 says that “He forgives [every one] all of our iniquities, and He heals all [every one] of our diseases.”

Most of people are aware of the fact that our brain consists of an amazing network of nerves and chemical processes constantly at work, thinking, operating, repairing and organizing information at a rate we ourselves struggle to fully comprehend.

According to cognitive neuroscientist Dr Caroline Leaf (PhD in Communication Pathology), research shows us that each nerve in the brain has some branches, much like the branches of a tree. Each nerve consists of a trunk, called a axon, and branches called dendrites.

Your brain performs 400 billion actions per second, of which you are conscious of 2000!

Every time we have I thought, it creates a new branch inter-connected to feelings which sits with other nerves/branches. Each time we think of, meditate or remember a certain thought or piece of information, we grow new branches on the same nerve, making that specific nerve stronger and denser with the amount of branches located there, regardless whether the thoughts or associated feelings are positive or negative.

It is also proven that these branches can over a short period of time (as little as 28 days) be removed and replaced with other branches (thoughts).

This is crucial information when we attempt to help people alter their behaviour towards a healthier lifestyle.

Illegal drugs can be categorised in the following three categories:

  • Stimulants which include Crystal, Crystal Meth and Ecstasy, all stimulating the central nervous system, increasing alertness and physical activity.
  • Depressants which include alcohol and cannabis, depressing the central nervous system.
  • Hallucinogens, which includes LSD, Magic mushrooms, affecting a person’s perception, sensations, thinking and emotions.

The most common drugs are:

  • Cannabis, in my opinion along with alcohol a gateway substance to various other more harmful drugs
  • Cocaine, otherwise known as Coke, Crack falling in the same ‘methamphetamine’ category as Ecstasy, most commonly used in various designer drugs.
  • Ecstasy, pharmaceutical name is MDMA
  • Heroin which has a relative high level of dependency
  • Alcohol, one of the very few if not only substance that can result in death if not treated properly in the process of recovery.

Because the human body and the workings of the brain is so complex and because we have such a limited understanding of the brain, it is often very difficult to predict the outcome when certain chemicals or substances are used. When a person then, experiments with various substances, he or she has no idea of the extent of damage caused. In most cases where such a person is seeking help, a psychiatrist prescribes ‘n dose of drugs that will often help maintain a workable and expectable condition, and might even save the person’s life in the short term, but rarely solves the problem. Because of the complexity of the brain it will often happen that the psychiatrist will work on an experimental basis to see what works and what doesn’t.

The reason I refer to a chemical dilemma is that a person who constantly needs to be maintained by whatever psychotic drugs prescribed, is not a healthy human being. If then the person’s wellbeing is the first priority, drugs should be used for the short term, and surely not as a permanent solution.

Though grateful for the progress made in recent years, I still believe that the greatest breakthroughs in psychiatry is still to come.

I have unfortunately, through many encounters found that there are quite a few people in the psychiatric industry who have replaced their definition of healing with the definition of maintaining a temporarily solution. It is a very unfortunate business then that the ones who suffer the consequences are the same ones who needs our help so desperately.

The upside is that, while the psychiatric industry is maintaining conditions and making breakthroughs, there is and always have been, another component to the secondary problem. While the workings of the brain and all associated chemicals can be categorised as downright complicated, this component would much better be described as mysterious, yet at the same time the essence of simplicity itself.

Let’s have a look at the spiritual reality.


The spiritual reality

The principles behind addiction are basically the same as what is behind any destructive behaviour in any person’s life. It starts with lies we believe, often because of a lack of knowledge of the Word of God, and progresses into subtle behavioural changes, often unnoticed by those around us, not even associated with addiction. Progressively the identity is compromised and what follows is a single step toward a substance, which in Biblical terms can be referred to giving Satan a foothold in an area of the person’s life. Naturally, the person would not, even though having the apparent knowledge, be aware of what is happening in the spiritual realm. This can happen to both Christians and non-believers and the forces behind these substances does not discriminate between age, race or gender. A baby girl dying because of a neglecting drunk father is just as much the work of Satan as is the homeless heroin addict giving his last breath at a traffic light. God’s will for us is a life in abundance and everything associated with any form of addiction stands contrary to that.

Therefore, concerning the battle against the problem of addiction, giving your hart to Christ is the single most powerful and most likely the single most difficult thing one can do, to overcome the bondage one finds oneself trapped in. The Devil knows it, and in order to prevent it, he will keep your mind occupied with whatever it takes for you not to take a step like that, whether it be through multiple voices in your head, through insecurity with your mind racing between right and wrong, or just through depression to make you blind for the truth behind the matter. Like many aspects in life, the spiritual reality behind addiction is also some of a paradox, for it is likely to happen that when a person is in the darkest place ever, he or she might just reach out to the only help available, found in Christ. It would be difficult to draw up statistics of such matters, but in such a state the person is just as likely to consider suicide as well.

To not elaborate the truth into a lengthy sermon, I will in short touch on two notions, painting a picture of the object not visible to our natural eyesight.

First the choice between the two trees. We have the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. God tells Adam and Eve to eat from any tree, apart from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They are deceived by lies and there are consequences.

Most addicts, while using or even doing well in recovery remains at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Instead of peace, their minds are constantly racing between right and wrong. Unfortunately our modern western society has set the stage and created an atmosphere where that kind of state of mind seems quite normal. One can only use human rights as an example.

Now without a sense of peace, it is very difficult to attract the fruits of the Spirit into our lives, for if peace is lacking there will most certainly be an absence of longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness and temperance, all of which is needed for a strong foundation of love and joy, and then in return, peace.

With a state of mind dwelling at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, there are also no rest, which leads over a period to fatigue, resulting in a downward spiral to poor decision making and less clarity about the particular situation and perspective regarding the immediate circumstances.

The bottom line? Recovery can be an awful lot harder if not done at the tree of life.

The second notion I’d like to bring across is the idea of where we as human beings fit into the world. Not many people are aware of this and you are far less likely to think upon the idea when not sober minded, but we as human beings are a rare species indeed. We are the only beings in the world who are both physical and spiritual at the same time. God and the angels is fully spirit. So is Satan and all his demons. The rest of the world is all physical, from the animals, plants to the finest of atoms in the soil. We as human beings were created fully spirit, and fully natural physical human. We were, and it is a spiritual principal as it is the Word of God, to rule over creation. What Satan has effectively done is to create such a confusion that through addiction, we have some physical substances, ruling over us, this upsetting the order in which creation was meant to be.

We do not have to stop there for by, and through the Holy Spirit, can be part of the establishment of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Even a non-believer would be foolish to ignore the impact prayer, fasting, a close loving community, the daily reading of the Word of God and worshiping have on such individuals. It is proven that these activities have a profound impact on a person’s state of being, ultimately playing a role in the identity which is also a crucial part in recovery.

If we as facilitators of recovery disregard the importance of creating a drug safe environment where spiritual needs are met, then we ourselves falls short of a big part of the solution, which remains right in front of our eyes.


The real issue

As with many of the social issues and problems, we face in our world today, addiction, whether it be substance related or any other behaviour, can be solved by a change in community. The majority of people making a contribution when it comes to substance abuse, is fighting at a level where the problem is visible in individual’s lives. The real problem lies much deeper and on a much broader scale.

A community or society with strong values, a strong foundation of faith, a strong sense of identity, close relationships and a healthy social life have a far less chance of ending up with people in need of recovery, than a community where individualism, human rights and entertainment is prioritised above the wellness of the collective community. I’m not totally convinced that awareness of the dangers of drug abuse is as effective as the promoting of a healthy, inclusive, loving and caring community. That in itself is still a concept in need of a breakthrough, not necessarily in knowledge for communities have out of a necessity of survival practiced these principles for centuries now, but rather a breakthrough of the heart and mind so entangled in the grandness and splendour of modern society.

The breakthrough will also have to come from people like ourselves, just because the current authorities does not have the will power nor the vision for a Godly and righteous community.

When viewing the issue of substance abuse in such a light, we are without any doubt, burdened with a mammoth task, which might take decades to sort out.

Well, we’re not going anywhere are we? We might just as well get to it, and work with all our might!


Written and continually practiced by Adriaan Snyman, through the grace and power God the Father, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who dwells in each of us.