Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Freedom From Addictions

First Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
For the week of March 6-12, 2011
Addictive behaviors are an attempt to meet our greatest internal needs with a temporary “fix.” Whether the addiction is to a drug, an activity, or a thought process, the final pathway is the feeling of satisfaction or pleasure derived from a release of molecules in our brains. Dopamine is a molecule, or neurotransmitter, that activates the brain’s reward/pleasure center. Another neurotransmitter, serotonin, contributes to feelings of well-being and is considered the “happiness hormone.”
However, neuropsychologists understand that addictions are fundamentally incapable of maintaining satisfaction. The internal feedback mechanisms built in to our brains dampen the positive effects so that we never reach the same level of satisfaction without more and more of the dopamine and/or serotonin releasing substance or activity. This is literally and spiritually a dead-end experience.
What deeper need are addictions trying, but failing, to meet? It turns out that we are designed, literally wired, to be connected with others at a deep level. One of the deepest parts of our brains is the nucleus accumbens, upon which dopamine and serotonin exert a major influence, and from which a fundamental sense of pain derives if our attachment needs are not met.
“As humans, we have been made for relationship with God and others. If, for some reason, we suddenly or slowly cannot experience being connected to God and some significant others, we sense that as a kind of deep pain. This pain is described sometimes as a feeling of loneliness, unworthiness or insignificance, or of being amputated – at least partly” (quoted from the following website: http://www.12accede.org/layers_and_attachment-3.pdf).
Sin cut Adam and his posterity (that is us!) off from the close relationship with God for which we were designed. This had devastating neurophysiological consequences to the human brain. Jesus then stepped into the gap and bridged the divide so we could recognize the true cause of our pain (it is not initiated by God!), and recover the lasting satisfaction of being reconciled to God and our fellow man.
When Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?", he was experiencing the final results of this divide as he was “cut off” for all of humanity (not for Himself - Daniel 9:26):  “Amid the awful darkness, apparently forsaken of God, Christ had drained the last dregs in the cup of human woe.... By faith He rested in Him whom it had ever been His joy to obey. And as in submission He committed Himself to God, the sense of the loss of His Father's favor was withdrawn. By faith, Christ was victor” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 756). 
In his cry, and in his victory through faith, we see both the cause of and the solution to our sin problem and the addictions that attempt to supply our greatest need.
This is why the humanity of Christ is everything to all of us “sin addicts:” “Standing under the shadow of the cross of Calvary, the inspiration of his love fills our hearts. When we look upon Him whom our sins have pierced, the inspiration from on high comes upon us; and this inspiration may come upon each one of you through the Holy Spirit. Unless you receive the Holy Spirit, you cannot have the love of God in the soul; but through a living connection with Christ, we are inspired with love and zeal and earnestness.... as Christ illuminates our souls, he gives light and life.... If we are connected with light, we shall be channels of light, and in our words and works we shall reflect light to the world. Those who are truly Christians, grasp the golden chain which links earth to heaven, which binds finite man to the infinite God. The light that shineth in the face of Jesus, shines in the hearts of his followers, to the glory of God” (Ellen White, Review and Herald, September 27, 1892).
Finding the One who meets our greatest need is the most effective way to deal with addictions:
“A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs....Our heavenly Father is more willing to give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him, than are earthly parents to give good gifts to their children. But it is our work, by confession, humiliation, repentance, and earnest prayer, to fulfill the conditions upon which God has promised to grant us His blessing. A revival need be expected only in answer to prayer” (Ellen White, Selected Messages, Volume 1, page 121).
“There is a blessed work for each one of us to do, but we cannot do it as we should unless we are in right relation to God. In our imperfection of character, in our great need and helplessness, we must come to the foot of the cross, and as the light shines into our hearts from Calvary, we shall be able to reveal to others the great plan of redemption” (Ellen White, Review and Herald, January 28, 1890). 
Rather than “enhancing our self esteem” in an attempt to avoid relapse, we humbly confess our great need and invite God to access to our minds; He can then work through our frontal lobe to actually change the wiring in our brains! A new experience, a new life, a revival, is what occurs. God’s love for us is appreciated in the light of the cross, and changes us as it flows through us to others. We become truly satisfied. He heals and corrects our “intricate” “addiction mechanism.” This is the “professional help” that we need most!
How does this happen?
There is an intimate connection between our higher-reasoning center (the pre-frontal cortex of the frontal lobe) and the nucleus accumbens. These areas have a strong influence, with likely structural effects, on each other.*  In other words, we need a new experience with the word of God if practical changes in our brains, and thus our lives, are to be seen:
“The knowledge of God that works transformation of character is our great need. If we fulfill His purpose, there must be in our lives a revelation of God that shall correspond to the teaching of His word” (Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, volume 8, page 329). 
“ When a man who has gone all his life without God, joins himself to God, and God's life becomes his life, God's strength becomes his strength, God's wisdom becomes his wisdom, then has not he ability that he did not have before? and is not this ability given to him to use? When he has received God, and has Christ dwelling within, the very life of his life, his strength, his wisdom, has not he a power, a wisdom, an intellect,—ability of every sort,—that will make him more than he ever could have been without Christ? Then do you not see—it is as plain as A B C—that the man who professes to be a Christian, and does not make a better success in this life than before, has not Christianity? He is cheating himself by a mere outward profession of the thing, and is simply robbing himself of what belongs to him in this world and in the next” (A. T. Jones, The Bible Echo, 221).
“To give a man all that God has and he still remaining the man that he is, it would be a fearful thing. Therefore it is nothing to us that God gives us all that He has, unless He gives us what He is, unless He gives us Himself. Therefore, when He gives us what He is, giving us Himself, His character, His nature and His disposition, then we can use what he is as well as what He has, in his fear and to His glory. (A. T. Jones, The General Conference Daily Bulletin, March 1, 1893 page 438).
We must literally be remade, recreated, in the image of God through Christ:
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God....But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:1-8).
--Todd Guthrie
*(Rifat J. Hussain, Aaron J. Gruber & Patricio O’Donnell. The Nucleus Accumbens: A Switchboard for Goal-Directed Behaviors. PLoS ONE 4(4): e5062. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005062; Robinson, T.E., Kolb, B. Persistent Structural Modifications in Nucleus Accumbens and Prefrontal Cortex Neurons Produced by Previous Experience with Amphetamine. The Journal of Neuroscience, November 1, 1997, 17(21):8491–8497.)