My last two posts discussed the issue of legalizing marijuana. Keeping it illegal and deterring its use through the stigma and deterrent value of law makes sense, I argued, and the counter-arguments are really just a subterfuge that moves us away from the kind of culture a society that wishes to remain free needs.
This post will shift gears a bit and discuss how Christian parents can approach the issue with their teens. We must begin by assessing what it is that teens today face: ours is an increasingly permissive society, in which children have more freedom, more free time and more spending money, than just about any previous generation. Expectations have also risen, and so too has the stress that accompanies often unrealistic expectations. So it comes as no surprise to most parents that the temptation for teens to “self-medicate” with alcohol and drugs has also increased. Add peer-pressure to the mix, and it often seems inevitable that kids today will succumb.
No young person starts down this road contemplating how, somewhere in their futures, they will deal with the wreckage that results – the broken relationships, broken promises and, far too often, broken lives. They assume somehow that they will just “handle it.” But in over two decades as a prosecutor, I have seen on thousands of occasions the fallout – material, physical and spiritual – of poor choices on the lives of teens and young adults. These young people did not lack education. Schools have made valiant efforts to educate kids as to the effect of drugs and alcohol, and their inherent dangers. But despite knowing of these consequences, both legal and medical, far too many young people – Christians included – persist in their self destructive behavior. Lasting change – life-changing improvement – occurs when a person’s internal worldview can be redirected. It is not enough to teach a child to say “no” to a variety of temptations; instead, people must have a positive worldview – a combination of good things in life – that they affirm. It is for this reason that twelve-step, or other faith-based programs, find considerable success, because the force driving the change is a new and better view of the world. The old negative patterns –i.e. trying to say no to impulses which eventually overwhelm them – are replaced by positive ones – saying yes to God and increasing one’s commitment to living a better way.
Christianity has provided this better worldview for two thousand years. It provides a cohesive way to view the world, and our place in it. It provides the means to not only make sense of this bewildering set of choices we call “life” but to form a relationship with the one who made us and left us here. Today’s secular culture rejects this claim as primitive or steeped in superstition; it throws up road blocks to religion in the public square, seeking to replace traditional faith with "neutral" and "enlightened' science. Sadly, it appears that many self-described Christians have also adopted a worldly view, often times due to a lack of Biblical literacy.
When I have discussed the problem of drugs and alcohol with other parents, the response I usually get is that I am naïve to think that we can “stop” kids from experimenting. Try too hard, they say, and the kids will just rebel in college – and essentially go off the “deep end.” Fear tactics – which they assume is all Christianity can provide – simply “don’t work.” But the message of Christianity is not fear-based. Yes, there is a Hell to which those who reject God will eventually be relegated. But fear of this is not the core of the Christian message. Far from it. Instead, Christianity finds its grounding in a personal relationship with a Being who, despite being incomprehensibly awe-inspiring, wants us to approach him the way a child approaches his “daddy.” (Romans 8:15) He offers us restoration from the brokenness of our earthly lives, a brokenness brought on by our rebellion to his will. We learn to see past the “hollow and deceptive” philosophy of a world un-tethered from its Creator and set our minds on things above (Colossians 3) In short, we can find new life, as the old ways pass from us and we are transformed by the renewal of our minds. (Romans 12)
Presenting a positive and workable worldview to our young people is the paramount responsibility of every parent. Yes, temptation will remain, and kids – even committed Christian children – will continue to succumb to temptation. But perhaps by sensitizing teens to what temptation entails at a spiritual level, they would not be so glib about ignoring the risks which already have been so thoroughly presented to them. By “spiritual”, I do not mean, as if often the case today, the feeling of “closeness” to God that is uninformed by traditional religion. I am instead referring to the spiritual realm, or in other words the reality that exists beyond that which our senses can perceive. The apostle Paul summarized this quite forcefully in his letter to the Ephesians, where in Chapter 6 he warns them that our battle is not against human forces but against powers of darkness and “spiritual forces of wickedness.” Elsewhere, the Bible warns us to “stay sober and alert” and says that the devil is “prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) In the Epistle of James, we are told to “resist the devil and he will take flight.” (James 4:7) In the Gospels, Jesus has a personal encounter with Satan, deals with lesser demons and talks often of the consequences of sin as death and Hell. In short, the Christian worldview sees temptation - including that from drugs and alcohol - in a much different way than the secular world. The short-term pleasure these substances promise can be balanced by an awareness that they are in fact a tool used by a personal enemy, Satan, who has us in his sights and will use what limited power he has to ensnare us.
Waging spiritual war on drugs may sound trite. Indeed, many people today are ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat. But if the Bible is true, then a spiritual war involving much more than simply drugs and alcohol is raging all around us. These substances may not be the adversary’s greatest weapons, but they’ve caused quite a bit of carnage, especially to the unsuspecting. It's time to see them in their proper light.