Saturday, April 14, 2018

Does God value us?

The following quote is from Jonathan Edwards book "The End for which God Created the World" In this excerpt Edwards explains why it is right (moral) for God to have the highest regard and respect for himself over and above all other beings or things.

We wish to look at this quote more closely to also see what Edwards says about God having regard and respect for beings other than himself and why he would.
"At least, a great part of the moral rectitude of God, whereby he is disposed to every thing that is fit, suitable, and amiable [i.e. good, right, pleasant, admirable] in itself, consists in his having the highest regard to that which is in itself highest and best (i.e. Himself). The moral rectitude of God must consist in a due respect to things that are objects of moral respect; that is, to intelligent beings capable of moral actions and relations. And therefore it must chiefly consist in giving due respect to that Being (i.e. God) to whom most is due; for God is infinitely the most worthy of regard. The worthiness of others (beings) is as nothing to his; so that to him belongs all possible respect. To him belongs the whole of the respect that any intelligent being is capable of. To him belongs ALL the heart. Therefore, if moral rectitude of heart consist in paying the respect of the heart which is due, or which fitness and suitableness requires, fitness requires infinitely the greatest regard to be paid to God; and the denying of supreme regard here would be a conduct infinitely the most unfit. Hence it will follow, that the moral rectitude of the disposition, inclination, or affection of God CHIEFLY consists in a regard to HIMSELF, infinitely above his regard to all other beings; in other words, his holiness consists in this.” 
Though the main point Edwards makes is God is the highest and greatest being, and therefore must have the highest and greatest respect for himself, he also indicates he has regard for any being capable of moral respect. Though God is due the highest regard and respect, Edwards suggests he is not the only one he has regard for. 
"The moral rectitude of God must consist in a due respect to things (beings) that are objects of moral respect; that is, to intelligent beings (i.e. other than God) capable of moral actions and relations..." 
Edwards using the word "must" indicates the moral *necessity of God having regard for anyone capable of having "moral actions and relations." This is primarily true of God but also of others, due to the nature and design of those beings i.e. their capacity to engage in "moral actions and relations."

What do "moral actions and relations" consist of? Any actions that deliberately acknowledge Gods ultimate worth and any being capable of doing so. 

Therefore it is not only good and right that God has the highest regard for himself as the highest and most significant being but for other beings like him who are also capable of having regard for him.

Who would be those beings other than God? Us. Though God is the ultimate and only infinite being who elicits the highest regard and is capable of giving (and receiving) the greatest respect, we are like him (in his image) and therefore also capable of giving due respect in a way no other creature can. Certainly our ability to willfully regard God properly (i.e. to bring him his due glory and honor) is as nothing compared to his, but it is a capability we have none the less that **no other creature has in the same way we do.

The point is God values us due to our ability to appreciate and enjoy his infinite worth. The greater the ability the more he values it. God having the greatest ability for this therefore elicits his greatest respect/regard. Because we too have this ability, we are also valued accordingly.

Again Edwards say God has 
"...due respect to things that are objects of moral respectthat is, to intelligent beings (i.e. us as well as himself) capable of moral actions and relations..."  
In short, God values in us what he values in himself, the ability to give due recognition to his great value and glory. Certainly our capability is to an infinitely lesser degree than his but a capability we have nevertheless.


And where do we get this capability? From God himself (i.e. we are in his image). And because this is given to us by God it is not a point of pride but of humility. It is gift, not anything accomplished by us. It is who we are, who he has made us to be, not what we have done. Knowing our capability to properly regard God is a drop in the bucket compared to his, is also a point of humility. 

Why does God love me?! 

When people say "I don't understand why God would love me", this is precisely why God would ***love you. He made you with the capacity to know and enjoy him in all his infinite glory in the same way he knows and enjoys himself. In addition to this we able to make him known to others. To say it another way, we are able to deliberately and consciously glorify God and enjoy him forever in a way no other creature can. All of this and more is included in being made in his image.

God values ("has high regard for") us precisely because he values himself, in whose image we have been created.

Some other links that touch on different aspect of this:




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*It is not necessary in the sense that God is obligated by something outside himself. God needs no one and no thing (nothing) and answers only to himself. But by virtue of who he is and us being his image bearers, this is a "necessity" by his design. It simply is the way things operate because it is the way God designed them to operate in accordance to his own nature. If there is any necessity it is one God has within himself (within the nature of his being) so to speak, according to who he is as the all glorious God.

**all of Gods creation glorifies him by design. We however appear to be the only beings that glorify him by both design and choice.

***This is also why God is pleased with us the more we delight in him. Though His love for us and acceptance of us is not based on or affected by our delight or lack of delight in him (his love is based on the efforts of Christ, not ours. His commitment and acceptance of us is unwavering because of Christ. Nothing we door don't do can separate us from his love), we can nevertheless bring greater joy to God's heart the more we trust and delight in him.

To say it another way, our rebellious unfaithfulness (sin) matters. It not only has a negative impact on us and those around us but it indicates our lack of love for God and is dishonoring to him. It saddens God because he loves us and knows our honoring him is not only for his glory but also for our good.
  
Heb 11:6  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

What makes us a distinct being/person?

Where do we begin and others end? What differentiates or distinguishes us from each other?


On the most obvious level we each occupy our own physical space. But is this all that distinguishes us?

On a less obvious level, we also each have 1our own understanding and will i.e. we are our own unique, separate being/ person. We each have our own unique perspective and experience. Though you and I may agree, your thoughts and choices are not mine and mine are not yours. 

Having our own perspective and experience however is not saying reality is merely subjective. In fact, just the opposite. Even though we each experience the objective world differently, it is still absolutely objective reality i.e. we (as well as everything and everyone else) are who we (or they) are. We are not someone (or thing) other then us. Everyone (or thing) is what it is and is not anything other than what it is regardless of our individual experience of it.

Nevertheless, how we experience these objective realities is unique to us. If four people stand equally apart in a circle around a large oak tree, with varied and unique branches, when asked to describe the tree, will give a different account simply by virtue of their individual vantage point/location. Yet it is exactly the same tree. 

Our experience is our own and no one else's i.e. No one will experience the very real and objective world in the same way you or I will because no one else is 2us, located in the exact same space or observing the world through our eyes (our vantage point). We are all unique with our individual vantage point, understanding and will (ability to choose).

So there are two aspects that distinguishes persons or things. Physical location is one. You and I (or any other physical object) can not be in the exact same location as another physical object (be that animate or inanimate). 

But for persons (rather then things) there is also a distinction of physical and nonphysical.  God is not physical but he is nevertheless a very real person. What distinguishes him from other persons has nothing to do with physicality but has to do with having his own distinct understand (thinking) and will (choosing). Again we may agree with him but our thinking and choosing is ours, not his or vise versa. 

We can see this distinction of physical and non physical within ourselves. 

To illustrate, if we are somehow transported (i.e. have some "out of body" experience) and our non physical being somehow separates from our physical, the real us is the part that is aware of being out of our body

i.e. it is not the other way around where our bodies are aware of us, it is us that is aware of our body being "over there" somewhere separate from us. 

Those, who claim to have had such an experience, said they can see their body "left behind" so to speak. But their point of awareness is coming from them being somewhere outside and separate from their body. 

If these experiences are legitimate this indicate the physical merely "houses" the essence of who we are, which is non physical. This is how scripture also seems to characterize this. 

So why do we humans experience our world differently from each other as well as from God. In a word we are limited (finite), God is not. Each of us is limited by location. Which is simply to say we are not all knowing, all seeing or everywhere present i.e. we locate only one place at a time and therefore have only 3one perspective at a time. 

God...the same but different.

We can not be like God physically simply because God is not physical. So we are like God in a non physical way. God is a person with his own individual will and understanding. So in this way we are the same as God. We too are persons with understanding and will just as he is i.e. We are in his image. In his image means we are a person because he is a person first. 

However, unlike God, we are finite. We are not everywhere present (part of why God can be everywhere present is precisely because he is not physical and therefore not limited to a specific location), all knowing, all willing and all able (all powerful). 

God is infinite. God's understanding is absolute and complete because of his "allness." He knows and see's all. Nothing is beyond his presence and understanding. To use a crude analogy, He is the ultimate super hero if you will; he sees all, knows all and can do and does all. Therefore his view and understanding of things and his ability (will) to carry out things is not partial but complete/absolute. Nothing (no one, no act, not thought) is hidden from his sight or understanding. 

He is also all willing. Since he sustains everything, all that is or occurs is because he wills it to be so i.e. He is all powerful. Whatever he chooses, is carried out. Nothing can thwart his choice simply because nothing is greater then he is. 

When I will something, it's coming to pass is contingent on my ability to bring it about. With God there is no limit on his ability and therefore on his will. What he will's he does. Or to say it another way, it is done simply by his willing it. We get a hint of this in the creation account when it says, "and God said let there be... and it was so..." 

This however does not mean everything is God and God is everything because, at a minimum nothing else has his understanding, will and is everywhere present.

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1And therefore location as well. Wherever someones understanding and will resides and issues forth from, anothers can not reside in that exact same location/space.

2Even God himself, though he sustains everything, is a separate and distinct being.

3Which is why putting ourselves "in someone else's shoes" always helps increase our understanding of others; to see the world through their eyes, so to speak. Part of the maturing process involves stepping out of ourselves and taking on the perspective of others. The very fact we must do so, further indicates we are unique with a unique and separate vantage point. 


Monday, April 2, 2018

using evil for good

As we mature and our trust in God grows, we learn that pain is the primary means of getting to know God (be that self imposed through self denial i.e. taking up our cross or imposed on us through circumstances outside our control). Through our pain and struggle we find we must grow deeper roots into God in order to weather life's storms or overcome life's challenges. We come to see our pain and struggles are used (even designed) to aid us in developing a stronger connection with God so we might 1know and experience him more fully. The bigger the challenges are or the stronger the winds of life blow, the deeper the roots must go. 

The more we see (believe) this the more 2thankful we become for our pain. To embrace pain in 3this way becomes the means by which we are able to more wholly embrace God.

Pain is bad

Ironically pain, in itself, is not good. It is the fruit of our rebellion. When Adam and Eve chose to be their own god, they rejected the only true God, resulting in their separation from him and loss of their continued participation in his unobstructed presence. Everything came "unglued" after that; thorns and thistles now existed (things that cause pain and hinder success) in working the ground, pain in childbirth, decay, death and destruction, alienation with ourselves (guilt and shame), each other and God himself.

Simply stated, pain itself is evil and not part of God's original design. It is experiencing destruction and harm due to the absence of God and his presence. If it were part of his original design God would allow it to continue instead of do away with it altogether one day.

We get further indication of this if you look at the definition of evil in the OT... 
H7451b  רַע - ra (948c); from the same as H7455; evil, distress, misery, injury, calamity: — adversity (7), calamity (4), disaster (2), evil (94), harm (2), harmful (1), hurt (1), ruin (3), surely (1), trouble (2), unpleasant (1), wickedly (1), wickedness (1). 

The following are key passages in Genesis using the word for evil (H7451b); all dealing with "the knowledge of good and evil" except Gen 31 which translates the word as "harm" instead. There is clearly a direct connection between harm and evil. To say it another way, that which causes harm/injury is evil and evil always causes harm/injury in some form or fashion.   

Gen_2:9  Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evilH7451b.
Gen_2:17  but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evilH7451b you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." 
Gen_3:5  "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be 4like God, knowing good and evilH7451b."
Gen_3:22  Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become 4like one of Us, knowing good and evilH7451b; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"—
Gen 31:29  "It is in my power to do you harmH7451b, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, 'Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob.' 

So how can something evil be used for good? 

Even though pain in itself is not good but bad(evil), causing harm/injury, it becomes the means of appreciating the good that is God i.e. the greater the absence of good, the greater the 5appreciation of its presence. As an old saying goes, the negative accentuates the positive. Evil/harm/pain reveals to us the desperation and injury that occurs from the absence of God thereby increasing our appreciation for the presence of God. 

Though directly, evil is bad, indirectly it is good. Or to say it more precisely it is a means by which God brings about our good. It is the means by which we discover more of God, who is our ultimate good. But it does so indirectly, by it being contrasted with good i.e. our appreciation for good is enhanced by experiencing the absence of good i.e. by experiencing harm/evil. Experiencing bad enables us to better appreciate it's opposite.

As Joseph said to his brothers who sold him into slavery (clearly an act of revenge and evil) "you 6meant it for evil (harm) but God meant it for good."

Even evil does not thwart the good purposes of God but actually becomes a tool in his hands to bring us to him and the ongoing means of drawing us nearer to him. To say it simply, God is bigger then evil and uses evil for good, our good.  Probably the most dramatic example of this is recorded in Act 2:23  

"...this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men..."

The highest purpose of God in sending Christ; restoring rebellious men and women to himself, was accomplished by means of the hands of lawless (or wicked in many translations) men. 

For a further discussion on how we are actually in constant state of pain click here.
For a further discussion on how God uses evil for our good click here.
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1The exact opposite of what we normally think. Normally when we go through great pain we think God has abandon us. He no longer cares about us or loves us. When in fact he loves us so much he desires we experience his love in even greater degrees and knows that is often best accomplished through pain. Pain causes us to press into him and his love more fully which is ultimately for our greatest good because God himself is our greatest good i.e. knowing and being in union with him. 

It is also the exact opposite of what we experience if we do not received our pain in faith; faith that God is using it for our good, not our harm.

2Actually we are not thankful for the pain itself, but the fruit of that pain i.e. the stronger connection with God that comes through the pain.

3If God allows you to experience great pain, it is only because he trusts your faith in him. He knows your faith in him and trust in his love for you is strong enough to enable you to handle it. His desire is to increase that faith so that you might experience him even more. 

If you know and believe this, pain will be the means of your advancement. If you do not, it will only be the means of your harm and destruction. 

This is why scripture says "all things work together for good of those who love God..." If there is no love in our heart for God, it is because there is no trust in God. If no trust, then no gain from "all things" we go through. To gain, we must trust. To trust we must love. To love we must believe in his love for us. 

1Co_10:13  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

4Though knowing evil in itself is not good, knowing (having appreciation for) good in contrast to evil is. 
This is why the knowledge of good and evil (in contrast to good) is a legitimate part of God's character.

5victory is sweetest when the greatest adversity is overcome. The greater the adversity, the greater the sweetness. 

6This is the key to forgiveness. Joseph was freed of righteous anger towards his brothers and was able to let the hurt go because he came to see there was a much higher/bigger/good purpose in the offense against him. God was involved and working for his good in/by the evil his brothers intended. 

This was also what enabled Christ to say, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" while actually hanging on the cross and suffering the greatest evil/injury possible. He understood there was a much higher purpose in and through the evil he was experiencing. 


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

God...concerned or not concerned about sin

God is not at all concerned about our sin and is totally concerned at the same time.

How?

Not concerned…

Our sin has absolutely no effect on God's attitude and posture of perfect love, attention and care towards us if we are in Christ. It is one of complete love and commitment to us no matter what we do or don't do because first and foremost it is based on the work of Christ not ours.

But also, because we are created in his image. He values his image in us and desires it be developed to the maximum of its potential i.e. that we become all he intends and designed up to be. As his fully redeemed image bearers, God's commitment to us is fixed and unrelenting.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. 

Very concerned…

The essence of sin is our alienation and separation from God due to our rebellious distrust of him. Even as his children, who are completely forgiven and fully loved, this alienation *still exists, is very real and has real effect/harm; it's just that in Christ, it exists only on our side of the relationship, not God's side.

It is not that God is worried by our distrust but he cares greatly about our experiencing all he has for us.

To love God with all our heart soul mind and strength and our neighbors as ourselves is to be fully aligned and in harmony with the heart of God. To the degree we are not loving God and our neighbor in this way (i.e. with everything we have) is the degree to which we are not in harmony and alignment with him. Again, this has nothing to do with God's love for us. This is already totally settled if we are in Christ. But is has everything to do with our love for him.

To be out of alignment with him is to not see and enjoy him fully. He is relentless in uprooting those areas of unbelief in us that keep us from being closer to him, for our joy and his glory.

This alienation (by us) is completely separate from his alienation from us. His alienation was already fully addressed in Christ and no longer exists. As Christ shouted out, "it is finished." There can no longer be any separation on God's side. This separation is now only on our side. 

Our moving away from him in rebellious distrust does not keep God from loving us but keeps us from fully participating in the manifestation and experience of his love already totally and absolutely fixed upon us in Christ.
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*our alienation from God still exists because remnants of our rebellious unbelief still exist within all of us, even as his children. It is this unbelief God continually works to eradicate for our joy and his glory. 



Friday, March 16, 2018

Being diligent...motive is key.

Being thoughtful, careful, diligent, obedient, disciplined etc are all good and important things in themselves, not bad.

Though "obedience" can be legalistic and in fact often is, it does not have to be nor is it necessarily (true love driven faithfulness/obedience is never legalistic).

The question is why are we diligent and obedient. What is our motive/reason for being diligent, careful and thoughtful etc? 

Motive is the only difference between true God honoring behavior and feigned legalistic "obedience." Otherwise on the surface we can't tell the difference; they can look exactly the same.

There can only be one of two reasons (motivations) for our external obedience. Detecting the reason however, is not at all easy because we rarely know our own heart and the true motives behind our behavior. 

And what are those reasons? 

1.     To honor and bring attention to (glorify) God out of love and awe for him.
2.     To take care of myself. 

Everything we do, is done for one of these two reasons


Mixed motives

We complicate things however because our motives are #mixed. Rarely do we do anything with a pure (singleness of) motive. What is most important is which motive is primary i.e. leads/predominates. 
being mixed doesn't mean there is a third motive, it simply means these two can be intertwined. They are still distinct nevertheless.
Self interest, good or bad?

Plus desiring both things (God's honor and our best) in itself is not necessarily bad. It's ok and in fact normal for us to desire our best. Christ assumes self interest (not condemn it) when he tells us to love our neighbors as (in the same way) we love ourselves  or care for (love) our wives as (in the same way) we care for our own body

In fact the appeal of the promises of God is to our best interest. The promise of eternal life is made to who? To me, to self i.e. a promise is a direct appeal to my self interest. I want life, not death and so do you. 

There is nothing wrong with our *wanting what is best for ourselves. Why would God appeal to it otherwise? It is no more wrong than it would be for God to want what's best for himself. Does God ever do anything that is ultimately against himself? It may appear so short term but never long-term. In fact our wanting what is best for us is because we are like God, who wants what's best for himself. This in part is what it means to be in his image. 


Gods glory and our best are not at odds 

The issue isn't us wanting our best, it is how is our best truly achieved; through independent self effort or as a result of pursuing God out of love for him in response to his love for us. 

Is our best the fruit of honoring God (which is legitimate) or the result of our **direct and independent pursuit of that best (which is not legitimate, since it involves trust in self as one's best provider, instead of God who is the only true provider and sustainer of all things)? 

The ***mystery of life (life as God originally designed it to be) is that pursuing and experiencing God, is in fact the best thing we can do for ourselves. And it is in him alone we find true life, joy, meaning purpose etc. 

Yet this is not the primary reason we are to pursue God. We pursue him simply because he's most glorious and worthy of our total pursuit. And because he is, our greatest joy is found in pursuing and knowing him. This is the "natural" (originally designed and intended) outcome of who God is and the way we are. To go contrary to this not only dishonors God, but is against us; our best interest and well being. 

To say it simply, desiring and pursuing God's highest glory is our greatest good and joy.

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*For an engaging article by Kyle Strobel (Professor of Spiritual Formation at Talbot Seminary) on whether self love is valid or not click here

**If pursuing a specific objective is honoring to God then we can and are to pursue it with all the energy God gives us. In this instance this would be a direct pursuit of something but it is something that God has told us to pursue. And since it is, that direct pursuit is obedience to God and therefore also honoring to him. Some examples would be to "go and disciple all nations" or "love God with all our heart soul mind and strength." Faithful obedience/direct action is the only legitimate response to these directions.

***true life, which is in God alone, is a mystery in the sense that it goes contrary to our fallen nature and therefore is not obvious, but mysterious to us in our present fallen condition. Who we were designed to be (i.e. those who find God to be our true life) and who we are "naturally" inclined to be (i.e. those who seek life apart from God due to our fallen state of rebellion) are contrary to each other.

This is true of both believers and unbelievers in the sense that we all are inclined away from God...even Christians. BUT as believers we have a new and additional dynamic within us i.e. the love of God shed about in our hearts by the Spirit of God. This new inclination empowers us to live once again as God originally designed us to live. And it is only by this new dynamic/power/love/Spirit that we can. 




Saturday, March 10, 2018

How can God love the unlovely?

First we must be lovable i.e. there must be something about us that God cherishes (loves) deeply. While at the same time, there is also something unlovely about us that God opposes. How can this be? Can both be true? 

What does he cherish?

First and foremost he cherishes himself, for he is the greatest, wisest, loveliest, most powerful and beautiful being in the universe. There is no one more glorious, significant or powerful.

And we are like God. And because we are, we are able to glory in and enjoy the beauty of who he is and to reflect back to him and out to others his greatness in a way no other created being can. Our capacity to appreciate, enjoy and reflect the infinitely valuable God gives us value; makes us valuable. Valuable both to others as well as to God himself.

What does he oppose?

Anything that diminishes the recognition of God's great glory/value.

Why does he oppose this? Because everything is from, through and to him. For him or us to conduct ourselves otherwise not only dishonor's who he is but is also to our harm. For use to value anything above God most high (most valuable) is to be mislead and to mislead others; it is to live a lie. This ultimately leads to our destruction and the destruction of others.

So if both of these qualities (lovable and unlovely) are within us at the same time how does God reconcile these two opposite characteristics? How does he love the unlovely?

He removes the consequences of our unloveliness by putting it on himself in and through his own son Jesus. Once the consequences are removed, thanks to our rightful suffering being placed onto Jesus, he is able to now focus in on who we are as his image bearers with the capacity to receive and give love, honor and glory and reflect him out to others. In short to make us like his Son. In Christ, God is now for us, not against us. 



Monday, March 5, 2018

overcoming addiction

What enables those who are able, to successfully break away from an addiction?

Is it guilt and shame? That may play a roll short term. But if the change is to be long term it must go beyond guilt and shame.

Long term change occurs only if *3 things happen:

1. We realize the consequences of an addiction outweighs the benefits; that the rewards for discontinuing the addiction are greater then the ones gained by it.

This often takes time i.e. the pleasure of an addiction is usually immediate, whereas the benefits of turning away from it often don't appear right away but **over time. The longer one continues addiction free, the greater the benefits become. The short term benefits of the addiction are no longer as great as the long term benefits. 

2. We come to see/experience something more satisfying that overpowers our addictive desires (or severs it's pull) i.e. when we find something more desirable than what we are presently addicted to, it draws us to it instead of the former addiction. 

3. A desire to honor God because we understand how he has honored us. And how has he? By giving something of great value so that he might have a relationship with us. This says something very significant about our value to God, does it not? 

For more on what motivates us to obedience click here

For more on our worth to God, click here

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*We may experience short term change if the first or second occur. The greatest chance for long term change involves all three. Plus number 3 never stops growing. The more we understand what God has done for us the greater our desire to honor him and less likely we are to fall into former or new addictive behavior. 

**Or maybe not at all. Maybe only the confidence/trust that the eternal benefits far outweigh the temporary loses are what we must depend on to break away from addiction i.e. our hope of a future reward for faithfully pursuing God is what enables us to avoid destructive/addictive behavior.