I know what you’re thinking, “Quit writing these posts; no one’s listening!” And to that I say, “Be quiet voice of insecurity!”
Last night was my last time attending Immanuel’s Theology for Men for a while. Not forever, just until my life changes back to something slightly less chaotic and my final child is born. We discussed the fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh. For reference:
 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. (ESV)
But instead of rehashing what we discussed or picking this list apart in exegeted Greek, I want to hone in on a single work, and make this post really uncomfortable and personal. Sounds good? No? Too late, here I go.
My upbringing was difficult and studded with pain. Most of that pain was centered on my father. Not surprising to me, but perhaps to you, is that my father was a topic of conversation yesterday. He was sort of in-between the lines.
My father was addicted to this world. That sounds broad, but I assure you, it’s about as accurate a statement as I can give you. He was addicted to alcohol. He was addicted to drugs. He was addicted to sex. He was addicted money. Really, in fact, if you list the works of the flesh, the desire of the flesh, you will find him in each one and more often in them than out of them.
But one that stood out for me was his drug use and the translated word, there, sorcery.
I once sat at a Presbyterian pastor’s dinner table and he asked, with no lead-up, how my father had died.
“He burst his heart while smoking crack.”
I’m good at messing up people’s casual inquiries.
He did, though. He died in 2002. I remember because I spoke to him about four weeks before he died. He wanted to do the Alcoholic’s Anonymous step eight, making amends. He was trying to apologize to me for the way my life had been. It wasn’t the first time he tried to make that apology. And he was dead a month later. I can’t explain where in the process he was. I can’t explain why he was trying to make amends as a recovery step while also smoking crack.
So all that said, my father was also deeply committed to sorcery. That seems like a strange pairing, no? Well, in Galatians, the word used for sorcery there is the word pharmakeia. It is, in fact, where we get the word pharmaceutical. The pagan priests of the first century were well known for doing drugs. It was a nice shortcut to the “divine.” And my father was a better expression of this idea than anyone I have ever known.
He never denied himself any carnal pleasure and that very much included drugs. Nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, LSD, mescaline, crack, peyote… I know he was addicted once to morphine and I am fairly certain he used heroine a few times. Those are the drugs I know about. And that list is pretty exhaustive from what’s available. Maybe he did DMT, meth, MDMA, and ketamine but he never mentioned them to me.
But he also literally practiced magic. His preferred forms were the less technical ones. He liked Norse rune casting, appeals to the Norse gods, shamanistic nature magic, and the zodiac. I could bore you with details of what all that meant, but I want to assure you that just like the list of drugs, that’s just a sample of what I knew about.
So when I read the scripture that says pharmakeia is a work of the flesh? I get it and I get it better than many.
I know many people who dabble in magic. I know so many people who dabble in drugs. And I can say that there is a definite connection between the two. Because the heart is the same for both. The heart that says, “I ought to rely on this mind-altering substance,” and the heart that says, “I ought to trust in this false god,” are the same. Both are forms of selfish idolatry. The drug is a shortcut to an artificial state of being. The magic is a shortcut to an artificial state of faith.
Both reject God. Both take the thing God desires to do for us away from Him and places it squarely into our grubby hands.
And then I hear the building cries of “But what about Tylenol, maaaan? What about coffee, maaaan?” (I hear that in Tommy Chong’s voice, for your information.) This post isn’t about the legality or illegality of drugs or the proper use of medicine. It’s about trusting in drugs or trusting in magic for things that the heart should trust in Jesus for.
Jesus doesn’t say, “Your life must be unenjoyable to be holy.” He never said that enjoying things in this world, including things like wine, is sin. He did say there is a place where our hearts diverge and fall. There is a place where I want to replace God with things that are like God or provide me with things God wants to give me. And I am certainly guilty of this kind of sin. And when I fail to put my trust in Jesus and instead choose to trust in a false god? In those moments, in recognizing them, I have to remember and return to the first of Martin Luther’s first thesis:
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”
My father turned to everything except Jesus. He hated God. He hated Him with enthusiasm and glee. He wanted nothing more than to destroy even the tiniest seeds of belief in others. He wasn’t just an agnostic or an athiest, he was an antitheist and, somehow, a practitioner of magic. His way, his heart, were and are examples to me of how not to be. They stand as a warning to me and a reminder that without God, who I really would be.
And no, maybe you don’t read tarot or the zodiac or cast bones or read entrails. Maybe you avoid caffeine and aspirin and everything of the sort. But the heart that trusts in anything over and above Jesus is, at its core, pleading to save itself. It’s declaring its works, of the flesh mind you, superior to and more worthy than the salvation God freely offers.
I can’t promise this will be my final post this week, but hey, maybe it will be. It’s only Wednesday.