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I am guilty of oversimplifying issues at times:

  • “If people would simply drive like me, life on the road would be so much better.”
  • “A spoonful of sugar helps not only the medicine go down but just about everything else—including oatmeal!”
  • “If everybody would cough and sneeze into a tissue or their elbow rather than their hand, or worse, into the thin air, the world would be a much less sick place.” (I’m a germaphobe!)
  • “When putting together your wardrobe for the day, simply put same colors together—blues on blue, browns on brown, etc.” (According to my wife, however, color coordination is not that simple. One day after walking through the front door of our home, Lori gave me the ‘look’ and asked, “You didn’t wear that to work today, did you?!” to which I replied, “No, I just put this on in the garage!” Apparently putting together two different colors of green made me look like a lime-sickle.)

Most of us know that life can’t be reduced to the law of mere cause-and-effect: “A person reaps what he sows.” The Job of the Bible found out the awful truth that things are not as clear-cut as we might hope. Most of us have also discovered that “Easy” doesn’t “do it”—at least for anything that really matters (e.g., marriage, health, career, finances, etc.). Those who struggle with weight know all too well that there is no single silver bullet to dropping pounds despite what marketing gurus say. Those of you who lived in the 80s probably remember Nancy Reagan’s campaign against drugs, Just Say No. Any addict who has tried to get clean would likely be the first to wonder what she was smoking when she said that.

If only life was as simple as elementary arithmetic.

Addiction is complex. There are many factors that contribute to alcoholism and substance use disorder—biological, psychological, social, systemic, spiritual, etc. Addiction-recovery is also complex. It’s not as simple as just saying “No” or getting saved or working through one’s childhood issues.

But at the risk of contradicting everything I have said, I want to make a bold statement: The cause, consequence, and cure of addiction are all related to one thing—love. 

In fact, every problem on the planet reduced to its lowest common denominator is connected to love. Whether international war, global warming, environmental concerns, systemic racism, sex trafficking, corporate fraud, governmental corruption, unfair trade policies, divorce, gluttony, lying, pornography, sexual immorality, and addiction, etc., . . . all woes stem from lovelessness. 

I know that is a sweeping claim and a broad generalization. But I believe it is true.

Just as there is no power greater than love, so there is no greater force for ‘ill and evil’ than lack of love.

The less grounded we are in love—individually and collectively (as a family, business, nation)—the more insecure, anxious, greedy, unhappy, restricted, unimaginative, unforgiving, and self-centered we become. Nothing good happens outside the sphere of love.

People who know and feel the infinite love of God act differently than those who don’t have that understanding and personal assurance.

Father Richard Rohr shares a conversation he once had with a professional that illustrates this point. “I once met a psychiatrist who made a statement to me that I thought at first was an overstatement. He’s older than I am, and he said, ‘Richard, at the end of your life, you’ll realize that every mentally ill person you’ve ever worked with is basically lonely.’ ‘Oh, come on, that’s a little glib, isn’t it?’ I replied. ‘Oh, I admit, there are probably physical reasons for some mental illness, but loneliness is what activates it.’”

Rohr continues, “I’ve run this theory by several psychiatrist friends. After they get over their initial stunned objection—‘Oh, come on. That’s too simple’—they agree! Every case of non physiologically based mental illness stems from a person who has been separated, cut off, living alone.”

What is true of mental illness is also true of anyone suffering from any life-controlling issue. A failure to receive love is the ultimate cause of addiction.

But there’s more. The inability to love is the ultimate consequence of addiction.

Addiction leads to many tragic outcomes—from criminal activity to self-harm, ruined relationships to loss of employment, traffic accidents to homelessness, etc. We all get that. Addiction messes with our mind, our body, our spirit and makes us do things we later regret.

It turns us into less loving people.  

The one who is addicted becomes increasingly incapable of loving. Unhealthy attachments (e.g., drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, gaming, food, Netflix, ESPN, shopping, exercise, etc.) distract us and divert our attention away from our fundamental moral duty—to love others. Our vices turn us inward. They impede our capacities to see, feel, and do, . . . robbing us of the effective strength and discernment necessary for fully loving others.

But just as the cause and consequences of addiction are directly linked to love, so is the cure.

Recovery rests upon the reception of love. This should not surprise us. Love is life. Separation from love is death. It is that simple (and profound).

God’s love is the cure of every addiction. We are as happy, whole, and holy as we are living in divine love. Perfect love not only casts out fear, it drives away every life-restricting force. St. Paul wrote, “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8). Being rooted and established in the love of God frees us from destructive, self-serving habits and moves us to joyfully love and lay down our lives for others. We choose and act well insofar as our hearts come alive to God’s love (see Eph. 3:17).

To that end, true addiction-recovery is a journey into the depths of God’s unfathomable, inexhaustible love found centrally in Christ crucified. At the cross God demonstrates his unsurpassable love for us (Rom. 5:8). As we appropriate and let the truth of our Belovedness (a term used by the late Henri Nouwen) seep into every pore of our being (the journey of a lifetime, in fact, an eternity!) we are changed. Love transforms the soul.

The purpose of medicine, therapy, anger-management courses, stress reduction techniques, communication skills training, spiritual disciplines, physical education, creating healthy boundaries, etc. is to both remove blockages and make greater space in our lives to receive God’s love.

To the degree we take in Love—love which is principally mediated through flesh, Christ’s body (i.e., you and me)—we become more loving.

One of the practices in the recovery world is to keep track of the number of days one has clean. For instance, someone might say, “I’m twenty-eight days sober!” While that is certainly something worth celebrating, we remind our residents that being clean is not the end—it is the means to the end. So we suggest that they say something like “I’m twenty-eight days sober, and thirteen days loving!”

True recovery always makes a person more loving.

In the great love chapter found in 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that the end game is not speaking in tongues, prophesying untold mysteries, moving mountains, giving ourselves to the flames, or in addiction-recovery terms, being drug and alcohol free. We can achieve all these things, but if we don’t have love, it is worthless. We are nothing and “gain nothing” (13:3).

So if we are going to love well, we need the power that comes from experiencing God’s love. John the Apostle states, “Love comes from God. . . We love because he first loved us” (see 1 Jn. 4:7, 19). As we dwell in God’s presence, abiding in the dynamic flow of Love, we will bear the fruit of the Spirit, beginning with love (see Gal. 5:22-23). 

Loving well also requires training. We will have to learn the skills of forgiveness, hospitality, empathy, active listening, peace-making, etc. This takes practice and effort mixed with a lot of grace. To love well is to love like Jesus, cruciform in its shape. John writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 Jn. 3:16).

We can’t afford to get this wrong. We were made out of love, in love, and for love. The more we live in love, the more human and the more aligned to God’s goals we become.

God has a mission because God is love. And he calls you and I to join with him in his mission, a reconciling ministry that can be captured in one profound word, . . . love!

It is that simple. 

And radical.

“These three remain: faith, hope, and love,
but the greatest of these is love.”
(1 Corinthians 13:13)


  • Shawn says:

    Where do you feel obedience to God plays in our ability to love all others? If Jn 14:15 says if you love me , you will obey Me, and if Peter says it’s a true indicator that we love Him…, then isn’t obedience to Him, His commandments, necessary to expressing true Godly love to everyone? We believers all know the “greatest” command of all, (Mark 12:30-31) Seems to me, you can’t have true Godly love for anything or anyone without it. Just a thought. I’m an amateur in the field of theological thought, so feel free to correct my thought.

    • Hi Shawn. Since you bring up John 14, maybe there is only one command we are to obey (found in John 15!). Jesus told us that if we would abide in him and his words in us, that we would not only bear much fruit, but fruit that would last. Living in loving union with Christ will automatically turn us into lovers! Blessings!

  • Bruce Garner says:

    Jeff, You might be interested in the book “Loving To Know” by Esther Lightcap Meek. her premise is that all real knowledge (not information) is based in love.

  • Christina Morgan says:

    Deeply profoundly truly “simple.”

  • Gary schoenberg says:

    Brother Jeff.i love your insight onlove. So so so true.remember that old song. What the world needs now is love God’s love. Its the only thing that theirs just too little of.So you bro and your family

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