Easter, 2016. A sunrise service and two wonderful resurrection celebrations. Afterwards, I had Easter dinner with the family, then my wife and I travelled to a hospital in Dallas. We spent the afternoon and evening with friends whose son had overdosed on fentanyl the night before.
I’m happy to report that he has recovered physically and is fighting to recover from his addictions. Like many others in our community, he could use your prayers and your support of recovery programs.
Texas, like the nation, faces an opioid crisis. According to the latest data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 1,375 deaths from opioids related overdoses in our state in 2016. That is 4.9 deaths per 100,000 (better than the national average of 13.3). Though Texas fares better, the numbers continue to rise. In 2015, Texas physicians wrote 58 opioids prescriptions per 100 persons (70 was the national average). [Source: DrugAbuse.org]
That this is truly an “epidemic” can be seen in the fact that our polarized congress pushed through political, election-season gridlock to sign a sweeping bipartisan opioids bill promised and signed by President Trump [Source: DentonRC.com]. Since we haven’t seen much “crossing of the aisles” lately, this must be serious.
Texas is at work, too. Two weeks ago I spoke about this issue with Dr. Lynn Stucky, House Representative for District 64. He, too, used the word “epidemic.” When I asked what was being done, he described the House Committee on Opioids and Substance Abuse. Although Dr. Stucky is not a member of the committee, he told me he and his staff are watching closely.
The committee is examining connections between opioids abuse and mental illness, especially related to veterans and the homeless. They’re reviewing prescription monitoring programs and policy guidelines of state-funded health agencies. They’re examining how opioids abuse has effected law enforcement, first responders, hospital emergency department personnel, and ultimately the Texas economy. From these studies, legislation will be formulated (Interim Committee Charges, Texas House of Representatives 85th Legislature).
They have their work cut out for them and they need our encouragement and prayers. Texas’ best minds in Austin will do well at analyzing and gauging the cost of opioids abuse in our state, but it is doubtful they will reach a solution. For that goes beyond the physical.
To understand the problem, we need to go way back in history…to God’s creation of humans. Though each of us is fundamentally one being, we each have several constituent parts: spirit, body, and soul. These three aspects can be seen in the creation account: “…the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed (ruach, Hebrew for spirit) into his nostrils (physical body) the breath of life, and the man became a living being (nephesh, Hebrew for soul) (Genesis 2:7).”
We are spiritual beings, contained in bodies, who have souls (minds, wills, and emotions). In other words, the human is first and foremost spiritual. This spiritual nature leads us to desire connection with the Divine. “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee,” says St. Augustine. Pascal claims we have an “infinite abyss” that can only be filled by God himself. Whether we realize it or not, we search to fill this void.
This spiritual being his “housed” in a physical body that needs food, water, and shelter in order to survive. The Apostle Paul called this a “tent”…a temporary dwelling place: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in…(2 Corinthians 5:1).” In other words, this world (and this physical body) is not our forever home, but temporary. God has more for us.
Finally, within this being is a soul – our mind, our will, and our emotions. Out of all the creatures God created, only humans, created in His image, can think, can make deliberative, moral decisions, and can feel emotions.
Yet we are broken. In theological terms, we’re fallen. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s original design for us (Rom. 3:23). In a sense, our sin has led us to re-prioritized. We’ve downplayed our spiritual makeup and overplayed our soulish and physical natures.
In some cases, we put souls as our first priority. We’re driven by our intellect or our stubbornness guides us. Maybe it’s our emotions, whether good or bad, that dictate life for us. In other cases it is physical pleasure, our desire for comfort and wealth, which are our priorities.
The intimate connection between the three means that when one is damaged, they all feel the effects. “Soul-crushing” news affects one’s health. Abuse or violence harms much more than just the body. And that’s why solutions to our opioids crisis cannot neglect the spiritual aspect of humans.
When we are spiritually “restless” (Augustine) or have a “God-shaped hole” we’re trying to fill (Pascal) and we don’t know where to look for solutions, so we often turn to physical or emotional comfort because it is the easiest “solution.” We self-medicate to numb the pain, worry, doubt, and distress.
We’re broken. The Bible shows this. Mental health statistics show this. The statistics in the rise of opioids abuse shows this. A good government can help stem the tide, but it can’t solve the problem. The answer is found in a loving God who says:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).”