How many TV shows/movies have those gruesome scenes where people try to patch up their own injuries? A couple that come to mind are the opening scene from The Bourne Ultimatum and the arm-cutting-off scene from 127 Hours. In the first, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) patches up a gunshot wound in a dank bathroom. In the second, Aron Ralston (James Franco) cuts his own arm off with a pocket knife after it had been trapped between (literally) a rock and a hard place for, you guessed it, 127 hours.
Those scenes are the ultimate example of “self-medication” in a way we don’t normally see it or think about that phrase “self-medication.” Self-medication can either be something incredibly helpful, like Bourne or Ralston, or incredibly destructive.
We do a lot of damage to ourselves as people. We make bad decisions, we choose harmful actions, we pick harsh words, we do a lot of bad things to ourselves and to others. It’s part of what it means to be a sinner, to be someone who disregards what living an obedient life looks like.
I believe that, in a sense, there’s only so much self-harm we can avoid. We can fight against it, but as sinners, we are bound to do things that disappoint and dismay us.
So what do we do? We self-medicate. We see a hurt or a need that we have, and we find our own ways to medicate, to fix.
We are depressed/frustrated/sad/disappointed/upset. So we eat terrible food and drink sugary drinks to try to calm the pain in our head and our hearts. We try to find quick fix ways to feel good, feel better. I do this.
Just yesterday, I was feeling down about something and thought, “You know, some chicken tenders from Zaxby’s would be delicious right now. And some fries. Heck, throw a soda in there too.” I used to eat that all the time. Most of the time, it was to fill some sort of hole in my life caused by bad decisions I had made, whether that was something small or something big.
But as I considered that as my only lunch option on the way to work, a piece of Scripture came to mind.
And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32)
Levi, another name for Matthew, was a tax collector, a pariah, whom Jesus made a disciple. And the Pharisees got all up in arms, questioning Jesus’ choice to hang out with these sinners. Jesus says, “Look, I’m here to help those who are sick. I’m here to love and help and heal the sinners.”
So often, I end up self-medicating my self-hurts. I try to find my own way to fix my mistakes and my poor choices. But I will find no true help in that self-medication. Only Jesus can truly help me, can truly heal me.
That’s the whole reason He did what He did! He came to call sinners to repentance, came to call those who knew they needed help, knew they were hurting and choosing all the wrong ways to find help. Jesus lived and died and rose again so that I, in my long search for medication, could find relief for each and every sin I commit, every mistake I make, in the blood of the cross, the grace of the Gospel.
But I choose my own ways.
Something has happened in America where we don’t trust doctors. When they give us an opinion we don’t like, we go to another doctor. Eventually, we settle on one we like. I do the same thing when I try over and over again to find a Band-Aid for my self-hurts.
The only true healing comes from Jesus, comes from believing the grace of the Gospel, comes from choosing to trust His Words, comes from resting in His love and care for me. He’s the kind of doctor I can trust.