Back in the mid-eighties, when I was in seminary, I remember hearing a song by Huey Lewis and The News called "I want a new drug." It was really insightful and I considered the lyrics to have a theological application. The lyrics went like this:
I want a new drug - one that won't make me sick,
One that won't make me crash my car, or make me feel three feet thick.
I want a new drug - one that won't hurt my head,
One that won't make my mouth too dry, or make my eyes too red.
I want a new drug - one that won't spill.
One that don't cost too much, or come in a pill.
I want a new drug - one that won't go away,
One that won't keep me up all night, one that won't make me sleep all day.
I want a new drug - one that does what it should,
One that won't make me feel too bad,
One that won't make me feel too good.
I want a new drug - one with no doubt,
One that won't make me nervous, wonderin' what to do.
The words to the song point to the desire for something that will cure what ails him (or us) yet not have any of the side effects; provide the feeling that nothing had been taken at all, leaving the person feeling normal, content.
I have encountered a version of Christianity that views Jesus as a drug that makes everything perfect in the heart of the believer, albeit no one who holds such a view would ever call Jesus a drug. Still, there is the idea that everything--relationships, work, health, (sometimes even parking spaces) everything--in one's life should be perfect and the believer should be happy. The theology has Jesus as the new drug that makes this come true. And if there is any unhappiness or disease or incongruity with one's life and the idea of being perfectly happy because of Jesus, then something is wrong, the person isn't faithful and pure of heart; the person is not doing it right, hasn't fully allowed Jesus to be Lord in his or her life. I know of people who were a part of such communities that advocate such a belief and yet someone in the group was stricken with cancer and when he or she was not healed, then they were ostracized.
This is a fallacy. Jesus never promised happiness or even healing for those who believe earnestly enough; he promised refuge, he promised deliverance, he promised hope, he promised many things, but not that everything would be perfect and that nothing would go wrong. The beatitudes have sometimes been translated as "happy are those," instead of "blessed are those." Blessed and happy are not the same. They certainly have similarities, but one can be blessed without being happy and the world sells us the drug of happiness that has no blessedness whatsoever. The beatitudes, upon closer look, are about recognizing one's spiritual poverty--that one's pride has been one's downfall--and the humility of being transformed through hardship, trial, and even suffering. That is not the new drug Huey was singing about.
Jesus doesn't take the challenges away or keep us from trials. In truth, the trials are often greater as we grow spiritually. The first trial is dealing with the truth that trials don't disappear with Jesus. For those who experience spiritual highs, this challenge is a real downer. When we have such clarity and purity of heart and purpose, to begin the descent into the questions and doubts and fuzzy areas of faith and practice is disappointing and for some spiritually fatal.
Jesus isn't a new drug. He strips us of all the false armor we have cobbled together to handle life. He wakes us up to the life we've been given, to the full experience. He does not leave us exposed to the hardships without help, but the help offered is not a buffer of some kind, is not a distraction or some manner of nerve block so we aren't fully engaged and involved, but by the Spirit we are given the resources to be conquerors.
Huey Lewis was on to something when he recognized that all the recreational drugs had side-effects that weren't worth the ride. He was on to something by singing of the new drug and it's impossible effect, thus pointing out the ludicrous desire borne in the hurting human heart that hungers for deliverance, but will settle for distraction.
Jesus isn't a drug. He isn't a happy pill. He isn't a wand-waver who favors those who do his bidding. That isn't grace. Grace isn't a new drug either. It may deliver us but as we are delivered all the falsehood is peeled away, pruned, uprooted and burned. It isn't painless--especially for those wanting a new drug--but it's all good.
Huey Lewis ends the song with the words: I want a new drug, one that makes me feel like I feel when I'm with you, when I'm alone with you.
That feeling of being with Jesus is far better than anything else.
© Stephen Carl