The other day, I read TWELVE STEPS IN THE WRONG DIRECTION, which examines the idea of codependency and its roots in Alcoholics Anonymous. It didn’t take long for memories of my involvement in ex-gay ministry, as well as in a church that incorporated psychological principles into its pastoral counseling, to flood my mind. I remembered times when I complied with the use of psychology in these venues, but I also remembered times of questioning whether or not certain concepts were Biblical.
The concept of codependency, in particular, troubled me. In a nutshell, codependency is a loosely defined disorder in which one person is overly affected by the behavior or condition of another person. Originally it referred to someone affected by a loved one’s alcoholism. The codependent person is obsessed either with fixing the loved one or with protecting him/her, usually to the point of sacrificing self. Such self-sacrificial attitudes, according to proponents of this philosophy, denotes psychological deficiencies in the codependent.
Obviously, this blog post doesn’t allow me to fully explain all the intricacies of so-called codependency, so I encourage you to read Codependency, A Biblical View for an overview. But I world like to offer a few comments today on my primary problem with this teaching, hoping to write more detailed articles on the subject in the future.
Fundamentally, I believe that the theory of codependency directly opposes the Bible’s very clear teaching that Christian love demands dying to self (even physically, if necessary) for the benefit of others. Several Scriptures teach this self-sacrificial love, and we can’t look at all of them right now. So let’s examine a passage that I’m currently working through in my personal Bible Study time, and then compare it to things I was taught (and in turn taught others) about codependency.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. ~~1 John 4:7-12 (ESV)
Please notice, first of all, that verse 10 explicitly describes Christ’s death on the cross as the pattern that He wants Christians to imitate in loving others. Verse 11 insists that we follow the Lord’s example. It never makes qualifications, nor does it suggest a figurative application. In fact, the apostle John wrote these words at a time when Christians endured severe persecution, and probably did risk their lives for each other on occasion.
Christian love sacrifices self for other people and for the Lord. Consequently, it makes all levels of sacrifice, always putting self-interest last. At times, of course, godly love refuses to tolerate another person’s sin. But it never elevates personal interest at the expense of somebody else.
When the church I attended reached its height of teaching women to avoid codependent behaviors, I wanted to go to a women’s retreat. I asked a friend to help me with my personal care, remembering a night she had put me to bed and declared that every woman in the church should have the experience of helping me. But she informed me that God had “told” her to devote the weekend to being with Him. Evidently, enabling me to attend the retreat would have encroached on her spiritual well-being, making it necessary for her to set boundaries.
Her decision may have been good psychology. After all, she’d set a boundary protecting her special weekend with the Lord, and she probably received praise from certain leaders in the women’s ministry for not letting me pull her into codependency. Scripturally, however, she failed to die to self.
Teachings about codependency keep Christians from loving as Christ calls us to love. I’ve also been guilty of neglecting a friend’s wedding, claiming that God wanted me to “take care” of myself. Um, no — I was actually just being selfish.
I have much more to tell you about co-dependency and its dangers, but I’ve run out of time today. As you have seen, however, I believe the teaching about it runs counter to the Bible’s teachings on sacrificial love. The cult of co-dependency is but one of many examples of how psychology opposes Biblical Christianity. We must adhere to our Bibles rather than allowing worldly philosophies like psychology to control our actions.