Dispensing (With) Sin
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
February 5, 2008 - A medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, California is now equipped with an automated pot vending machine. According to a recent story on NPR, the “large, black and heavily armored” machine is equipped with security features that rely on “a unique system that identifies the patient via a swipe card and biometric finger scan.”
Since 1996, the state of California has made legal allowances for the medicinal use of marijuana provided that one has a physician’s “recommendation” – n.b. not a prescription. The new pot dispenser allows “patients” with a doctor’s “recommendation” to fill their regular allotments with all the convenience of a modern ATM.
Beyond issues related to the morality and legality of drug use, the presence of this new contraption is instructive because of what it reflects about our culture. First, we value efficiency and convenience. Thus, wherever there is a way to increase efficiency and convenience, there will be an entrepreneur with the will to find it. Yet, we value efficiency and convenience because they are means to what we take to be the most important end – namely, the pursuit of psychological happiness.
The pot-dispensing vending machine is the ideal representation of these cultural values. Consider, for example, Robert Miko, an enthusiast for the new machine who is taking marijuana for anger management. Miko says that when he’s not on pot, he “surly and violent.” When high, however, “I'm friendlier, I'm compassionate, I'm not angry, I love people. I look at life and I love life,” says Miko. There you have it. Complete psychological well-being at the touch of a few buttons!
While Christians should take seriously both the damaging psychological (and sometimes, physiological) effects of sin as well as modern medicine’s power to serve as a salve for such wounds, we should be cognizant of the subtle ways in which the assumptions of our therapeutic culture can erode our confidence in the Gospel.
It is not accidental that when Jesus Christ came proclaiming the reality of the kingdom of God that his ministry was marked by powerful acts of physical and psychological healing. The blind saw, the lame walked, seizures ceased, and demons were cast out. Yet, as marvelous as these signs were, they were merely a by-product of a deeper reality. Sins were forgiven!
The power of the Gospel resounds so eloquently in the words of Charles Wesley’s famous hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”
He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
The power of sin and all of its psychological effects can ultimately only be broken by the Gospel – the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. One cannot dispense with sin with even the most sophisticated of dispensers.