I don’t know Thomas Kinkade’s art well, and it does not especially appeal to my tastes, but I do know that he was a big deal in certain Christian circles. And since since his death last week–apparently at least partly related to an alcohol relapse–I have been struck at how the secular news reports and those from Christian sources each try to separate out what was apparently inseparable in Kinkade: the fact that he was both a man of Christian faith and at the same time deeply broken and addicted. The secular media, such as the LA Times, seem to point to Kinkade’s inner struggles to suggest that there was something missing in, even hypocritical about, his life as a Christian, while the Christian reports take the attitude that he just must not have been trusting Jesus enough.
Both approaches badly misunderstand both the nature of faith, and the nature of addiction. As I have tried to elaborate in this blog, there are two things that are wholly true about the intersection of faith and addiction: first, addiction is a powerful disease, fatal if unchecked, and no amount of willpower–as that idea is traditionally understood–can cure it, even when that willpower is brought by a Christian; and, second, Christians, even more than other people, should never be surprised when one of our brothers or sisters gets snared by the hooks of alcoholism or other addiction, relapses, or otherwise struggles in these areas. After all, one of the things we know most centrally about ourselves is that we are drawn to Christ because of a sense of brokenness, emptiness or incompleteness in our lives. Who more, then, than the addicted might better understand the need for God in the healing person of Christ?
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, said our Lord. Yet how often we forget this in our shallow, non-biblical fantasies about what the “good life” in Christ is supposed to look like. The hard fact is that Thomas Kinkade apparently carried within himself the brokenness of addiction, and it killed him. Sad as that may be, it reminds us that addiction, untreated and unchecked, is a fatal disease. That is as true for talented and famous Christians as it is for skid-row drifters.