House: A Reflection on the ‘Free-Will’ of an Addict

On the critically-acclaimed medical-mystery drama television show House, the lead character, Dr. Gregory House, heads a small team of diagnosticians in solving anomalies other doctors wouldn’t dare to consider. The core irony of this show is that Dr. House, who is professionally responsible for the care of hurting people, is himself blunt, sarcastic, irreverent, distrusting of others, and generally anti-social. House’s one shining virtue is his medical brilliance with which he can apparently diagnose and eventually cure virtually every patient he encounters. As presented from the beginning of the series in episode after episode, the one thing that House truly loves– the one thing that drives him– is solving medical mysteries. In contrast with his keen mind, House’s body suffers from a severe disability– before the series began, House had dead muscle removed from his right leg after an infarction caused his quadriceps in that leg to become necrotic. Due to this infarction and subsequent muscle removal, House is dependent upon a cane and suffers from constant pain. In order to deal with the pain, House takes the prescription narcotic Vicodin. During the three seasons the show has been on the air thus far, the viewer has been lead to various reactions concerning House’s use of Vicodin. In the earliest shows, the viewer recognizes that House needs Vicodin to cope with his pain, and it seems sort of funny that the character tends to take his medication in front of patients, gulping the pills down with no water. Then it becomes apparent that House takes Vicodin a lot. The question is raised as to whether House may be addicted to the drug. Then the drug is taken away and House goes into detox, after which he admits he is addicted, but he will not admit that his addiction is a serious problem. This addiction eventually becomes a rival motivation for the character. As previously mentioned, at the beginning of the series, House’s only love is the thrill he gets from solving medical mysteries. As the show progresses, House also realizes he loves the feeling he gets from Vicodin, and this second love comes to endanger the first because he begins to take the drug constantly and illegally, attracting the notice of a policeman that he has insulted in a medical clinic. House narrowly beats a drug charge brought against him by this policeman, and at the end of the last show that has aired so far, House is in a jail cell (serving a one day sentence for contempt of court) taking Vicodin that he has smuggled in. At this point in the show, the viewer can only conclude that the word “junkie” is the most appropriate description of what House has become.

While trying to beat the drug charges mentioned above, House checks into rehab and engages in a kind of twelve-step program, the first three steps of which are depicted as: admitting the problem, accepting there is a higher power, and surrendering the will to the higher power. During the show “Words and Deeds,” House has the following conversation with his rehab counselor:

Counselor: The first step in recovery…

House: Is admitting I have a problem. I’ve obviously done that, or I wouldn’t be here. I’ve even embraced step two: I’ve accepted that there is a higher power… where I start to butt up against is step three: surrendering my will to this higher power… my free-will, I never leave home without it.

Counselor: Kind of like your pills?

Now, the irony of this conversation should be readily apparent. House protests, basically, that he does not want to lose his ‘free-will.’ But, as glaringly obvious from all his actions, House has no ‘free-will’ to lose. His will is entirely enslaved to his drug addiction.

In a similar way, most people today place great value upon the idea of each person having a ‘free-will,’ while failing to see that our ‘free-will’ has already been lost. The fact is, like House, we have all made wrong choices and allowed ourselves to become entangled in an unhealthy lifestyle to our own detriment, causing pain to others. And, due to faults of our own, we cannot extricate ourselves from these wrong choices, which will eventually lead to our death. Most people reading this are probably not addicted to drugs or alcohol, but we do all share one common addiction– an addiction when, if fully realized, makes any idea of ‘free-will’ to be as contemptible as the situation demonstrated in the above dialogue from House. This addiction is an addiction to sin. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23 HCSB). And, having sinned, we have all become addicted– enslaved to our own wrong decisions– as Jesus teaches, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (Jn. 8:34 HCSB). Our consciences bear witness to the fact that we have all sinned, for everyone reading this knows that we have lied when we should have told the truth, we know that we have reacted in selfish anger towards others when we should have acted in mercy and kindness, we know that we have disobeyed or disrespected our parents when we should have honored them, and we know that we have looked upon others with self-seeking lust when we should have loved in purity. These wrong choices are not only insulting and harmful to other people, but they are ultimately an offense against God. For God, as the Sovereign Creator of the universe, with the absolute right to command His creatures according to His wishes, has given us commands for His glory and for our good. These commands– such as, “You shall not bear false witness…,” “You shall not murder,” “Honor your father and your mother,” “You shall not commit adultery,” etc. (cf. Exodus 20:1-17)– are reflections of God’s holy character. For God Himself is the Truth and is opposed to all lying, He is the Merciful Redeemer, He is our heavenly Father who should be honored, He is the Faithful One to His people. Breaking the commands of this only eternal God earns us eternal condemnation– punishment in Hell forever for our sins against Him.

Upon realizing these spiritual truths, many people begin to think, ‘Well then, I’ve got to change my life– I’ve got to stop sinning.’ But the problem goes far deeper than something that can possibly be corrected by a mere decision to do better. As mentioned above, sin is something that is instantly enslaving, or addictive. So think back to the example of a drug addict: an addict uses drugs because he loves the feelings the drugs give him or else he feels that he cannot cope with life without drugs. In the same way, sinners commit offenses against God because they love the feelings given by breaking God’s commands– feelings of relief from consequences when a successful lie is told, feelings of self-righteous anger, feelings of daring when parents are disobeyed, feelings of the forbidden passions of lust, etc– or else they sin because they think they cannot cope with life without falling short of God’s standards. An addict becomes defined by his addiction– no matter how hard he fights against it, his whole life revolves around his drug of choice. In the same way, sinners become defined by their sin– no matter how hard they may try to do good things, their whole existence revolves around exalting themselves and dishonoring God. And so sinners can find no help against sin by appealing to a concept of ‘free-will,’ for the problem of sin goes to the very core of their character; as the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick-who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9 HCSB) And Jesus said, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies” (Mt. 15:19 HCSB). So what sinners need is a new heart, a new core to their character– something only God can give.

The Good News is that God Himself has intervened in order to solve this dilemma we’ve gotten ourselves into– the dilemma of enslavement to sin. Though God was under no obligation to help us out from the mess we’re in– though He would have been perfectly just in fully punishing us for our sins– God loved Creation in this way: He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). As explored above, we cannot simply help ourselves out of the problem of our addiction to sin, but Jesus declares, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36 NKJV). Jesus, in His death on the Cross, took the punishment deserved by sinners, taking our sin upon Himself (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). This is why Jesus cried out from the Cross, saying, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:26b NKJV). At that time, Jesus, who is eternally God the Son, bore the eternal wrath of God against sin on behalf of all who would believe in Him. Jesus was buried and raised again on the third day, conquering sin and death, and offering eternal life to all who place their faith in Him.

So, basically, my challenge to anyone reading this post is, “Don’t be like House.” Don’t pretend that you don’t have any addiction, because you do. We all do. We’re all either sin junkies or recovering sin junkies and we all need a radical intervention if we are to be cured. So don’t pretend that there is some ‘free-will’ that you need to hold on to. You may think that if you believe the Good News and submit your life to God that you will no longer be able to do the things you want. But, as I hope you’ve seen from what you’ve read above, the things you desire to do– the sinful things that seem to bring pleasure– are, in fact, enslaving you and will one day cause you to be condemned for eternity by God. So cry out to God for mercy and trust in Him to change you, believing in Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life. Only God can give you a new heart so that you hate sin and love Him as you ought.

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5 Comments on “House: A Reflection on the ‘Free-Will’ of an Addict”

  1. George Rank Says:

    Thanks much for the great insights and teaching. I hope you don’t mind but I will be using the examples you have given when sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    Exactly. Good post.

  3. Jordan Says:

    I would have to agree, Jeremy.


  4. I watch House…but I didn’t see that episode…I wish I did…I think it is interesting that he describes the Higher Power as his own free will. Free Will is his God. I guess a name could be given to this defense of Free Will….Free Will Apologetics. Anyway, I enjoyed this post.

  5. Kevin Rhyne Says:

    Great post. I saw the same episode and didn’t pull that from it. Not everybody’s brain turns off when they watch TV, I see.


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