Not too long ago, comedian Fred Armisen of SNL fame parodied the intense cable television reality show Intervention by staging a faux one for himself … for watching too much Intervention. It was fun to watch (my favorite moment captured the height of his addiction and denial—“I watch only about one or two episodes a day,” said Fred, as the text “Fred watches up to 21 episodes of Intervention a day” appeared at the bottom of the screen), and it captured the deep interest that hooks so many viewers.
Intervention, now in its eighth season on the A&E network, is one of its highest-rated shows. It documents the life of a person struggling with addiction and lets the viewers watch as their friends and family members, who have exhausted every means available to them, offer their loved one a chance to fully recover, sending them to rehabilitation centers specifically focused on their addictions.
The show itself is absolutely arresting television, sending a message of hope alongside a thrill of will they/won’t they go storytelling. For Christians, the show brings to our minds what keeps us closely tethered to our faith—and helps us bring our relationship to God into sharper focus.
We’re the Ones in Need
Although Armisen’s gag addressed a very real reason why viewers might tune in to the show (most viewers are not addicts, and they might feel better about themselves by looking in on someone who is in a lower position from them socially, physically, economically, etc.), most viewers may be drawn to Intervention because they see themselves sitting on that couch, in that chair, sandwiched between the loving, yet anxious, people who love them. Sure, they may not all be addicts in the physical sense, but the notion of needing others can be an extremely dominant emotion.
If you are a Christian, you have sat on that couch. It could’ve been before you were baptized. It could’ve been long after; it could’ve been last week. There has always been a point in time for a Christian before they had an understanding of Him permeate their lives so deeply. There’s been some sin we couldn’t shake; there’s been a flaw we’ve felt defines us. We know what a life without Christ is like: torturous, empty and hurtful. And, because all Christian believers are human beings, there will again be a time when you will be back on the couch, feeling beaten, feeling alone. You will sin again, and you will feel far from God again.
Christianity is a faith that necessitates continual conversion, lest we get too comfortable in our lives of faith. And when we find ourselves feeling like we know nothing when it comes to God, we will need help.
God, the Interventionist
As each episode progresses, one of two of the show’s interventionists, trained psychologists who are equipped to handle the addict’s reactions and who have an understanding of the inner workings of the addict’s minds, meet privately with the addict’s family members. They explain how the intervention will proceed and cautions them that sometimes, if the addict still believes he or she can continue to live their destructive lives, they will reject the help that is offered to them.
Each interventionist does a fine job on the show; they are knowledgeable and have facilitated a great deal of successful interventions where the addict does agree to go to treatment, but each has a different style. Candy Finnigan, herself a recovered addict, meets each addict with compassion, gently guiding them toward the offer of help with a personal understanding of where they’ve been. Jeff VanVonderen, who is a recovering alcoholic, is more frank, pulling no punches when he describes to the addict and their loved ones the dark consequences that will occur if the addict continues their behavior.
Those who are faithful have seen in God’s Word where He exhibits the same compassion and understanding Candy utilizes in her interventions. They have also read of the tough-love compassion that is similar to Jeff’s. Yes, God has shared in our suffering, but He can also refuse to coddle us in our self-pity.
God “intervened” for us through Jesus when we were irreconcilable to God after the Fall. He sent the Holy Spirit to be our advocates, and He knows our hearts, what is most necessary for us to hear. Sometimes He speaks to us in dulcet tones, calling to us to minister to someone who needs our help. Sometimes, though, He chastizes us, reminding us that although sometimes we forget it, God is God and we are not. And without Him and His offers of grace, we can do nothing.
The Importance of Community
A recovering addict cannot live in a vacuum—they need support, guidance, honesty, and understanding from people other than themselves to succeed in sobriety. Christians are no different, if they want to live a good life of faith. This is something Jesus understood; although He spent a great deal of time alone in prayer, He surrounded Himself with people who supported Him, who did not leave Him. Even in His last moments of prayer He kept Peter, James, and John close by Him; and He was not alone in His death because of the fidelity and loyalty of those who loved Him.
Church exists for a reason, whether you spend it in a large stadium church in the city or a small parish at the other end of town. We find what we need in each other, we lift each other up. We remind each other of the goodness of God, and help each other see Him when He is invisible to our own eyes. Part of the reason why Intervention‘s format works so well is that it gathers together people who are close to the addict, helping them realize that although they may feel the most alone they’ve ever felt in their life, the opposite is true: a community, a family, is there for them.
The Gift of Hope
Because Intervention is a reality show, not everyone accepts the offer of treatment. Even those who do sometimes can’t handle it, leaving their treatment centers after a day or two. Their world, as sick and as fragile as it was, has been shattered, and they despair.
“Will you accept this gift we give to you today?” asks a sister, a mother, a friend, their eyes searching and hoping.
“Will you accept this gift I give to you today?” He asks us, speaking of His grace and salvation, there for us each time we fall.
I always hold my breath in those last few minutes of every episode, hoping they will say yes—and succeed. Maybe that’s how I picture God, too, watching over us, wanting for us to make our way through days literally bursting with temptation.