“Addiction is bondage to the rule of a substance, activity, or state of mind, which then becomes the center of life, defending itself from the truth so that even bad consequences don’t bring repentance, and leading to further estrangement from God.”
This is the Biblical definition of addiction per the masterful Christian psychologist Ed Welch. The following review will attempt to emphasize components within this description. Keywords such as bondage and rule are significant. Additionally, I would append desire and control to this explanation – for the purposes of clarity and comprehension.
Each Desire Is A Watershed Moment
“I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do” (Romans 7:18-19).
Ed Welch gently lines up the culprit of addiction in his crosshairs: broadly, it’s sin; more specifically, it’s desire.
He also makes it clear from jump street that practically nobody disagrees with the fact that addictions exist. The descriptions of the phenomenon, what we see, is unanimously agreed upon. It’s real. (I doubt anyone would actually question this but you never know!)
Even Saint Paul two thousand years ago recognized this beast within himself when he penned the famous epistle to the Romans (quote above). His desires were inconsistent or subdued by something beyond him. His explanation? A sin-nature, he likened to internal slavery. Think of it as being held hostage in your own body – nightmarish.
However, this where the discord usually rears its ugly head within the addictions discussions – what’s the explanation? This book offers its own explanation – and, hold the applause, it’s Biblical.
Substances? Behaviors? What Is Addiction?
For starters, Welch takes a broad view of addiction, referring to a myriad of behaviors and substances. He attempts in a sweeping fashion to target the source of it all:
- What drives addictions?
- What is it about being human that leaves us so vulnerable to be dramatically overrun by certain desires?
The answer to these questions vary, but the Bible is unequivocally clear: its Idolatry. Yes, this word is overloaded with cultural baggage which the author cautiously but brilliantly treads. You might even be wondering “what the heck is idolatry?” Sounds very archaic – you know, fire and brimstone kind of stuff. But don’t complicate it, it’s solely worship of anything other than God.
Same Stuff, Different Day
In recovery circles, it’s often remarked that anything you out before you’re recovery you will lose. Your recovery is jealous in that way. This is just the old concept of idolatry re-established to meet a cultural need. Keep it simple. For Welch, recovery means a relationship with God.
To illustrate, he writes,
“When you look at it closely, drunkenness is a lordship problem. Who is your master, God or your desires? Do you desire God above all else, or do you desire something on creation more than you desire the Creator? At root, drunkards are worshipping another God – alcohol.” Nonetheless, at its core alcohol is simply used as a prop on the altar of self-worship. Welch concludes, “Heavy drinkers drink neither to glorify God nor to love their neighbor. They drink to indulge their own desires, whether those desires are pleasure, freedom from pain, alleviation of fear, forgetting, vengeance, or a host of others.”
He by no means denies the reality of the addict “being taken” by a substance or behavior – that is, the will being hijacked and overrun.
However, he retorts that all sins have a payout – it’s how they work, it’s their pernicious currency if you will. Therefore, he notes, “It is just to say that, for the addict, slavery with the object of desire, is sometimes preferable to freedom without it ”
This certainly aligns with the all too frequent mantra reckoned from the lips of addicts: I’m not afraid of dying, but I’m terrified of living.
Thus, to Welch, the conundrum of addiction is in desires not genes. It is fear, not chemical imbalances. It’s more or less adultery – betraying our spiritual nature and prostituting ourselves for what works at the moment with no regard for ourselves, others, or the future.
Is Sin Moral Disobedience Or Slavery Of Volition?
He then argues from the twofold framework of sin that is admittedly one-sided in mainstream Christianity. Usually, one thinks of sin, as disobedience to God. Welch doesn’t refute this. He rather fills out the definition – sin, he claims, is also blinding power, enslaving, and controlling.
Moreover, this slavery is intentional, we satisfy our “wants” and in doing so voluntarily give ourselves over to the lordship of the object of our desire.
What Is Lordship?
From the Christian perspective to be human is to be a vassal – which is more or less a servant. In the ancient Near East, this was common practice e.g. suzerainty-vassal treaties (covenants).
I’m sure you’re aware of the Old and New Covenants aka testaments aka treaties. The entirety of Judeo-Christian Scripture must be read through a covenant lens.
Let me explain.
A vassal is defined as “a person granted the use of land, in return for rendering homage, fealty, and usually military service or its equivalent to a lord or other superior; the feudal tenant.” The suzerain is the overlord.
This is how the Bible describes the character of the heart – what it desires and ultimately yields to enters into this sort of contract with i.e., what you yield to becomes your Lord.
This is why Welch argues for addiction as disease being largely metaphorical. I’ll allow him to explain,
“Sin is more than conscious choices. Like a cruel taskmaster, sun victimizes and controls us (James 8:34). It captures and overtakes (Gal. 6:1). In fact, there are times when we intend to do one thing but sin causes us to do things we don’t want to do. Even though we may really want to change, it can seem like an overwhelming or impossible task to actually do so (see quote from Romans above). In other words, sin feels exactly like a disease. It feels as if something outside of ourselves has taken over. In fact, one of Scriptures images for sin is disease (e.g., Isa. 1:5-6).”
The out-of-control element is analogous to disease, specifically if the disease is defined as something which occurs bodily against the will and has adverse effects. Diabetes, for instance, is against the will due to the body failing to produce insulin. In order to fix the issue, insulin must come from without addressing the problem within. This is how physical diseases and their accompanying solutions function – an organ has a defect as evidenced by the symptoms and an external medicine of sorts is leveraged to cure or temporarily fix the defective organ.
The disease metaphor works because addiction closely resembles these biological abnormalities, except for one component: the solution comes from within i.e., an adjustment of attitudes, beliefs, desires, motives, etc.
This is the in-control element to addiction and which is frankly somewhat of an antinomy.
The greatest argument I’ve ever encountered for addiction as a disease with the defective organ being the brain and the symptoms being the inability to make rational decisions is Pleasure Unwoven.
“This enlarged perspective indicates that in sin, we are both hopelessly out of control and shrewdly calculated; victimized yet responsible. All sin is simultaneously pitiable slavery and overt rebelliousness or selfishness. This is a paradox to be sure, but one that is the very essence of all sinful habits. if you deny the out-of-control nature of addictions, as some Christians have done, then you assume that everyone would have the power to change himself. Change would be easy. You would simply say, “Stop it. You got yourself into it, and you can get yourself out of it.” There would never be a sense of helplessness or a desperate need for both redemption and power through Jesus..”
Everybody Needs A Savior
So whereas in the past sin just equaled moral degeneracy and was used as a hammer to beat the hell out of addicts (no pun intended), this understanding fails the Bible. Sin doesn’t mean moral degenerate, it signals a need.
What’s the need? A savior.
Therefore, sin isn’t taboo, It simply refers to a lack of power and a need – a need God can satisfy.
Sound familiar? Even the 12-steps treat the disease concept metaphorically, terming it “spiritual” and diagnosing the problem as a lack of power. Not much new under the sun. Welch just argues the 12-steps don’t go far enough. Why? They fail to bring you the true Redeemer who is Jesus Christ.
Of course, if you don’t adhere to the basic tenets of the Christian worldview this may make you uneasy, nonetheless, the book’s primary objective is to present a methodology to achieve this end.
Permission is now granted to release that applause. 🙂
Timmy G (2019)