The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 4

Patrick McCormick’s view of sin as addiction has points of commonality with Gerald May’s view, with some differences of opinion and some additional insights. (See Patrick T. McCormick, Sin as Addiction [Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989] and Gerald G. May, M.D., Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions [New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988]). In common with May, McCormick sees addiction as having to do with deception (May: “self-deception”), ethical deterioration (May: “loss of willpower”), and idolatry (May: “distortion of attention”).

Some additional insight is offered by McCormick’s view. He sees the characteristics of addiction as including dependence (addicts are dependent on someone or something else), self-centeredness (extreme narcissism), an external referent (addicts are obsessed with what others think of them; they have lost their own self-center), and loss of feeling (addicts have lost the ability to detect their feelings).

Is dependence a characteristic of sin?

Solomon wrote, “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished” (Proverbs 11:21; see also 16:5). Dependence is characteristic of sin. In an extended treatment of the same theme, Solomon wrote, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait to shed blood; let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause; let us swallow them alive like Sheol, and whole, like those who go down to the Pit; we shall find all kinds of precious possessions, we shall fill our houses with spoil; cast in your lot among us, let us all have one purse’ — My son, do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path” (Proverbs 1:10-15, NKJV).

Is self-centeredness a characteristic of sin?

In the parable of the rich fool, Jesus warned of covetousness with these words: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21, NKJV). The essence of covetousness is self-centeredness,  included by McCormick as a characteristic of addiction.

Is it characteristic of sin to have an external referent?

The role of the external referent as a characteristic of sin is seen in the first response that Cain made to God when he learned that God held him accountable for the murder of his brother. Cain protested, “I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:14, NKJV). There is something about the nature of sin that elevates the importance of one’s peer group above the importance of God’s judgment.

Is it characteristic of sin to have a loss of feeling?

Jeremiah wrote, “O Lord, are not Your eyes on the truth? You have stricken them, but they have not grieved; You have consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to return” (Jeremiah 5:3, NKJV). This description of the insensitivity of those who rejected God sounds very much like the addict’s loss of feeling. Perhaps even more to the point is Paul’s description of those who walk “in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19, NKJV).

In lesson 5, we will examine further insights offered by McCormick to see if they reflect biblical values related to specific expressions of sin.