The Addiction of Sin: Lesson 6

In Lesson 6, we continue our examination of Patrick T. McCormick’s view of sin as an addiction. We begin with this question:

Does sin lead to death?

McCormick asserts that all addictions lead to death. As it relates to sin, the quintessential statement in this regard was written by Paul: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Biblically, death is always connected to some kind of separation. Like addiction, sin separates people from their true selves, from others, from reality, and from God.

Are there any advantages to viewing sin as an addiction? McCormick proposes five advantages:

    1. It offers a more realistic grasp of human freedom
    2. It explains how sin operates on various levels
    3. It explains the communication of evil from one generation to the next
    4. It is therapeutic, not juridical (i.e., legalistic), and
    5. It offers a workable system of recovery.

Those who reject the addiction model may assume that human freedom is so unmitigated that a person may terminate an addiction by simply exercising the power of choice, by personal willpower alone. But as May has pointed out, “For the addicted person alone, struggling only with willpower, the desire to continue the addiction will win. It will win because it resides … at the level of biological conditioning, and it is always operative” (Gerald G. May, M.D., Addiction and Grace [New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988]. Paul found that his will was insufficient to give him power over sin (Romans 7:15-25).

Those who reject the addiction model may find it challenging to explain why sin is so pervasive at every level of society. In a pattern similar to the occurrence of addiction in families and social groups, the effect of sin reaches beyond the individual. Achan’s sons and daughters shared his fate, even though Israel had the promise that no one would be put to death for the sin of another. (See Joshua 7:24-25; Deuteronomy 24:16.) We can only assume that Achan’s family identified with him in some way in his sin, even if it was only to be sympathetic with him. It is not infrequent in Scripture to discover entire families and social groups destroyed because of their shared participation in sin. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is seen in the destruction of the entire human population of the earth in the days of Noah; sin was pervasive in every family but one. (See Genesis 6.)

Rejection of the addiction model may make it difficult to explain the communication of evil from one generation to the next. If sin is merely a personal problem, it seems the chances would be at least even that generations would not follow in the addictive behaviors of their ancestors. It is more likely, however, that children will follow the sinful behavior of their fathers than that they will not. This may be seen in the history of the kings of ancient Judah. Some found their way out of the destructive patterns set by their fathers, but most followed and even exceeded their fathers’ sinfulness. This pattern, which extends over many generations, indicates the addictive nature of sin across generations in that it is apparently easier to follow an evil example than a good one. It is also easier to reject a good example than an example of evil.

The addiction model is helpful in that it is therapeutic, not juridical. In that it is therapeutic, it recognizes the significance of the disease model of sin found in connection with the atonement. (See Isaiah 53:5.) Sin is a disease, but healing is provided through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Finally, McCormick sees the addiction model of sin as helpful in that it provides a workable system of recovery. Just as addictions to substances can be successfully confronted by systematic approaches, so can non-substance addictions to sinful behaviors. A notable example of this is the manner in which the Twelve Step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous has been adapted to a variety of other behaviors.

In Lesson 7, we will discuss Larry Crabb’s approach to the problem of sin and its parallels to the addiction model. (See Larry Crabb, Inside Out [Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988].)