Addictions: A banquet in the Grave

by Edward T Welch
The title summarises the author’s perspective: A party while in the throes of death  … that’s what addictions are like.  The banquet is a reference to Proverbs 9: 13-18, which speak of a prostitute called “Folly”.  She beckons to the undisciplined …..and promises them the sweetness of stolen waters …..and the ultimate death that accompanies it.

Edward Welch approaches addictions as a problem that proceeds from the heart.  They involve issues of worship and idolatry.  He argues that addictions are ultimately a disorder of worship.  It is a lordship problem.  (Who is your master, God or your desires?)  It is from this understanding about what we worship, that he feels that people will grow and change
As a counsellor working for Drug ARM and being very involved in various addictions, I was asked to do a review …so here it is!

Welch begins by saying that we live in a culture that encourages self-indulgence; and that this has contributed to addictions being everywhere.  Some addictive substances and desires listed in the book are: alcohol, anger, love, weightlifting, sleep, nicotine, pain, TV, exercise, gambling, drugs, work, sports, sugar & chocolate,  people, sex, caffeine, shoplifting, lying, stealing, risk, success/winning, pornography.  (Question for you: How many of these addictions do you have?).

Addictions deliver a rather quick bodily experience and make people feel more alert, more calm, less shy, or more powerful.  Welch defines addictions as

“…. bondage to the rule of a substance, activity or state of mind, which then becomes the centre of life, defending itself from the truth, so that even bad consequences don’t bring repentance, and leading to further estrangement from God.”

He argues that it is the human heart which drives addiction.  We read this in Romans 7, “I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do”

Welch considers that the doctrine of sin is foundational in forming a theological framework for understanding addictions.  There are many Scriptural references, for example, to drunkenness being a sin; not a disease as many would suggest.  It (and other addictions) is essentially idolatry; something we worship ….and idols ultimately end up having control over us.  Like a cruel taskmaster, sin victimizes and controls us (John 8, Gal 6)

The author is not insensitive to the many influences which make each person’s addiction unique.  He cites causes relating to nature and nurture such as ways we were sinned against by others, our economic backgrounds, parental examples, sibling examples, terrible experiences and genetic tendencies.

He acknowledges that the doctrine of sin has been used to bludgeon addicts.  He counters this doctrine by cautioning those who may think too highly of themselves; who deceive themselves into thinking that they have a bit more moral fibre than their neighbour.  He considers that the over-arching precept of the Christian religion should be humility.  Humility protects us from being harsh and judgmental.  So does the admission that none of us have climbed out of the mire of sin with our own moral bootstraps.

Welch is very real when he states that addicts generally do not self-consciously make idolatrous decisions.  Those who wish to help addicts need to realize that pleas, tears, arguments or threats will not penetrate; reason is useless.  They cannot simply say, “Stop doing (the addiction); get control of yourself; stop worshipping an idol”.  Addicts can be oblivious to the slavery and destruction associated with their abuse.  It is ultimately only through the powerful message of Christ crucified and risen, that the soul can be liberated.

The author then traces the descent leading into addiction.  Among other things, it’s interesting that he considers cigarettes and alcohol as the “gateway drugs” to further illegal drug use.  He explores the guilt that addicts feel, and how they further assuage that guilt.  He traces the dilemma of those who love addicts and the pain they experience in their relationship with them.  He gives practical pointers on detection; on confrontation by those who genuinely care for the addict; on churches and discipline; on detoxification and on the long battle of rehabilitation

For the Christian’s life is an ongoing battle; a daily process of mortifying the flesh.  And so, the effective (and real) Church, will have addicts in it, according to Welch.  It is, in part, a hospital for sinners in different stages of their struggle with sin.  It treats others, as Christ has treated us.

Welch has a few hard words to say to the Church.  He states that it has had difficulty in welcoming, assimilating, and speaking meaningfully to people struggling with addictions.  We are prone to judge those whose sins we think are worse than our own.  We don’t easily relate to people who come from a different culture (even a drug culture).  In short, he states:

‘Our churches sometimes come across as havens for saints who have assimilated a certain church culture.  Addicts or former addicts will instinctively avoid such places”.

The author suggests that we are most effective when we offer Biblical help as one addict to another, talking about the magnificence of the kingdom of God, and warning about the perils of idolatry. (Good preparation for welcoming an addict is to summarise your own ruling desires)

He gives a word to parents of teenagers who have addictions:

‘Drug abuse in teens is a good cue to say, “Lord, search us”.  Parents do not bear the blame for their children’s sins, but they may have contributed to them”.

He gives practical tips such as confronting the child, setting limits, not over-reacting, and also ensuring they (parents) receive encouragement and guidance along the way.  He further counsels:

“Emphasize responsibility to the exclusion of victimization and you are leading the person to a harsh, stoic God who is not really the Holy one revealed in Scripture.  Emphasize victimization to the exclusion of purposeful idolatry and the person never has the opportunity to deal with the deepest of all his problems.”

The book is full of Scripture verses, and continually points to Christ as the final (but not simple) and deepest answer to the addictions we all suffer from.  I’d like to take one more quote from the book:

“The conditions of our surrender cost us nothing.  We don’t have to pay for the damage we have done against God.  We don’t have to go to prison.  We don’t have to ask for forgiveness for the rest of our lives.  All we must do is trust that, whatever the cost, the true God has already paid it”

So what do I think of the book?  I think it is a necessary antidote to a largely God-less world.  Welch is well balanced in his discussion of the “party” being thrown in the midst of “dying”.  For addictions; any addictions, the end result is death ….spiritually, emotionally and often physically.  Addictions need to be addressed clearly and honestly; with compassion and humility; with strength and integrity

Edward Welch is “straight –talking” and doesn’t skirt the issues.  He is courageous in exploring a complex topic … and he has a word to all of us  … for without exception, we are all addicts with a secret idol or two …. some where in our lives.

In my work with drug, alcohol, eating, pornography, anger, love, sex, work and success/winning addictions, I witness much healing and recovery.  The road is long; the journey is hard ….and yes …lots of non-Christians experience recovery and healing.  But the ultimate healing is that of the soul; knowing that as children of God, we may bask in His grace ….  and rest in His arms ……. and know it’s ok. 

The battle has already been won  …and although we may feel controlled for a while,  sin no longer can have dominion over us.  It is for freedom, that Christ has set us free.

You know, we were never meant to be slaves

Thank you, God.

Review by R. Bergsma