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Addiction & Grace is real, and raw. May doesn’t sugarcoat the topic of addiction or the struggle to be free from it. He doesn’t disrespect the addict by trivializing their often years long struggle to get clean. He doesn’t blame the addiction on the addict’s Faith with hurtful advice like, “just pray harder.” May understands the addict’s struggle and how it feels, and he knows most addicts pray to God with all their heart even while stuck in the pit of addiction.

Hello Readers, hope all’s well. Time for another Christian book review for The Christian Book Corner.

Today’s book is my second selection from the late author Gerald May, R.I.P.. I reviewed another book of his called The Dark Night of the Soul in The Christian Book Corner #9. Click the link to check out my review of his introduction to the theology of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.

Today’s book is a special one to me. I place great value on quality books about addiction from a Christian context. Addiction & Grace by Gerald May, the book for today, is one of the best books in that niche category I’ve ever read. I say it’s an excellent book on addiction in general. But if we narrow the subject down to the Spirituality of addiction, Addiction & Grace is a classic.

What’s in the Book

Addiction & Grace is a book about the Spiritual nature of addiction. It’s written from a Christian perspective, which is why it’s in my book review series. There are many books on addiction written from a scientific or psychological perspective. But there are far less books on addiction written from a Spiritual perspective. So a book like this is already valuable for the uniqueness of its perspective; we don’t get a ton of books like this.

Addiction & Grace is real, and raw. May doesn’t sugarcoat the topic of addiction or the struggle to be free from it. He doesn’t disrespect the addict by trivializing their often years long struggle to get clean. He doesn’t blame the addiction on the addict’s Faith with hurtful advice like, “just pray harder.” May understands the addict’s struggle and how it feels, and he knows most addicts pray to God with all their heart even while stuck in the pit of addiction.

Gerald May acknowledges the enslaving power of addictions, and how addicts lose all willpower and remain in addiction even when they don’t want to. It’s slavery. And slavery is the main metaphor behind the road to freedom from addiction in this book. One of the main points of the book is that the journey to freedom from addiction is a long, drawn-out struggle exactly like the 40-year journey of the Israelites through the desert. (You may remember I wrote about this in a recent post, #shorts Part 5—The Addiction Desert.)

The most powerful scriptural metaphor for our journey is the desert sojourn of the Hebrews. God led the people of Israel out of slavery toward the promised land, but their journey took them through great deprivations. In the desert they expressed all the characteristics of addiction and of the addicted personality to a degree that was as agonizing for God and as frustrating for Moses as it was for themselves. They experienced the stress and fear of withdrawal symptoms, longing for the old days of slavery. They hoarded more of their manna than they needed, and it rotted. They deceived themselves with idolatry and excuses. They made resolutions to obey God’s commandments, only to apostasize when left to themselves. Their attention was so kidnapped that they become lost in idol worship while surrounded by enemies. They acted in self-centered, narcissistic, manipulative ways, with self-images so eroded that at times they wished they had died in slavery. Yet through it all, God guided the people of Israel, protected them, suffered over them, commanded them, and raged at them, continually inviting and empowering them to choose to trust and to love.

The desert is where battle with attachment takes place. The saga of the desert tells of a journey out of slavery, through the desert, toward the garden that is home.

Gerald May, Addiction & Grace, Pages 133-134

This is a very insightful metaphor since the journey through the desert is exactly like the journey of recovery from addiction. God was trying to be patient with His people while He led them to freedom. Meanwhile they kept on screwing up and taking steps backwards. It’s like how we take steps backwards in our recovery when we relapse. But God the Father is always there, patiently guiding us to take the right steps (because we have a part to play in His process). He doesn’t abandon us in the desert of addiction even when we screw up in ridiculous and spectacular ways. He keeps working with us until we complete our painful journey.

But I mentioned how we still have a part to play. Addiction & Grace doesn’t ignore or downplay that either. While the book makes it clear we can only be free of addiction through deliverance by Grace, we also must try hard to live a life in line with God’s Will so we’re prepared to receive and accept God’s Grace when He chooses to give it. This means practical steps like giving up the people, places, and things associated with our addiction. If we don’t give those things up and God delivers us from addiction, we will only go right back to it. We need to prepare our lives to be able to receive and accept God’s miraculous Grace when He chooses to give it.

To me, deliverance is like any other miraculous physical, emotional, or social healing. It is an example of “supernatural” or “extraordinary” grace, an obvious intervention by the hand of God in which physical structure and function are changed and growth toward wholeness is enabled. In the case of addiction, healing takes the form of empowerment that enables people to modify addictive behavior.

I am choosing my words carefully here. Deliverance enables a person to make a change in his or her behavior; in my experience deliverance does not remove the addiction and its underlying attachments. […] But there is still a role for continued personal responsibility. Considerable intention and vigilance are still necessary.

Gerald May, Addiction & Grace, Pages 153-154

I’m impressed by this book and its insights into addiction. It’s not a “how-to manual” for how to defeat an addiction; no book can achieve that. But Addiction & Grace is full of deep insights, Spiritual and otherwise, backed by experience. This book is a valuable read for any addict at any stage of recovery.

That’s not to say the book is perfect of course.

Can’t Do it all

My main complaint with the book is that it can feel somewhat disjointed. And it feels that way because it tries to do something admirable—it tries to explain each aspect of addiction: physical, mental, and Spiritual.

Chapters 2 (mind) and 3 (body) do make sense in the grand scheme of the book. I can understand why these chapters are here. But these science and psychology based chapters are completely different from the second half of the book.

It’s the second half of this book that shines. The chapters about the Spiritual nature of addiction and the struggle for sobriety are better than those on brain science and biology, because the Spiritual side of addiction is what the book is about. That’s why it was written.

The science chapters set up the reader to understand the second half of the book. These chapters also show how the battle against addiction is a multifaceted struggle. There are biological and mental processes going on that have an extreme influence on an addict’s behavior and keep them stuck.

But since these other factors aren’t the main focus of Addiction & Grace, we only get an overview of them. If we want an adequate understanding of these other factors, we’ll need more than we find here in this book. What we get here in Addiction & Grace isn’t enough, though I applaud the effort.

On another note—and this isn’t the author’s fault—but science has revealed much more about addiction since the book was published in 1988. So if you’re looking for more info on the science or psychology of addiction, there are better and more up-to-date books on that subject.

I don’t think this diminishes the value of Addiction & Grace. But if you want to know the latest science, this book won’t help you I’m afraid.

The Final Word

Addiction & Grace is the only full-length book I’ve read on the Spiritual nature of addiction so far. If you know of any others, let us all know by leaving a comment below. But as of now it’s the only book of its kind that I know of. And this uniqueness makes it an excellent book about addiction, one that holds up 30 years later.

But take care not to get confused when I throw the word “spiritual” around. What you think of when you hear that word?? If you get ideas about the book being lighthearted, too optimistic, or surface level only, think again. Addiction & Grace is real, it’s raw. This book doesn’t ignore or gloss over the pain and despair of addiction. It doesn’t sugarcoat the misery of being enslaved to something and fighting against it for years without being free. Addiction brings with it horrendous physical, mental, emotional, and Spiritual suffering, and Gerald May doesn’t try to suggest anything different.

At the same time though, May offers a realistic message of hope for freedom.

In God, we have all the help we need. He is our loving Father and wants to deliver us from addiction. He wants good things for us. We need God’s Grace to be delivered from addiction. But we have to be ready to receive that Grace by living a life that’s prepared to accept the grace. We need to make a clean break from the people, places, and things linked with our addiction. We need to change our life and our thinking. Otherwise God’s Grace would be wasted if He gave it too early. The whole time we’re waiting to receive God’s Grace is painful. But everything about addiction, including the struggle to break free of it, is painful.

Addiction & Grace doesn’t gloss over this fact:

Any authentic struggle with attachments must involve deprivation. We have to go hungry and unsatisfied; we have to ache for something. It hurts. Withdrawal symptoms are real, and, one way or another, they will be experienced. If we can both accept and expect this pain, we will be much better prepared to face struggles with specific attachments. We might even come to see it as birth pain, heralding the process of our delivery from slavery to freedom. If we expect comfort or anesthesia, however, we will feel more distressed when the pain of deprivation comes; […]

Gerald May, Addiction & Grace, Page 180

Like I said, there are more up-to-date books about the science of addiction if that’s what you want. You will do better looking into those books if your goal is to find the latest research and info. But if you want to know about the Spiritual nature of addiction and the struggle to break free of it in a Christian context, you will find Addiction & Grace extremely valuable.

If you’re a Christian suffering from addiction (and we’re all kind of addicted to something, the author says), or even if you just can’t stay away from some certain temptation, I highly recommend Addiction & Grace by Gerald May. The book is not a magical cure for whatever addiction we’re battling (only God can miraculously cure us), but it is a great book about addiction and the battle to become free of it.

The battle against addiction is a long-term one. It’s our own journey through the desert with the LORD. It’s painful, depressing, lonely, frustrating, and terrifying. But on the other side of that battle is our promised land of freedom from the addictions that enslave us. And Addiction & Grace is an amazing book offering an overview of that trek through the desert. Check it out; you won’t be sorry.

Addiction & Grace

by Gerald May. HarperOne, 1988.

Buy Addiction & Grace on Book Depository.

Well that’s all for this week. If you enjoyed today’s post, be sure to Subscribe using the link below. And please consider Supporting My Blog using the Tip Jar. Any amount is much appreciated!

Until next time, be strong and do good!

Your new best friend in Christ,



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4 comments on “The Christian Book Corner #11: Addiction & Grace

  1. Harry Thodi says:

    Hey, I recently released my first book called The word becoming flesh. I was wondering if you would support me by writing a book review on your blog?


    1. 99:9 says:

      Sure, I could do that if you send me a digital copy of the book. Then I’d need a week or so to read it, and then the review would be published about a month after I write the review.


      1. Harry Thodi says:

        Thank you, that sounds good to me. To which email address should I send it to?


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