Recovery and the Gospel

George A. WoodBy George A. Wood9 Minutes

 Excerpt taken from The Uncovery: Understanding the Power of Community to Heal Trauma by George A. Wood & Brit Eaton

Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever
loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
—Mark 8:35

In recovery circles, you don’t often hear someone say, “I’ve arrived.” Trained counselors know that when you do, it can actually be a cause for concern. This confidence can leave faithful twelve-steppers and box-checkers feeling invincible…until life inevitably gets in the way. That’s because life, even a transformed one, can be ridiculously hard. Thankfully, even the promised-land life we work toward in the Uncovery isn’t our final destination. Instead, it’s part of a rebirth into the eternal life we’re all being invited to experience.

Sobriety is to recovery what salvation is to Christianity. From a practical standpoint, this means that all people who call themselves Christian are in recovery. We’re all trying to get healed and whole, to get back to who the Father created us to be, to realize the abundant life that Jesus went to the cross for us to have.

When we say no to our struggles, especially for the very first time, it can create the same clean-slate euphoria as when we first say no to sin and yes to Jesus. Even if we were forced into rehab or bullied to the altar, initial sobriety and initial salvation remain powerful and important milestones along the Uncovery journey.

However, the lie we often believe is that getting sober or getting saved will make all of life’s problems go away. When they don’t, it causes us to question God’s character and our identity. We think:

  • God, if You’re a good Father, how could You let this happen?
  • God, if You love me, why does it feel like You’ve abandoned me?
  • God, why aren’t You answering me? Are You even there at all?

You wouldn’t be the first person to ask these questions. At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, after initial deliverance from slavery in Egypt and wandering in the desert for forty years, the mantle of leadership over the Israelites passed from Moses to Joshua. Before he died, Moses told Joshua and the people exactly what to do when they crossed over into the promised land. Fight the giants? Set up camp? Throw a party? Nope. He told them to grab some stones.

Build there an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not use any iron tool on them. Build the altar of the Lord your God with fieldstones and offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God. Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God. And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up. (Deuteronomy 27:5-8)

As the story transitions from Deuteronomy into the book of Joshua, the Israelites have another dramatic supernatural deliverance. Forty years after their Red Sea encounter, God split the waters once again so His people could cross over the Jordan River on dry land into the promised land. When the whole nation had finished crossing—except for a handful of priests who remained in the middle path holding the ark of the covenant—Joshua heard another word about stones. Except this time, the directive wasn’t coming from Moses. It was coming from God himself.

Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight. (Joshua 4:2-3)

Joshua did what God asked. He gathered the tribal leaders and told them to go back onto the riverbed and get the stones so that one day they could tell their children about the miracle that occurred. Once the stones were out and the priests crossed over, the waters of the Jordan came crashing back down again. The Israelites set up the stones of remembrance at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho as Moses had described. This was a significant moment for the Israelites, and a testament to God’s faithfulness that would last for generations.

But Joshua and the Israelites were just getting started. There were still plenty of battles ahead. (Hello, Jericho.) But God knew, and the Israelites experienced, just how powerful it can be to set up reminders so we don’t forget what He has done in the past.

Setting up stone memorials became commonplace for believers. The more memorial stones we have in our lives, whether literal or figurative, the better. Many Old Testament prophets followed Joshua’s lead, including Samuel with his famous Ebenezer stone of help and the twelve stones on Elijah’s rebuilt altar. (See 1 Samuel 7:12 and 1 Kings 18:30-32, respectively.) Memorial stones like those encouraged future generations to remember God’s faithfulness to show up as a good Father, no matter what. Faith in the Father’s faithfulness can mean the difference between life and death.

When I launched the Sober Truth Project in 2020, many people questioned our three-tier recovery approach. The focus on addiction and mental health problems as distinct struggles made sense to most people, but an entire category dedicated to suicide prevention raised a lot of questions. They asked, “Aren’t suicidal thoughts just a mental health problem? Isn’t that splitting hairs?” Well, yes—and no. Suicidal thoughts may be related to a mental health problem. They may also be linked to an addiction, just as addiction and mental health problems often go hand in hand. We like to categorize our issues into neat, tidy little boxes instead of exploring the interconnectedness of the human condition. But I digress.

Suicidal thoughts may be related to a mental health problem or an addiction. The issue doesn’t fit into a neat, tidy little box.

I have three important reasons for calling out suicidal thoughts into its own category:

  1. Suicide is often the result of unresolved addiction and mental health problems.
  2. Loved ones rarely know how to help—or how to cope after a suicide.
  3. We’re not talking about suicide enough, especially in Christian recovery.

If we know lives and souls are at stake when it comes to suicide, why aren’t we, the church, talking—and doing—something about it? Two words: bad theology.

Early Christian church fathers, including Augustine and Aquinas, rightfully saw suicide as a “killing of the innocent.”25 But their applied teachings implied that committing suicide would send a person straight to hell for murder, pointing to people like Judas Iscariot for biblical backup.

25. Robert Barry, “The Development of the Roman Catholic Teachings on Suicide,” Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, 449 (1995),

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