Chapter 6: Why Bring up God — Again!
The Big Deal: God Loves, Delivers, Heals, Forgives, and Guides
There’s no particular need to review Scripture again. But let’s at least remember what the Bible says about what God is and can do. You can read it in your own Bible today, or you can take a look at the verses and the chapter headings in The Runner ‘s Bible, which was so widely used in Pioneer AA.
From the Good Book:
God is love (1 John 4:8). God loves (John 3:16). God delivers, heals, and forgives (Psalms 103). God guides (Isaiah 58:11). As Dr. Bob’s wife noted in her journal -- He wishes above all things that we prosper and be in health (3 John 2). And ". . . with God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37). Now that’s quite an order -- just made for the woes of an alcoholic. The Pioneers could and did read those things in their Good Books.
From Their Devotionals:
They could also see them affirmed, in somewhat brief form, in the chapters and verses in their Runner’s Bibles: (Walk in Love; Rejoice Always; In everything give thanks; Fear not, only believe; Get wisdom, Get understanding; Ask and ye shall receive; He that is the greatest among you shall be your servant; Forgive and ye shall be forgiven; Be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee; I will help thee; Behold, I will heal thee; For thine is the power; The Lord shall guide thee continually; Thou shalt walk in thy way safely; All things are yours; Peace be unto you; Happy shalt thou be; and The Lord will lighten my darkness).
The pertinent verses and the chapters are all there too. They’re still there. They covered the waterfront. AA’s studied them, believed them, and apparently experienced their truth. Otherwise, why would they place such stock in the Good Book! Just read the stories in the Big Book’s First Edition of 1939.
Let me tell you about my doctors here in Hawaii. When I seemed to be coming close to death in heart surgery last year in Honolulu, I told my surgeon that my family and I would be reading the Bible and praying a great deal. I asked him if that would be OK. He said, "We’ll take all the help we can get." When I first met my cardiologist on Maui and mentioned my AA. involvement, he said, "It’s the only thing that works." When I first met my dermatologist in Maui, I learned of his Christian beliefs and interest in my AA. work. And then there was the approving smile from my general practitioner in California who said of AA.: "Oh yes, they emphasize the religious, don’t they? I wish the man in my outer office would go to them for his drinking problem as you have." My anesthesiologist in California was not only in AA., but he had recovered and returned to his Roman Catholic church. He was the AA. sponsor of my opthamologist, who had not only recovered in AA. but graciously contributed support to the publication of one of my titles. Now, I don’t claim the entire medical profession is jumping up and down with excitement over AA. But I can tell you I haven’t run into any one of them myself who has told me to put down my Bible, forget Jesus Christ, and let go to something or somebody other than God.
These physicians, like many clergymen, may have their questions about AA. repeaters and relapsers, but they’re not running around proposing higher powers that are radiators, flower pots, or rainbows. They are not suggesting that alcoholics turn their lives over to the care of these inanimate objects.
The "Higher Power" Theology Just Hasn’t Been That Good!
There are plenty in recovery groups today that get rabid when there’s talk of God, the Bible, or Christianity. But their substitute nonsense is shabby and unconvincing. There is no need here to cover all the researchers, scholars, writers, and critics who have commented on today’s dismal success rates and repeated relapses. You can find the remarks of many in Appendix Three of my latest title Why Early AA. Succeeded: The Good Book in Alcoholics Anonymous Yesterday and Today (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, 2001), pp. 267-93. You can find some earlier documented remarks in Appendix Twelve of the second edition of my Shoemaker title, New Light on Alcoholism, pp. 569-74. The commentators include government leaders, scientists, physicians, psychologists, clergymen, atheists, and secular recovery advocates, among others.
The following woman critic is just one of the many mentioned above:
I did a bit of research into AA. and other twelve-step groups and was startled by what I discovered. Although AA. is the most successful program for achieving sobriety, its relapse rate shocked me. Let me give you some overall all statistics about alcoholism. Of the estimated 14 million adult Americans who are deemed alcoholic, less than 10 percent of them will be seeking help at any given time. Of those 10 percent, 70 percent won’t achieve lasting sobriety. Seventy percent of those who achieve sobriety in AA. will relapse within five years. The relapse rates for one year are even higher. So for long-term sobriety, only 3 percent of all adult alcoholics will successfully quit drinking by using AA. Three percent! (Calculated as 30 percent of the 10 percent of the entire drinking population who are seeking help). (Marianne G. Gilliam, How Alcoholics Anonymous Failed Me: My Personal Journey to Sobriety through Self-Empowerment [New York: Eagle Brook, 1998], p. xviii.)
Analysts of "Divine Help" Are Neither Numerous, United, Nor Persuasive
Those who have a problem with God in the recovery picture are often atheists. Charles Bufe -- whose Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? (San Francisco: Sharp Press, 1991) has attracted much attention and been revised and reprinted -- stated to me he was an atheist. Some commentators just describe themselves as "not religious;" and Dr. Stanton Peele, author of the much-quoted Diseasing of America, told me he was one of these. Others have simply left behind their religious ties as ministers or priests; and Dr. Ernest Kurtz, author of Not-God, is one of these. Still others are desirous of escaping the rigors of Christianity and removing themselves from any AA. scene that seems to demand it. Marianne G. Gilliam (quoted above) could probably be counted among these -- expressing enthusiasm over New Age. (See particularly, How Alcoholics Anonymous Failed Me, p. 222.) Some have simply observed that what they call "spirituality," and what I call the power of God, in the alcoholism arena has not been adequately addressed, researched, or measured.
Richard L. Gorsuch might be identified as one of these. He wrote Chapter 17 of Research on Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 301-18. He titled his work "Assessing Spiritual Variables in Alcoholics Anonymous Research." Among the points he made are these:
Despite the importance of spirituality in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 12 steps, addiction research has seldom measured spirituality (p. 301).
Spirituality. . . appears to be referring to people who are concerned with metaphysical issues as well as their day-to-day lives, It need have no belief in God. Little research has been done with this construct and so there is no real tradition of measurement with it. . . . But what is spirituality if it is entirely outside of a traditional religious focus, and does this spirituality relate to the Alcoholics Anonymous "Higher Power"? (p. 304). In terms of psychological research, God concept studies show traditional Christians see God as kind, loving, and benevolent -- but the alcoholics completely miss this. They would score high on another God concept factor: wrathfulness, which is unrelated to the classical concept of the Christian God (Spilka et al., 1985). Hence psychologically as well as theologically the "Christianity" of alcoholics is not the Christianity of most other American Christians. Alcoholics have a non-Christian view of God. How could this have come to be? . . . In my perspective there is a difference between "lip service" spirituality and involving spiritual resources in a program. . . . Lai (1982) interviewed 13 facilities in the Los Angeles area regarding both "lip service" to and the use of spirituality in their treatment programs. . . . Lai’s programs showed the same sense of ambiguity regarding spiritual institutions that are found in AA. and its programs: a rejection of institutional religion and acceptance of spirituality. . . . making such a strong split between classical religious institutions and spirituality encourages people to ignore the ready resources of their own traditions that could truly help in their spiritual development (pp. 310-13).
At about the foregoing point in Gorusch’s comments, I was ready to climb off the Gorsuch train and invite others to do likewise. Gorsuch appears too mixed up with diverse ideas of religion, spirituality, higher power, steps, religious institutions, Christianity, and the "Christian God." He is just plain arrogant in his assertion that "alcoholics have a non-Christian view of God." But he makes the point in his conclusion that "there are many ways that spirituality could become truly manifest within AA programs and therefore could test whether the spirituality in the steps are helpful" (p. 314). Writing as though AAs are voluntary "specimens" for research, he mentions providing for each AA participant to be also a participant in a spiritually oriented organization of their choice simultaneously with involvement in AA. The participant would be urged to attend worship services, participate in Bible studies, meet with a mentor for spiritual guidance, go to prayer meetings, participate in meditation, and go to special retreats, with spirituality as the prime goal of the meetings (pp. 314-15).
If the AA. specimens were also provided with early AA. history (which they are not), I’d find such suggestions somewhat palatable, somewhat in progress right now, and somewhat promising. Though quite impossible. But who would eliminate the hate remarks that presently accompany some of these efforts?
It seems fair to say that a real examination of the effectiveness of Divine Help, which was so loudly proclaimed in connection with early AA., has not been the focus of significant measurement or evaluation in the recovery writings. And perhaps it cannot or should not be. The reason is that without a belief in Yahweh, acceptance that Jesus Christ is the only "way" to a relationship with the Creator, and measuring results in terms of Biblical truths, there would be little universal help to Christians, Jews, Moslems, atheists, and others at all. You’d spend all your time defining "spirituality" in terms of various beliefs and unbeliefs instead of relying on the miraculous work of the Creator. And you’d certainly be ignoring the Bible’s warning about "natural man" reasoning. (See 1 Cor. 2:14.)
There is Healing in That "Old Time Religion"
Who’s afraid of God? Treatment centers? Therapists? Physicians? Uncle Sam? Insurance Companies? Statisticians? Constitutional lawyers? I’d like to think it’s only when they don’t give Him their trust. "Fear not, only believe" was a common expression in early AA. The Pioneers talked of "Divine Aid." They talked of the Bible. They talked of Jesus Christ. They talked of the Sermon on the Mount. They talked of the Book of James. They talked of 1 Corinthians 13. They talked of the Ten Commandments and the two "Great commandments" to love God and love your neighbor. They talked of Psalms, Proverbs, the Gospels, Acts, and love. And they got well and stayed well -- for years, and years! Large percentages of them too. The thesis here is that expressions like" "Let go and let God," "But for the grace of God." "There is One who has all power. That One is God," "God could and would if He were sought," "we are going to talk about God," "Creator," "Maker," "Almighty God," "Good Book," "God is love," "Thy will be done" and "cure" need to be headliners again in recovery discussions-even when the M.D’s, D.D’s, D Min.’s, Ph.D.’s, and other "degreed" observers may not fully understand the words or expressions. The "natural man" may never understand them!
In almost all the foregoing writings I have discussed, you cannot find one single adequate explanation of either alcoholism or sin or disease or how God can help the alcoholic. And you don’t need to.
God performs signs, wonders, and miracles. These works of God are "wonders." These are "miracles." The Bible didn’t explain the "how" of it. But it did explain the "Who" of it. ". . . With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). "For with God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37). "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them" (Mark 11:24). "For I am the Lord that healeth thee" (Exodus 15:26). ". . . Who healeth all thy diseases" (Psalm 103:3). You can find these and many other important verses quoted in The Runner’s Bible and in New Light on Alcoholism, 2d ed., p. 23).
Rev. Sam Shoemaker, whom Bill called a "co-founder" of AA., had it just right in the following statements (By the Power of God [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954]):
We can all have a share in letting such miracles [as the healing of the little boy] happen, if we link ourselves to the living power of God (p. 18).
The Source of spiritual power is God. . . . [I]t is His power, not ours, that does the wonderful things that spiritual power accomplishes for this world (pp. 30-31).
Faith . . . always thinks and feels positively, not negatively. It trusts God completely to be able to bring about His will (p. 134).
There may be much misgiving and great spiritual struggle somewhere: there must always be a great "giving in" that abandons self-generated power for God’s power (p. 134).
In his 1863 Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln said:
We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. . . . Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
Is that what has happened to the Creator’s power in the alcoholism battle? That’s for each of us to decide, but I believe its simply too costly to pursue any path but the path to a relationship with the Creator. We who have paid our dues in self destruction, and who have had others watching helplessly by, simply have to have that kind and degree of power. We simply can’t afford to forget God. Perhaps that’s why our new President, George W. Bush, ends virtually every address today with "God Bless America." He means it, and that’s just the kind of blessing we need to hear and have. God bless the alcoholic. God bless the addict. God has blessed millions of His kids, thousands of AAs, and yours truly. He can and will bless you if you seek Him.
I thank God that I sought His love, healing, deliverance, and forgiveness many years ago. Bill Wilson, in some of his better writing days, said: "God either is, or He isn’t." Show me how I would have wound up if I had believed He isn’t. One of my sponsees attended an AA. conference with me in Sacramento, California, and stayed up most of the night in order to attend a certain marathon meeting. The meeting was titled, "God either is, or He isn’t." I asked the sponsee what inspirational message he had received from the meeting. He replied, "Nothing." The problem, he said, was, "He wasn’t." To allay his dismay, I left him, and I leave you, with this verse:
The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. (Ps. 14:1)