In this article about God and Alcoholics Anonymous, we pose the question: Is recovery, healing, spiritual growth, and Divine Aid (as Bill Wilson called it) in A.A. still about “finding God” and “establishing a relationship with God”? A.A.’s basic text still says, “Yes.” And you can find the documentation on pages 29, 58-59 of the Fourth Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, published in 2001. See also Dick B., God and Alcoholism (www.dickb.com/godandalcoholism.shtml)
But there are others today who say, “No.” They often add: “A.A. is spiritual, but not religious”-presumably proving to their satisfaction that God has no place in Alcoholics Anonymous. Thus A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature is pumping out statements to the effect that a person does not have to believe in anything at all in today’s A.A. One may also hear “chatter” to the same effect at some meetings. In addition, some scholars, historians, professors, and treatment professionals pass along such information as authoritative. These posit quite clearly that A.A. today is not about God or finding God or establishing a relationship with God. They suggest that it is not about “Divine Help.”
In fact, A.A. and other 12-Step fellowships are gaining a widespread reputation for being about “self-help,” believing anything you want, even not believing anything at all, and carrying any message you like. This while members are certainly told to go to meetings and abstain from drinking! They are often told to “work” the Twelve Steps which quite plainly suggest “finding God” by taking them.
But consider these points!
God, the Creator of whom our pioneers wrote and spoke, has given to man a great deal of freedom-freedom of choice, freedom to screw up, freedom to worship God or idols, freedom to drink and use, and freedom to destroy ourselves with addictions. And if that freedom is used to denounce, depart from, or ignore God, the end result is demonstrably the messes, the idolatry, the self-destructive behavior, and the drunkenness which man so frequently chooses as his path.
On the other hand, to quote the Bible, and to paraphrase Rev. Sam Shoemaker, and Bill Wilson himself: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8). God isn’t lost. He’s available. It’s man deliberate exercise of his freedom to listen to the devil, to yield to temptation, and to shoot himself in the foot that leaves him far far away from God. Still, as Psalm 103 makes clear, God has benefited man with healing, forgiveness, and deliverance for those who want Him, seek Him, and are willing to obey Him. But He’s not known for chasing people. He gives the commands. We are to free to obey or disobey. God’s Son included the following words as part of a prayer to God: “Thy will be done.” (Bill Wilson used these words more than once in the Big Book). God reveals His will. We make a choice: Our job is to obey God’s will and “do” it (See, for example: Matthew 6:10, 33; 7:21).
“Old school” A.A. frequently quoted the Sermon on the Mount, which suggested: Seek and ye shall find (Matthew 7:7). We seek. And then we find. Ask and ye shall receive, suggested “old school” AAs (Matthew 7:7-Ask, and it shall be given to you). We ask. And then we receive. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you (Matthew 7:7). We knock. And then God opens. We are told in A.A. to put “first things first.” As reported in the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book, DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, Dr. Bob explained to his sponsee, Clarence Snyder, that the well-known A.A. expression “first things first” had its origin in the Bible verse Matt 6:33 (KJV): “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Seek ye first the kingdom of God. Then God takes care of the needs (Matthew 6:33). The biblical book of James, a favorite with early Aas, stresses humbly asking God and doing (according to His Word), not asking amiss (James 1:22; 4:1-3 KJV).
God almost seems to be calling out the simple choices that we can make today! And do you have to leave Alcoholics Anonymous to raise your voice and answer? For me, and for many today, the answer is NO! We just have to know where we came from, why we came, and what we received when we sought Almighty God in A.A. Many of us remember all too well that drunks are not always welcome or sought as chair-sitters in churches, lodges, service clubs, or even bars. They are welcome in A.A. It provides rooms that any may enter-free, voluntarily, and even with plenty of hesitation.
God almost seems to be calling today to man to make a major choice. Again! He loved us. He gave His only begotten Son so that we could be saved (John 3:16). Early AAs sought and received that salvation and a lot more. They also recognized whom Christ Jesus had been sent to help:
[Jesus declared] The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised (Luke 4:18 KJV).
I believe that, in early A.A., that declaration sounded mighty good to a down-and-out drunk. They listened. They believed. They were cured. And they received much more. The Apostle Paul wrote:
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23-24
Lots of us were not a very pretty sight on arrival in A.A. Some of us were poor. Some were broken-hearted. Some of us just plain stunk-we “smelled bad.” Many were captives in one sense or another. Plenty were bruised. Without strength. And, yes, sinners. Early A.A. offered to those who were ugly, poor, broken-hearted, stinky, bruised, weak, sinners, and captives (willing to believe) real healing, deliverance, freedom, and acquittal of their sins. To a down-and-out drunk in early A.A. that sounded mighty good. It sounded mighty good to me too in April of 1986; and I never want to forget what God has done for me while in the rooms of A.A. that I could not do for myself. For those who have sought Him, He’s been doing it from the very beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous. From June 10, 1935, and certainly even long before that.
His Name is Yahweh
See, I am Yahweh, the God of all mankind: is anything impossible to me? [Jer. 32:27 Jerusalem Bible (JB)]
And God also said to Moses, “You are to say to the sons of Israel: ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’. This is my name for all time; by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come (Exod. 3:15 JB)
God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am Yahweh. To Abraham and Isaac and Jacob I appeared as El Shaddai; I did not make myself known to them by my name Yahweh” (Exod. 6:2, 3 JB)
My name is Yahweh, I will not yield my glory to another, nor my honour to idols (Isa. 42:8 JB. See also: Dick B., Why Early A.A. Succeeded: The Good Book in Alcoholics Anonymous Yesterday and Today, pp. 55-66; (http://www.dickb.com/aabiblestudy.shtml)
Our Creator: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:2 NIV).
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth. . . . (Eccles. 12:1 KJV).
The Fourth Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to God as Creator 12 times in the text (pp. 13, 25, 28, 56, 68, 72, 75, 76, 80, 83, 158, 161).
Almighty God: And God said unto him [Jacob]. I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply. . . . (Gen. 35:11).
Bill Wilson also referred to Him as God Almighty (See Dick B.: The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed., pp. 12-13; (http://www.dickb.com/Akron.shtml).
Our Maker: Shall mortal man be more just than God; shall a man be more pure than his maker? (Job 4:17. See also Isa. 45:11-13.)
The Big Book, 4th ed., twice refers to our Maker, God (pp. 57, 63).
Our Father, Father of Light, Spirit (See for Bible sources and Big Book language, Dick B.: The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible, 2d ed., pp. 49-50; (http://www.dickb.com/goodbook.shtml).
God of our fathers; the living God; God our Father, our Heavenly Father (See for Bible sources and A.A. Language: Dick B.: Why Early A.A. Succeeded, pp. 50, 55-57, 65-67; (http://www.dickb.com/aabiblestudy.shtml); Turning Point, pp. 158-159; (http://www.dickb.com/Turning.shtml).
Whatever you may hear, you’ll never escape the fact that early A.A. and early AAs knew a great deal about God. They read about Him in the Bible. They read about Him in their daily devotionals. They read about Him in all sorts of Christian literature that was in circulation. They prayed to Him. They listened for His guidance. They sought His healing, forgiveness, and deliverance. They “surrendered” to Him by accepting His Son as their Lord and Savior. And they heard about him all the time from Dr. Bob, from Bob’s wife Anne, from Henrietta Seiberling, and from Mr. and Mrs. T. Henry Williams. And, of course, they closed all their meetings with the “Lord’s Prayer” from the Bible.
The strangers in the patch are the trees, radiators, Big Dippers, any gods, not-gods, Somethings, light bulbs, and just plain unbelief. All such thoughts are expressed in A.A. and in “recovery” today, but the A.A. of yesteryear would have had no truck with them if they persisted for long. Dr. Bob said he felt sorry for those who had atheist or agnostic ideas. (See Big Book, 4th. ed., p. 181). Clarence Snyder made fun of them by writing his pamphlet: My Higher Power the Light Bulb. And today’s writers, historians, and scholars ought to be making fun of them too. What person with a brain cell left in his head would really pray to a light bulb or a radiator or a tree. It’s for certain that the anti-A.A. writers are making fun of these self-made idols with greater and greater frequency. Absurd reasoning invites astute rejection. And A.A. is getting pelted with it-from the churches and from the unbelievers.
Why not! The Fourth Edition of the Big Book says that God could and would relieve us of our alcoholism if sought. Far more emphatic, the First Edition said that God can and will. What’s wrong with that approach? Either we come to A.A. to get well, or we come to locate and worship strange gods. If we come to get well, the One with all power has the most appeal for me. Not some idiotic radiator or light bulb or “Something.” Either God is, or He isn’t. Either God heals, or He doesn’t. Either God loves us, or not. I relied on our Creator, and I’ve lived for over 24 years a sober and delivered believer, proving that God has done for me what I could not do for myself. I don’t think it’s heresy in A.A. to believe in God, to seek Him through His Son Jesus Christ, to establish a relationship with God, to proclaim the victory, and to walk forth a free person. To walk out free just as A.A. Number Three, Bill Dotson, did in the summer of 1935. See our Fourth Edition, pp. 188-192. Bill Dotson came to A.A. solely for the purpose of sobriety. He emerged to say: “It has been through A.A. that I have found God.”