There are a number of people, in and out of the 12-Step life, who have ‘issues’ with “the G word”: God. And not without reason!
Many of us, when we were told about God when we were children, were led to believe that God was an entity who tended towards hot anger, stern judgment, and fierce wrath. Many of us were also taught that God is tender and merciful and loving and wanted nothing but the very best for us.
And some of us were taught that God was angry and rejecting AND loving and merciful, which was certainly confusing. How can one entity be both, at the same time? But we were children and didn’t know any better, and tried to find a way to hold both sets of ideas in our minds - usually, without much success.
And many of us, perhaps most of us, have not been taught hardly anything at all about God since we were children. So it stands to reason that we have childish notions about God. And because we haven’t had occasion to reexamine and reevaluate our ideas, we were not in a position, as St Paul wrote, to “put away childish things.”
As a result, many have rejected “God” and will not have anything to do with such an awful thing.
Before I came into the Program, I had many jumbled ideas about God, but none that I really had thought about for a long time, and certainly none that I had thought through in any rigorous or careful way. I believed in God, I suppose, but I had no idea what that God was, or was like! And as my addiction progressed, my thinking about God regressed, to where I had not much more than sullen fears and vague longings.
But since I’ve been rescued from the hell of addiction into which I was sinking for such a long time, I have come to have clearer and, well, much more relaxed ideas about the Ultimate. And most of the other people I know who are in recovery seem also to have less fraught and more familiar concepts of whatever Power it is that has freed us from that bondage of self.
For some of us, “God” means something like “the spirit of the Universe.”
For some, “God” means something a lot like what is described in the Nicene Creed.
For some, “God” means Love … “and where love is, God himself is there” as the hymn tells us.
For some, “God” means the 12-Step program itself: “Group of Drunks,” “Good Orderly Direction,” infused with strength and wisdom of countless partners in recovery from the decades since Bill and Bob first met in Akron, almost ninety years ago.
And so, whenever a member of AA or any other 12-Step program says the word “God,” they do not mean that confusing and harsh supernatural entity which frightened and confused us so badly as children. They also don’t mean a vaguely benevolent, merciful Being which comforted us as children. They mean “a Power greater than myself, as I understand that Power.” Whatever that might be.
And what that word means to the speaker need not have anything at all to do with what that word means to the hearer. What the Power means to the speaker need not have anything at all to do with what that speaker or that hearer or anyone else was taught or mistaught as a child.
Because what matters for sobriety, for recovery, is not what anyone thinks or believes about “God,” but the fact that one thinks it and believes it. What matters for recovery is not the content of one’s faith, but the having of faith. What matters isn’t what you think but that you think it, not what you believe but that you believe it, not what you rely on but that you rely on it, whatever it is.
I daresay that most of us have developed an understanding that is more benevolent and merciful than it is confusing and harsh, but it is the understanding, and not what is understood, that is important.
And thank God for that! If the gift of sobriety were available only to those whose ideas about God were correct and accurate - whatever that might mean - then nobody would be sober, nobody at all. But if the gift were available to those whose desire was sincere for a relationship with God - whatever that might be - then, well, lots and lots of us would be sober. And that is exactly how things are!
Because what matters for sobriety, for recovery, is not what anyone thinks or believes about “God,” but the fact that one thinks it and believes it.
- Scott E