The God Question
God as Metaphor of the Ineffable
God has been around a long time in Alcoholics Anonymous. For some, He remains the brick and mortar of the program. For that same group, He is the only Higher Power, a power that can, literally, move mountains.
For others, like myself, God is a metaphor of the ineffable. He or She only becomes the ultimate etiology of reality when nothing else can explain the mystery behind the mystery.
We are here. We are the effect of what came before. And something came before that.
But, at what point, does all cause stop at the door of the Ultimate Cause, the Cause that has no Cause before it? That, my friends, is the stubborn question that will not yield an answer. And, in my judgment, the door will never, ever open to that answer because Being is itself: it has no Ultimate Cause. It just is. And always has been.
God-Consciousness as the Pursuit of the Good
On the other hand, we can choose to be God-conscious on the human level. To live in that consciousness is to choose to inhabit a life that is good—-to reflect, to self-monitor, to do service, to find a quiet space for reflection or meditation, to be open to alternative perceptions.
God consciousness is also a description of what I call the “fullness of the Spirit.” It is a complete opening of one’s soul to love and new possibilities. And it is that fountain of fullness that was shut off by my drinking, my resentments, my over analysis, my feeling of superiority, my negative judgments, my fears, and my lust.
Agent-of-God Claims, Another Form of Arrogance
Last week, someone from the tables claimed he was an “agent of God,” having been singled out, apparently, from all the other alcoholics to receive a special grace that radicalized his life, that enabled him, so he says, to do anything he put his mind up to.
It is difficult to distinguish between self-motivated, ego-driven enthusiasm and a claim to have been singled out by God to have a radical ability to conquer any challenge. This confusion often occurs when the chemicals leave our bodies; there is often a rush of invincibility, a sense that there are no obstacles that can’t be overcome.
With or Without God, We Still Have to Pay the Bills
There is no question that we certainly have a new energy when we get sober. But our grandiosity can also blind us to the realities that life is a process: mathematical competence doesn’t arrive at my doorstep because I am suddenly implanted with a radical knowledge of calculus; I can’t pass the bar exam without studying; and I may think I’m right, but wisdom is knowing how to listen to another point of view.
On the other hand, I can study for a math test or review for the bar exam because I am not distracted by the booze. I am no longer in that dark place where fantasies have a pariah-like hold on my imagination, fantasies that once told me that I could be the next William Faulkner or Luciano Pavarotti.
When I become free of my addictive behaviors—and some of them still hang on in their rigor-mortis grip—I have the emotional and intellectual space to focus. If I am inside of that grip, I will fantasize myself into a dark corner.
But, even in sobriety, I still have to engage myself. I have to make an effort. I have to pay the bills. No Greek goddess is going to walk into my life and offer me a million dollars to live in the Caribbean.
Grace as Nurturing Myth; Changes Through Action & Collective Wisdom
The 12-step promises are not about automatic gifts we receive just because we are on our best behavior. But our life slows down, we gain focus, our ears start to open, we start noticing other people, we start apologizing, we start doing service, we begin reflecting on our own behaviors, we become open to receiving a new energy to perform tasks that would have drowned in our alcohol-marinated fantasies
There is a tendency among many orthodox believers that anything is possible with God’s grace; that somehow we are going to be given special gifts; that our cancer is going to go into remission; that our kids are going to be straight A students; that a job will just arrive at my door; that I will suddenly develop an artistic talent with no work.
God’s grace can be a very nurturing concept. But it can also feed my grandiosity. I can convince myself that some divine force is guiding my life. Then, of course, I am on the road to always being right, to being selected among the herd to receive special gifts, or to be given a prize because I was dutiful, I did all the right things.
Within this very small world of my enthusiastic ego, I create my own psychological tennis court—-grace is volleyed across an invisible net by an ever-vigilant patriarch, and a dutiful child returns the favor with good behavior.
In this imaginary world, loyal children are always rewarded.
This does not mean that the 12-step promises don’t come true. There are plenty of radical changes I have seen in my life. Through the amends, the self inventories, the evolution of my own spirituality, and service to those in and out of the program, I have discovered a peace I never had while I was drinking alcoholically. That peace has, indeed, radicalized me.
Some would attribute this peace to an anthropomorphic deity, specifically, to the grace given by that deity.
I do not.
Not because of arrogance, on my part, but because of the spiritual power residing in the 12-step rooms—-the collective wisdom, the transparency, the stories of surrender, the shedding of egos, the humility, the tenderness. This is what I experience three or four times a week. And it is this experience that shapes my soul like a soft clay chisel, week after week, year after year.