The purpose of this site is to help individuals in recovery grow spiritually. AA defines itself as a spiritual program. Within the book of Alcoholics Anonymous we find these important statements. Read more ›
The purpose of this site is to help individuals in recovery grow spiritually. AA defines itself as a spiritual program. Within the book of Alcoholics Anonymous we find these important statements. Read more ›
Note: The reader should review the article “Building Character – As God Sees it – Self-Discipline – The Spiritual Solution” for best understanding of this article.
In the previous article we stated that when the desire to not drink is stronger than the desire to drink, we will stay sober. That attitude needs to remain constant. Most of us in recovery would agree that our sobriety is “contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition”. Good spiritual condition keeps stoked the desire to not drink. There are a lot of factors that influence our spiritual condition but in the final analysis it is important to understand that it always an act of our own will that makes our choices, and they are made under the influence of our own desires. To appreciate the validity of this statement we need to appreciate some fundamental truths about our humanity and the most important ability we are created with, namely the ability of choice. There is a direct connection between our choices and the state of our spiritual condition.
God is both the creator and caretaker of humanity. Humans live in a physical environment but need spirituality. God is a spirit. He created us to have a will. This is the ability to make choices – the act of volition. He did this out of love. The nature that we have in us wants free choice. The nature that we have is flawed when compared to God’s nature. This flaw causes us to make bad choices. That flaw makes us susceptible to the sin principle and the development of error in our underlying beliefs. The result is our selfish choices and the consequences they bring. God knows this but He will not violate our ability to choose. His solution was to create in the human a will and a spiritual ability that, if operating, would help counteract both error in our beliefs and the sin principle. We call it spirituality. (excerpt from the book Eternal Sobriety, Chapter Three, The 12-Step Waltz).
So, what does it mean to have a will? Do I really have choices? Was my will working when I was out drinking? Was I really under the bondage of alcohol? Wouldn’t that mean I had no will to not drink? If I did everything I could do to maintain good spiritual condition but drank again, should I blame my will, my spiritual condition, or something else? When I apply the third step in the AA 12-Step program and turn my will and life over to the care of God, does that mean I give away my will? When I humbly ask God in Step 7 to remove all my shortcomings, and they don’t get removed, does it have anything to do with my will? All of these are good questions that we can answer if we understand the way our “will” operates.
There are differing philosophies on the definition of the human will. On one side, the pure science side, there is the belief that absolute free will is an illusion. This is based upon experiments of brain activity that show that choices are pre-determined before our conscious thought actually becomes aware of a given decision. For most of us, it seems obvious when I make a decision, say, to go to an AA meeting, I feel that I could have chosen to do something else. Yet many philosophers say this instinct is wrong. According to their view, free will is a figment of our imagination. No one has it or ever will. Rather, they state our choices are either determined—necessary outcomes of the events that have happened in the past—or they are random.
Unfortunately, many of these same folks who follow this line of thought also promote the idea of removing punishment for bad moral behavior. Instead they place the blame on these pre-determined causes rather than upon one’s own conscious moral responsibility for proper choices. The idea is that since our conscious awareness of making a given choice is after the choice has been made, we are not at fault. Rather it is the predetermined causes and processes reflected in unconscious brain activity that are to blame. However, science operates only on a physical evidence basis and does not consider the reality of a soul that has spiritual abilities. Science also fails to consider that we are designed by a supernatural creator to interact and live in a dualistic environment. Theologically, it means we are living in both a physical (natural) realm and a spiritual (supernatural) realm. In the natural world it includes the need to survive, to love and be loved, to feel significant, and to appreciate variety in our choices. We choose actions we think will achieve those needs. Essential to these needs is a feedback process which is the reaping of consequences (good and bad) that we use to correct our course as needed.
So, when we consider the idea of our will, it is important to recognize that we do indeed have boundaries in our abilities to make choices. We have to fit into our environment so learning how to make good choices is a lifetime process. Science is right that our choices at any given moment are based upon internal inclinations we have that influence us. This would include memory, beliefs, mental status, emotions (derived from thoughts), knowledge (or lack of knowledge), physical status, prior experience all along with the stresses of the environment we are in at the time. We also need to remember that we are flawed by the condition of sin, which in itself, is a natural bend or inclination to choose self over others.
The fact that our brain works in the unconscious realm before the conscious awareness of the choice does not alter the fact that it is still a human ability to initiate the process that culminates in that choice. Thoughts are going in and out of our subconscious all of the time. Decisions may begin their journey unconsciously but it is in response to the need for a decision based upon the awareness of our conscious reality or for semi-automatic responses that need little thinking. Actually, it is good it works this way. If I am sleeping and begin to feel pain in a joint the decision to move the joint to ease the pain does not require me to wake up, think about the pain, and then decide to move my joint. Touching a hot stove is a good example. Another example is the development of fear. If we suddenly encounter a dangerous situation there are important responses there need to happen in our body before we actually consciously realize it, such as the flow of adrenalin. That’s a good thing as we need to be ready to fight or flight.
From a spiritual standpoint, theology defines the faculty of the will as that power, or principle of our mind, by which it is capable of choosing. Therefore, an act of the will is the same as an act of choosing a given choice. All of our actions are as a result of choosing. The reality is that our choices always have some motive or reason and are always conditioned by the inclinations we are subjected to at any given moment. So, the way we operate as human is through a choice making process designed by God to achieve his purpose. Achieving that purpose requires the growth of truth in the mind. God knows we need a system that derives an awareness of our ability to choose within moral boundaries. When the choice brings bad consequences, it becomes an incentive to modify our beliefs so our future choices will bring better results. Our laws have developed over time to reflect a number of exceptions to punishment such as being a minor or having some real mental defect. For the most part our society holds us accountable for the behavior we have as a result of our choices.
So, the idea that free will is only an illusion, which is based upon pure physics that all conscious choice is always pre-determined by processes not under our control, is not a healthy way of looking at our ability to make choices. If this was the way that society in practice accommodated it we would be in deep trouble. It would allow us to blame our alcoholic behavior on something outside ourselves, like Flip Wilson who said “The devil made me do it” This of course is humorous but in reality, there is a tendency to make this claim and it is often a major stumbling block to our own growth. There seems to be a tendency to always blame our bad behavior on something outside ourselves. We are all guilty of this to some degree and we bring it into recovery.
Not only are we able to choose according to our strongest inclinations, but, in a very real sense, we must choose according to our strongest inclination in order to be free. This is what freedom really is: to be able to choose what we want, rather than what somebody else wants for us. We also recognize that we are creatures who have multitudes of conflicting desires. We are complicated and are often torn in more than one direction, and the intensity with which we want things changes often. If we desired only to do God’s will, we would never sin. Unfortunately, we still desire to please ourselves, to gratify our own passions, and to do what we want to do, rather than what we think God’s will might be. If our desire to do God’s will is greater than our desire to please ourselves at this point, we will choose to do it God’s way. However, whenever our desire to please our self exceeds our desire to please God, our own wills are not fully in line with God’s will.
In a real sense, we are slaves to our own freedom. Our own desires are to be free. We are volitional in nature, and to be volitional means that we choose according to our will. We make choices according to what seems best or most pleasing to us at the moment of decision. We make choices all of the time. When I turn my will and life over to the care of God in Alcoholics Anonymous, it does not mean I stop choosing. What it means is that the chief aim of my life should change from serving self to building desire to learn and do God’s will and to practice to the best of my ability to choose and act the way God would want me to. I need to remember that the way character defects become removed is by my own will choosing to not act on the defects but upon the spiritual principles defined in our program. Our character changes by a process of subtraction of defects by the addition of good character attributes acquired through the actions of practicing them. In other words, practice these principles in all of our affairs.
Christians have a process called sanctification? It is important we understand how we function as sinners since we have conflicting desires in our soul. We want to grow in grace, we want to please God, we want to be obedient to the commands of Christ, and yet we still have desires for self-fulfillment that are sinful. We are told in the New Testament to feed the new man and starve the old man. Put the old man to death and seek the renewal of the new man, the strengthening of the inward man. The level of our desire to obey Christ has to increase, and the level of our desire for the things of this world has to diminish. Because we are always going to follow our strongest inclinations or desires, the only way to grow in grace is to feed and strengthen our positive desires for God and to starve our negative desires.
There are several things we can do to strengthen our desire to do God’s will? One major thing is to spend time in the Bible. Paul the Apostle says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). When we read and hear the Word of God explained by bible teachers, we begin to understand that certain behavioral patterns that are acceptable in the culture in which we live are totally unacceptable to God. When we sin, we need to know that we are sinning. It is easy to trivialize our behavior as part of the norms of society. The world is becoming more and more corrupt. We might think our behavior is not a big deal but when we come under the scrutiny of the Word of God, we see that our actions are indeed very important to God. The bible gives us a deeper understanding of right and wrong. When we spend time in the truth of God and meditate on it and pray, something happens to the inward man. Our mind gets changed. We start to think differently, and we approach decisions in a different way, all because our minds are renewed with the truth of God. The truth does indeed set us free. It sets us free from the error in our beliefs that influence our choices.
This is how we grow and accomplish both doing God’s will and participating in the process of removing our defects of character. We may not make the choice that God would want us to but when we learn to own our individual behavior (take responsibility for) we can become better with our future choices. Science may try to tell us we have no free will and that is true only for the moment of decision. In other words, all of the internal conflicts, intentions, and desires all work at making a given decision at any given moment. Having the freedom of choice means that we can modify our internals such that we do make the better choices in the next round. The wrong interpterion is to believe that our will is free, as if it were indifferent to good or evil, with no inclination to go to the left or the right. My friends, its going to simply to do what our strongest desire wants to do.
There are four major elements that are important for growth in our character. First, we must have knowledge about good character (behavior), second, we need to know where we fall short, third, we need to have a desire to not fall short, and fourth we need to practice behaving in the proper way until it forms a stronger inner desire to act the right way. This is how the 12-Step recovery process actually works. Our sharing of solid spiritual principles, the inventory process, consequences of our bad behavior helps create desire to change, and to practice these spiritual principles in all of our affairs. AA is a good practical process for growth but wisdom tells us we need more. We need the Word of God in our inward man to overcome the appetites, desires, and inclinations that drive our choices throughout our entire life.
When we were out drinking it was our desire to drink more that the desire to not drink that made the choice that brought the alcohol to our lips. That desire was fed by numerous reasons and motivations and inclinations that supported that choice. Then over time the consequences set in, the pain became harsh and the desire to not drink was born. When the consequences stimulated the desire to not drink to be greater than the desire to drink we made a choice to get help. Its your choice to walk in the principles of AA and to seek after the things of God. It is only God that can deliver fulfillment of the four fundamental needs we have. Once again these are the need to survive, the need to love and be loved, the need for significance, and the need for variety (which stimulates choice). I would hope that you see it that way, as I do.
No, the will is not neutral. We have conflicting desire at play all of the time with in us. It is indeed often a struggle. The next article will deal with that struggle, which for the Christian is normal.
Note: The reader should review the article “Building Character – As God Sees it – Self-Discipline – The Problem” for best understanding of this article.
This article deals with how the spirit of God provides the recovering person the power needed to overcome alcoholism and character defects, when their own attempts seem to fail. This power is available to the Christian in recovery. The bible tells us this is the power we need for self-control to become a reality. (As God Sees It) This is the truth we find in Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV): But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
It is difficult to imagine that this list of character attributes could be obtained in ones life through self motivation alone. These are not natural attributes to the human nature. Our own self centered nature has a difficult time because they ask us to perform these acts in a totally unselfish way – i.e. without a personal motive. We are conditioned to believe that unless we benefit somehow there is little value in developing these characteristics. Of course we can develop them to some degree with the right motives but to wear these all of the time and in all situations and with all personalities it is going to require a power of a supernatural kind. It is only by practicing them in the spirit (knowing that God is at work in us) will we find the value that they have to our long term peace and serenity.
In Step 11 of the 12-Steps we are instructed to pray . . . only for knowledge of His will for us and the POWER to carry that out. His will of course includes removing our character defects – a process which requires a true partnership with HIM. It is His power that we seek and real spiritual help can only come from the spirit of God living within the Christian. That is the truth as explained biblically. You may already be a Christian which entitles you to the spirit of God. The bible clearly defines the spirit of God as a real person who comes to live within the Christian.
In the book “Eternal Sobriety”, Chapter Four, What is God Like, we find “God’s love is all around the recovering alcoholic. The closer we get to God, the more we sense this. A recovering alcoholic, who has God’s spirit living within, will find a quickening to the sensing of God’s love and presence. (John 3) This is a result of the relationship now established between the believer and God, through the presence of the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost (a real person who energizes us).
This does not imply that a measure of self-control cannot exist in a person who is not a Christian. However, it does imply that trying to remove the passions and desire of our instinctual nature (the source of all character defects) is going to be a rough road to trudge without God’s spirit. In fact, without God we will only be mired down on that road. There are many benefits to being a Christian, one of which is to give us a new nature. If you need to know more about how God’s spirit comes to live in a person and how it can help your recovery, you can find an abundance of truth in the book Eternal Sobriety.
Speaking to the Christian, we can now evaluate how the spirit of God helps produce in us self-control – the attribute we need to remove character defects. We begin with a biblical understanding of the lack of self-control, that is, “As God Sees It.” Proverbs 25:28 states that “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” A wall around an ancient city was designed to keep out the enemy. Judges at the gates determined who should be allowed in and who should remain outside. Soldiers and gates enforced those decisions. One breach in a wall led to an avalanche of wall breaking around the entire city, not just from the outside but now aided from the inside.
In our lives, these defenses might include avoiding close relationships with old playmates and playpens and trying to remember not letting ourselves become hungry, angry, lonely and tired. However our worst enemy comes from within in the form of old beliefs and bad thinking. During our drinking years we established in our beliefs many bad habits, tons of error and multiple shortcomings. We need to have self-control to prevent a relapse event that can start with a bad thought or memory followed by a character defect, such as anger. We need inside help to help us purge these defects because it is from within ourselves that defects become energized.
Not having self-control is obvious when we look at our past. The debris field left from our alcoholism is littered with evidence of the results of having no self-control. When we put no restraint on our passions, desires, and affections we are in dangerous territory. It makes us susceptible to not only lose the battle against a specific character defect but it opens the door to all other defects, including the possibility of relapse. Our wills begin to waver in all areas once we have given into a temptation. In the book of James we find “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
The initiation of a defect starts with a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen – something our conscience knows is out of God’s will. That feeling is desire. There is both good desire and bad desire. If bad desire remains in our thinking process and gets fed by more thinking that desire will conceive into a plan and the habit or defect is birthed. Like a real pregnancy is it difficult to stop it after its conception. It is at the point where the initial desire is sensed that the desire to not act (self-control) is needed. The desire to not act on the defect has got to be stronger that the desire to act on it. So a transformation of desire in the mind has to take place if self-control is to become a reality. In Romans 12: 1- 2, we find: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will (NIV).
This is the same recovery process we see in the alcoholic’s desire to not drink. When the desire to not drink is stronger than the desire to drink, we stay sober. Coming out of denial enables the process to begin. The desire to not drink has its birth in the renewing of our minds about alcoholism with the truth that we find in the fellowship of A.A. It is the collective wisdom we gain in A.A. that enables us (gives us power) to restrain ourselves from drinking. This is the very same process that we have available to us in the removal of our character defects. It first begins with our no longer denying that they exist in us and by claiming our ownership of them rather than trying to find external reasons we can blame for them. The desire to restrain ourselves, that is, to not act on the defects, is going to come through the process of renewing of our mind with God’s truth, His wisdom.
Christ told a story in Luke 11 that illustrates this principle in breaking a bad habit (defect). A man, who had been inhabited by a demon, rejoiced when that sinister spirit was expelled. The wicked spirit then passed through waterless places, seeking rest. Finding none, it decided to return to its original place of residence. The demon saw that its original house was unoccupied, swept, and had lots of empty space. “Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” This man didn’t understand the principle of replacement. None of us can overcome our character defects and habits by simply deciding we do not want them anymore. Rather, we can only do so by substituting a better habit or belief in its place. Sinful habits or defects cannot be broken without replacing them with good habits or character attributes.
Don’t miss this important principle of removing character defects by adding character attributes, a process that involves the replacement of bad beliefs, that drive these defects, with good beliefs that counteract them. i.e. renewing the mind. The source of our new beliefs needs to be coming from the truth and wisdom of God which we find in the bible. If this is not currently a part of your practice of spiritual tools you are going to miss out on the advantage this has in removing defects. A.A. has a lot of good information about the need to practice principles, the process of helping us to own our character defects, and emphasizing the need to meditate and pray for knowledge of His will for us and asking for the power to carry it out. If we are relying on just A.A. and its material and are not recognizing the value of “being quick to see that religious people are right” then we are going to have a lot of ongoing problems with defects.
The real spiritual solution to the removal of defects requires the type of self-control produced as a fruit by the Holy Spirit. It is a twofold process of growth. First it requires God’s word being placed into our beliefs (by reading and hearing) and that becomes energized by the power of the Holy Spirit to help us walk in that truth (His Word). In both elements it is a joint partnership with God. He does His part and we do our part. God never removes our free will. The “renewal of our mind” process is one of becoming aware of choices and then creating the desire in us to make the choice that He wants us to make. God’s Will for us becomes a reality as we choose to do it without bondage from the defects.
When we accept Christ as our savior He implants a new nature in us. The old nature is crucified with Christ but the body of sin with its sensuous desires hangs on until we die. To diffuse the desires of our sensual nature which produce the character defects we need to have our thought patterns replaced by the Word of God. That’s our part. Then the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to create godly desires can work. Every temptation comes to us by our thoughts which must be brought under the control of the Spirit. God wants us to be free from the defects that arise from our sensuous self-centered nature but only if we choose to practice His will.
The power of the Holy Spirit was given to believers to do more than our own self-efforts are capable of doing. As we have discovered in our recovery walk we simply do not have the strength to fight the wrongful use of our instincts and passions without God’s help. Intentions alone are not sufficient to change the internal selfish desires that our defects and bad habits bring when temptation comes. Galatians 5:16 explains “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
The Holy Spirit living in the Christian has another task besides creating the desire in us to do the right thing. It sets up an inner struggle when we attempt to do the wrong thing. It uses our conscience. We will not attempt to go into detail about this in this article as you can get a complete picture of how that inside help works in the book Eternal Sobriety. There you will find an entire chapter called The Helper which provides some major insight in how God has provided in His word and in His Spirit all we need to have success in recovery with our spiritual growth. We can say in simple terms that the Holy Spirit wants to abolish (remove) not only the defects found in the old nature – He also wants to create healthy desires to replace the bad ones removed. It seems to me that when we no longer desire to act on the defect- it’s removed. A real spiritual solution, I would say.
In time, our struggles become less and less as we develop a self-disciplined mind. God’s purpose is a mind that avoids the intoxicating allurements the world system offers. It’s a mind that is clear and sober and functions with self-control in its thinking. The spiritual principles we practice become fixed and help us properly balance our priorities and steer us to proper behavior – to always do the right thing. We will no longer whimsically hop through life in reckless self indulgence at the command of our emotions, lusts, spurious impulses and wrongful desires. Instead we are finally set free from hate, sorrow, war, impatience, mercilessness, badness, infidelity, harshness, and unconstraint and become filled with love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
This is the goal that in A.A. we call peace and serenity. And it’s yours if you choose it.
There are many useful principles discussed in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that provide help to the process of building of our character. Honesty and humility are top contenders and many of us learn the value these principles bring when we practice them in our daily activities. Willingness is an essential ingredient to the practice of these foundational principles. In the forward to the book TWELVE STEPS and TWELVE TRADITIONS, we find “A.A.’s Twelve Steps are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.”
Many of us have no real experience when it comes to acting on principles that are spiritual in nature as they go against our own self-centered nature. Our willingness to put forth the effort to practice spiritual principles is often dependent upon the level of pain we have due to the circumstances we have from our behavior. The pain of our initial consequences that brought us to A.A. eventually subsides and with some sobriety under our belt we finally arrive at those steps that help us understand the defects in our character that have given us so much grief in our life. We reach that point where see the need to change and move into Step Six “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” and Step Seven “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” And this is where we encounter the problem and that problem is – SELF struggling with spiritual principles.
Many of us have never had even basic discipline instilled in us so our dilemma is directly related to the lack of it. Now the spiritual discipline necessary to be able to discipline our own life – to always do the right thing, becomes a major hurdle. Spiritual discipline is very essential to spiritual growth. Many of us take a look at Step Seven and develop an attitude that it is God’s job to remove our shortcomings. We fail to see that the process of removing shortcomings requires our full participation. It is going to require some self-discipline and effort if we are to gain the fruits of the 12-Step promises and find peace and serenity. Spiritual discipline, if it is to take hold, requires at its foundation the rudiments of plain old self-discipline.
Self-discipline does not seem to be an important topic in A.A. – perhaps that’s because we may have an incorrect understanding of the term powerlessness. The first step in the program is to admit to our powerlessness over alcohol. Once we gain some sobriety and turn our will and life over to God our powerlessness diminishes as we and God work together at abstaining from drinking. If we stop going to A.A. meetings, drift away from spiritual principles, fail to grow spiritually, and start hanging around with drinking folks, it’s likely we will be tempted to drink and fall into active alcoholism again. It requires self- discipline to maintain long term sobriety. It also requires self-discipline in order for shortcomings (character defects) to no longer dominate our lives. Most of us understand this when it comes to the drinking issue but it is not so clear about the removal of character defects. Perhaps a primer on self-discipline will help.
Self-discipline is the ability to make yourself do things when you should, even if you do not want to do them. It also means to prevent yourself from doing things you shouldn’t do even though you may want to. We usually associate self-discipline with individuals who have focus, have established priorities and stay consistent within them. Disciplined individuals achieve success in many different fields such as music, academics, and business. Most of these successes are by people who have formed habits of doing in their fields what no one really wants to do in that field. Successful musicians have long hours of practice under their belts. The same is true for people who have attained long term sobriety. They have simply practiced not drinking on a day by day basis and it has become a habit. There are other factors of course but if you are in Alcoholics Anonymous this is a common experience.
At a basic level self-discipline essentially comes down to having a reason to do something and sticking to it for the long-haul. For this to happen it is important to have a strong desire for something and motivation to bring the thing you desire to fruition, regardless of how long it takes. Patience is also a virtue that helps. In addition it is also about our ability to control our desires and impulses such that they do not interfere with the main objective. It will also require focus on what needs to get done to successfully achieve our desire. As such, self-discipline involves committing to long-term gains without falling victim to short-term self gratification along the way.
Desire plays a major role in achieving successes in A.A. When we first get into sobriety our desire to not drink is very strong. The level of our pain acts as a major motivator and we began practicing the simple things that can keep us sober. As time goes by the initial pain subsides so we must find another source of the motivation we need to continue in the program. Hopefully we start to see the value found in sobriety as we both observe the recovery of others and in ourselves. We also begin to see more positive things happen to us both as a result of not drinking and as a result of changing the way we behave. Over time the experiences of positive sobriety accumulate and our desire to not drink stays dominant and the dislike of slipping adds to our motivation. The recovery process starts with pain with gives us the kick start we need to practice the things that successful recovering folks do.
There are moments where wrongful desires and impulses are in play. Hopefully we are practicing self-discipline through those moments. Sometimes the impulse wins and we may have to pay the piper until the pain becomes intense enough again to motivate us to restart our recovery. These experiences all help us see the value of self-discipline. The impulse to drink is nothing more than an intense desire to have the euphoric serenity we once had with alcohol. Counteracting that desire with truth is very important. If we have some fear that our next drink may be our last because we have an awareness of the deadly consequences a relapse holds, it also is a good motivator.
Our common recovery experience in A.A. is an example of self-discipline in action. Initial pain motivation, desire for recovery, desire to not drink, the motivation we find through better experiences and the tools and strength we discover when those moments of impulse happen are all part of the self-discipline we practice in our program. All of the ingredients are there. It helps if we develop habits of doing the simple things each day that aid our recovery. The actual practice of self-discipline will result in specific habits that can help us be successful in our outcomes. In other words, it’s about taking small consistent actions that help us form the habits that subsequently help us achieve the desired aims.
Habits can be both good and bad, much like principles. Habits are actions we repeat, without thinking, that appear to deliver some benefit. Habits are simply behavior patterns formed by frequent repetition. That deserves repeating – habits are simply behavior patterns formed by frequent repetition. Repetition occurs whenever the consequences of the actions we take appear to be fruitful. These benefits provide confirmation to the underlying belief that is forming. (Eternal Sobriety, Chapter Two, Habits)
Bad habits have the characteristics of feeling good as you start practicing the action. This makes the practice easy to do but bad habits have hidden long-term destruction associated with them. Good habits are just the opposite. They do not feel good as we try to practice them. They are difficult to do but bring long-term benefits we enjoy. Practicing spiritual principles has the characteristics of good habits. The good thing about it is that when the good habit is finally formed and the actions are in the abstract, the dislikes of doing the specifics no longer carries the displeasure they had in the beginning. It is often said of old-timers in AA that they just wear the principles because they have formed a habit of doing those things in A.A. (principles) that makes for successful recovery.
That brings us to the dilemma of removing character defects. How is that to be accomplished? It is going to take some self-discipline. They are not going to be zapped out of us. It is going to take constant practicing of principles that form habits that counteract the defect. If we want to eliminate dishonesty we need to practice honesty. It’s also going to take both desire and motivation. We also need to have discipline to counteract the wrong impulse that will come. It’s one thing to have enough self discipline to achieve personal financial goals buts its entirely different to have a desire to remove a deep rooted habit of compulsive anger. Only through the practice of spiritual principles can this happen.
Spiritual principles are not like common principles. They are unique in that their very nature – that is, they are spiritual because they require actions that oppose our own selfish self-centered nature. Our natural instincts have been in charge for a long time when we arrive at A.A. They are also deep-rooted habits of behavior that have an abundance of different forms – many that we are not even aware of. So it is important to understand why the 12-Step program calls for a partnership with God. The practice of spiritual principles is where the rubber meets the road and we will struggle forever in our own strength. Not only that, it is an impossible task unless we are partnered with the true biblical God. That is when the real spiritual solution takes place. The founders of A.A. knew that and it is why the bible was initially the main text.
We will cover that in the next article.
Building Character – As God Sees It – Self Discipline – The Spiritual Solution
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
In Bill’s story, found in the book of Alcoholics Anonymous, we find the statement “For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead”. In the Forward of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book we find “ A.A.’s twelve steps are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole“. In the AA preamble “How it works” it states “we are willing to grow along spiritual lines”.
It has been proven over and over again that the A.A. program is an effective 12-step process that facilitates a positive change in our character, provided we do some work. The life changing properties of the steps strongly recommends that we constantly work at enlarging our god consciousness, take actions to minimize the effects that our character defects and own self-centered desires has on others, and to practice spiritual principles of behavior in all of our affairs. These factors are the mainstay of our spiritual life and are necessary to reach and maintain long-term sobriety and reap its fruitful benefits of peace and serenity.
But how does one perfect and enlarge our spiritual life and what is meant by “spiritual lines” and what exactly are spiritual principles? Is spirituality more than just prayer and meditation practices and how is our spiritual life related to our character, the face that others see, as demonstrated by our behavior? These are questions we need to answer because in order to build healthy character we must have the proper foundation. The simple understanding is that working the 12 steps will bring a spiritual awakening and that spiritual growth is a result of practicing spiritual principles. The task is to do so in all our affairs. These are basic elements of the program that over time produce a change in our character, as our common collective experience bears out. But there is more available and the goal should be a godlike character, which according to the bible is achievable.
This article begins a series of informative articles that will help in understanding good character, as God sees it, and what is our part compared to God’s part in order for godlike character to be produced. The central theme of these articles is on building godly character, which when based on spiritual principles of behavior is the desired process of enlarging our spiritual life.
The concept of character can imply a variety of attributes including the existence or lack of virtues that yield good behavior or habits. Moral character is a measure of an individual’s stable moral qualities. For spiritual growth to occur in our character it requires 1) a good biblical understanding of the values and attributes of human behavior that defines good moral character, 2) an awareness of our own measure of or lack of good character attributes, 3) an attitude of desiring them enough to work for them, 4) personal effort being made, and 5) dependence upon God to help us remove the selfishness and self-centeredness that hinders our emotional and spiritual growth. Never doubt that spiritual growth requires knowledge, desire, and effort for good moral character to become a reality.
The bible enlightens us in this need to grow our spiritual life. It describes that growth with character attributes such as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These things are found in spiritually grown people. It also explains that to gain these things we must make every effort to add to our faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. We are also told that if we possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive.
The 12 Steps themselves give us a strong clue that we have a part to play in the process of enlarging our spiritual life through “work and self-sacrifice”. What are the ingredients needed that enable us to perform such a noble effort? The answer to that, of course, is having character that has good substance to it. It is good character that gives us the energy to do the right thing. It is the substance of our character that determines how we respond to the situations and circumstances of life. Good character is a pattern of thoughts, acts, and feelings that we display over time that are in tune with a standard of good moral behavior and reflect personal accountability for our behavior.
We are not born with good character and it’s likely that the proper substance that we need in our character in early sobriety to grow spiritually – is famished. It must be developed in us and this development is not overnight. In fact, it is likely that by the time we arrive at the doors of A.A. we are morally bankrupt and deep defects have formed in our character from many years of alcoholic behavior. It is a given that we are not there to enroll in character school. We are there because of harsh circumstances that have finally given us enough pain to move us towards accepting the reality of our alcoholism. We have been living in a massive state of denial. But denial doesn’t end just because we begin going to AA meetings and start to work the 12-step program.
The biggest obstacle we have to our spiritual development is the lack of insight to see clearly that we are flawed. To understand why it is so difficult we need to briefly examine belief systems. The book Eternal Sobriety delves into belief systems in much more detail than we can go into in this article. There are over one hundred references to beliefs and belief systems that point out the importance of understanding your own set of beliefs and why pursuing truth is important. It is suggested that you read it as it can be very valuable in your recovery journey. Some basics of belief systems are:
A belief system is a collection of individual beliefs in our memory about specific things. These beliefs provide the basis for how we interact within our various living environments. We can separate our beliefs into political, religious, moral, and many other categories. Beliefs become active when our thinking process focuses on a specific thing or event: be they real-time, from the past, or imaginary. Beliefs arise through both learning and experience. The substance of our beliefs is changing constantly as we have new experiences. Belief systems, comprised of multiple beliefs, are formed to define our own personal sense of reality. Every human being has a belief system that they utilize, and it is through this mechanism that we individually, perceive the world around us. Many beliefs are formed early in life and are often hand downs from parents. Belief systems qualify acceptable behavior within civilizations to help maintain stability. The clash between civilizations is due to different belief systems. Closer to home we encounter clashes with others due to behavior that is not considered proper within our common society. Beliefs play a role in that as well.
Beliefs can be held with varying degrees of certainty or conviction. We can be passionately committed to a point of view, which appears to be the case when our own behavior is questioned. In the realm of human behavior, the typical response is to deny reality as a way to avoid an emotionally uncomfortable truth. That’s certainly the case with our initial denial of being alcoholic. When faced with that fact, it was too uncomfortable to accept and we rejected it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence. This is partly due to pride and partly because we can’t accept the truth of it. Justification steps in to provide cover for our excesses and our inability to be accountable for our actions. It seems that to begin to examine ourselves we have to get to the point where we experience pain from our behavior. Pain seems to break down pride. The evidence of circumstances eventually wears away our resistance to the truth and we accept reality.
Fundamentally, our behavior is derived out of our belief systems. I do this or that because I believe this or that. So we could make a statement that if our behavior is bad the solution is to change our beliefs. Beliefs are hard to change and we seem to have built-in self-rising denial walls when confronted with evidence that shows our beliefs might be in error. Truth exposes error. To build good character we must have the proper standard for spiritual behavior and recognize our own leanness of spiritual principles within us. Principles are the means of expression for our beliefs and reflect outward as character, which can often be negative.
Negative behavior is a direct result of bad principles (lack of good principles) in our belief system and yields an inaccurate perception of what will satisfy our needs. It is easy to see how bad principles in our belief system can have a negative impact on meeting our needs, and conversely how truthful principles will meet those needs. What we need then is a process that can help us remove bad principles, and that will develop good principles in our belief system. This is exactly the process that occurs in Alcoholics Anonymous. We talk about, and share, beliefs and principles that help us live life without alcohol. It is through the process of applying the steps of the program that we take on these beliefs and principles for ourselves. (Eternal Sobriety – Chapter Two – AA – A Process That Works)
In the book As Bill Sees It, on page 95, Bill Wilson, a cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous said “”We are only operating a spiritual kindergarten in which people are enabled to get over drinking and find the grace to go on living to better effect. Each man’s theology has to be his own quest, his own affair.” And on page 87 of the Big Book the text says “be quick to see where religious people are right”. In looking at the foundations needed for spiritual growth it becomes obvious that we need to be quick to see our need for the biblical approach to spiritual growth. That’s the path I am on and I encourage you to walk alongside me.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
(2 Timothy 3:16-17 – NIV)
Our purpose in these articles has been to help you, the recovering alcoholic, to gain a better understanding of the biblical God. It is established fact that the God of the Judeo-Christian bible inspired the Alcoholics Anonymous program. The character building processes that we find in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step program is founded on the beliefs, practices, and principles derived from the bible.
In the previous five articles we have discussed the belief that creation itself provides evidence of an intelligent being behind the creation of everything in the universe including our self. This is evidenced through our human observation of the design we see behind everything. Theologians identify two types of evidence that God reveals to His creation about His existence, namely “general revelation and special revelation.” General revelation refers to the revelation of God that is generally accessible to all people at all times. It is observable. This is evidenced by identifying the wonder and awesomeness of the design found within creation itself. This type of revelation is what we have previously focused on in this series of articles.
From the telescopic analysis of an unfathomable sized universe to the smallest particle we can observe microscopically, we see the hand of intelligent design in all creation. Design is found not just in the physical material realm we exist in but also in the design of all life itself in all of its many diverse forms. Human knowledge and wisdom confirms that the notion of design itself can only be the product of intelligence. It is not logical to assign “design” to random processes. Modern science confirms that intelligence is a prerequisite in the cause of design. Science confirms intelligent design in the very building blocks of life as more and more of the wonders of DNA, the chemical essence of life itself, are being uncovered daily.
In this final article we need to shift the focus to the other type of God’s revelation which is “special revelation”. This refers to the revelation of God given to people individually as a result of faith and personal spirituality. Since we define Alcoholics Anonymous as a spiritual program we must first define clearly what the term “spirituality” really means. It would be foolish of us to try and define this term from what we hear in the rooms. We need a true biblical understanding.
The book of Genesis teaches that God took ‘the dust of the ground’, a heap of chemicals, shaped a man and then blew into his nostrils the breath of life. Then man became a living soul. Human beings are different from animals, for ‘God created man in his own image’ (Genesis 1:27). So according to the Bible God made Adam out of dirt and because God is a spirit — He blows into his nostrils the breath of life. This is to convey the thought that though man had all the physical apparatus and organs for life, the immeasurable reality of life is something that’s not really part of those physical components. There is a transcendent reality of life that only God can give and it’s an immeasurable thing. God is a spirit and we are made in His image so we have a spiritual side to us. That gives us the ability of spirituality.
Spirituality, as defined by theologians, refers to the immaterial or nonmaterial part of man’s nature. We cannot touch this part of ourselves – it is not something that we can feel – although good feelings do come from right living. This definition rules out feelings as a sign of our spiritual nature. Spirituality applies to the internal condition of a person when they reach a state of belief that enables them to recognize and properly appreciate spiritual realities. We reach that state through the growth of truth in our belief system. (Eternal Sobriety – Chapter Three – Our Objective is Spirituality)
According to the Bible, God is not only the Author of our existence, but he is a personal God that fulfills the need we have to becoming a complete spiritual person, as He designed us to be. All the meaning for life that we crave, our emotional desires for strength for situations that used to baffle us and our pursuit for peace, serenity, joy, and wisdom as we trudge the road to happy destiny, can only be satisfied by the eternal God. This is the God we seek in AA, whether you believe that or not. The human being is more than flesh and bone. We are designed to find our creator. In order for that to happen we must experience life in not only the physical realm but also the emotional and spiritual realms. The Alcoholics Anonymous program helps this and is indeed a design for living that works. But it is only a subset of God’s overall design plan for our life as the bible and Christian belief confirms.
For the recovering alcoholic, as the Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) third step suggests, our major goal should be to understand enough about God and our self to be effective at turning our life and will over to His care. That response to God implies that we need a level of understanding that empowers us to trust in that choice. That is an achievable goal and progressively we gain confidence enough to manage a proper relational response to His desired will. It is an analysis of the image we have of God in relationship to the characteristics of God that will help us gain confidence, since these can be experienced. These characteristics give us a good understanding of God. Here are the main ones.
We cannot see God and He is intangible. He is a spirit! We know that God can create. He enjoys making things out of nothing. We know that God is without end. He has no limits or bounds. We know that God is alive and will live forever. He is permanent. He does not need to change because He is perfect in all ways. He has no flaws. We know that God has knowledge of everything. He has everlasting power and control over everything. God is in charge. He is present everywhere. We know that He is the source of all truth. He knows the way it is and everything else is relative to that truth. He is Holy. God has personal love and affection for each of us. He cares about us. His unmerited favor towards humanity, proven with His plan of salvation, is loaded with forgiveness. All of this we know about Him from His written word. The bible claims this is all true but its only knowledge until we experience His character individually as a truth.
We have both a material and immaterial side to our nature. Our body, of course, represents the material or physical part of our nature. The immaterial part is our “soul”, which is the essence of our living and interacting with both our material world and with God. Because of the soul, the body has life, sight and hearing, thought and speech, intelligence and emotions, will and desire, and both personality and identity. We can view the whole of our immaterial nature to be a blend of all of our living faculties and functions but of a single substance.
Thinking, feeling, and willing (making choices) are acutely sensitive conscious faculties that are the most familiar to us. There are also deeper, less sensitive faculties such as intuitive abilities and our sense of conscience. Keep in mind that God wants us to exist in this material world and yet relate to him in the immaterial world. That relationship is to be with our whole being. We can read and talk about God in many ways, but until we individually experience God’s image within us, with all of our faculties including our spirituality, it exists as knowledge and nothing more.
Experience is an interesting word. It literally means what happens to a person. This includes the activities of seeing, hearing, doing, feeling and living. These experiences relate to our physical, emotional, and intellectual ability to sense things. We all understand the value of our physical senses. They serve a purpose to help us exist within our worldly environment, the world God designed for us. God designed us to know Him through observation in our environment of His creative works and as well through a deeper ability to experience Him spiritually. To have a spiritual experience about God, I must be able to see, hear, do, feel, deeply sense, and live in His image in a way that involves the whole person; the material and our immaterial spiritual faculty. This is the way to understand His image, through a complete experimental relationship with Him.
We can see God’s image in both our body and soul. God placed His image in us in such a way that we can experience and understand that His image is there. The fact that we sense our own existence is because He exists. He created us with needs that will lead to seeking Him and finding Him. Only through a personal relationship with God are we able to experience the joy of fulfilling these needs in our life. These needs are not the humanly needs, based upon selfishness and materialism, which we so often pursue: but “spiritual needs.”
Spiritual needs are the deeper substance of all our needs and it is only by satisfying them that we will find true peace and serenity. With this given, we can define the fundamental spiritual needs that are in us as a reflection or image of the character of God. God, being a spirit, translates into an inner “need to be spiritual.” Humanity has had this desire since time began.
Everyone has some idea that there has to be more to life than the physical and emotional world we live in. As we learn to grow spiritually, we validate our own spiritual need. Our own “need to create” is reflective of God’s creative nature. Consider where our world would be without human creativity. We find this ability of creativity in all lifestyles and in everyone. We pursue many avenues as we attempt to create a life for ourselves in this world. However, our real need is to know our creator. Only when the spirit of God is alive to us can we meet this need.
Our 12th step defines this as “spiritual awakening” God’s infinite nature contrasted with our finite nature gives us the “need to perpetually grow and to seek answers.” The first recordings of early history to today’s ventures into outer space confirm this need. Our deeper need is to know God. Our “need to live and survive in our worldly environment” and the “need to live forever” come from God’s eternal nature. Sadly, man seeks immortality in many ways other than the way God intended. God’s immutable nature contrasted with our human instability gives us the “need to change towards stability.” The emotional relief we feel when confusion leaves us and we gain stability in our mind (thinking) is reflective of the value of this need.
The need we have for variety in our life is a part of our continuous seeking and searching for stability. There will be no real satisfaction from the world’s way. It is when we are experience the steadfastness of God, that we meet this need. Our “need for progress towards perfection” is an image of God’s attribute of perfection. We are constantly trying to improve everything and everybody – sometimes to the point of annoyance. The Bible is clear that the way to perfection is through Jesus Christ.
We also have an incessant “need to know everything.” Do you know someone that thinks they have met that need? Some of us think we have. This comes from God’s omniscience. God’s omnipotence is reflective of our “need to control”, which we so easily get confused about in practice. Our “need to be a part of something greater than ourselves” is due to God’s omnipresence. Generally, most of us do not like to be alone.
Our own “need to love as well as to receive love” is demonstrative of God’s nature of agape love. Our own “need for forgiveness”, as well as our “need to forgive others”, is reflective of God’s grace. God’s absolute Truth translates into our “need to always seek a higher truth.” We see this at work everywhere. All of these needs God created within us – to harmoniously blend into an underlying need to know our creator, to know the purpose of our existence, and the need to accomplish that purpose.
There is error in everything. Truth can be difficult to find. Fortunately God has provided in His design a truth building process that will move us forward in understanding Him. This is where Alcoholics Anonymous steps up to the plate. The 12-Step program provides a process that assists us in finding truth. It is clearly unique in its design and is tailored for alcoholics and our dilemma, although the 12-Step process is used for many other programs.. The process involves surrendering to the fact we cannot stop drinking and that we have mismanaged our life. The consequences of our behavior drive us to accept that we are powerless and therefore seek help from a spiritual source, namely God. We turn our life over to God and begin a cleansing process. A moral inventory follows. We confess our shortcomings, and ask God for help to remove them. We make amends, pray and meditate, and share our experience of recovery with others. Throughout this process we practice moral principles. Applying the 12-Step process and practicing moral principles is for a lifetime, which is why many identify it as a design for living.
This process is not unique to Alcoholics Anonymous. It is essentially the same process that the Bible tells all of humanity what it needs, in order to complete the spiritual design that God provided us with. We are simply not made spiritually or emotionally to go it alone. No matter how hard we try to find peace, happiness, and serenity pursuing the wrong passions, it does not fit the design. Our pursuits to do it our way and not get into God’s design only gives us outcomes that harm us. The bible takes the process one step further than the program does. It tells us that we need to accept the gospel of Christ found in the New Testament. This is what completes us for the long run, the additional benefit of the full truth in this life and the life to come – that is “eternal life.”
It is the bible that inspired the “design for living” program that we practice today. If you would like to understand more about the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step program and its relationship to biblical Christianity; and have a desire to know more about principles, free will, choices, habits, emotions, self-control, how to get on the beam, prayer and meditation, and much more, it is suggested you read the book “Eternal Sobriety”.
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is Gods way of blessing His creation with the means to achieve His design for humanity to – be fruitful and multiply. DNA’s unique design and complex information system allows God’s creation of life to contain all of the genetic instruction that causes all of the functions and development of all known living organisms. It’s the basic hereditary material in human beings and other life forms that replicates itself by design. Think about that.
For us it includes DNA from both our father and our mother. If you have a large nose that means it was in the DNA that you inherited. You have no choice over what you will look like as it all stems back to the combined DNA of your mother and father. You are patterned from them. And they were patterned from theirs and on and on it goes. And the wonder of it is that all of humanity is patterned after God as he created man in his own image’ (Genesis 1:27).
The following excerpt from the book “Eternal Sobriety”, Chapter Five, Made in His Image, provides some additional insight into what this means.
“We can understand our self better if we can define what that image is and what it represents. Theologians and laymen alike have attempted to provide that definition since the Genesis account first existed. The search of scripture yields only partial clues and there are varied interpretations and theological debates are still going on. We do know that we are a special creation of God and He created us lower than angels but higher than other earthly creatures. (Psalm 8: 5) This gives us special dignity in God’s entire created world. Human dignity reflects our ability at a creature level to reproduce within us a reflection of the holy ways of God. We will not elaborate on a comprehensive theological discussion about the image of God except to say that that the image includes an intellectual, moral, and a volitional (having a free will) likeness to God. This gives us a God-like capacity for knowledge, thought, and action. God’s image in us also includes our body and soul where the image of His attributes of existence and power reflect themselves. In addition, God designed us to have communication with Him so we also have a degree of spiritual likeness.”
In Genesis 2:7 we find that…God formed man from the dust and gave him life by sharing His own breath (Genesis 2:7). Man is unique among all God’s creations, having both a material (physical) body and an immaterial soul/spirit. This means he designed us to have self-consciousness, not just consciousness like animals have but self-consciousness. We are able to have cognition–that is, the awareness of self and our surroundings with the ability to rationally process information, to have intelligence. He designed us to have a form of creativity as He is the creator of everything. It’s amazing to look around the world and see the immense creativity of man. Put simply, we were created to have the image or likeness of God. So God’s design for humanity via the miracle of DNA and His breath of life created man in His image with self-consciousness, personality, rationality, intelligence, creativity, and the ability to form relationships. There is no randomness to the creation of man. Gods purpose was so that man could bring up out of this intelligently designed habitat, solar system, and universe immense demonstrations of mans God given marvelous abilities. And it is through human experience that this happens.
Lets briefly look at man and the experience of life he has that displays evidence of intelligent design? We begin with the abilities we have from God’s design of our human mind. The mind can be viewed simply as two central parts. One part is our “memory.” This part stores everything we know, experience, and believe. It is where our entire belief system with all of its extensions of information is maintained. In many ways, our mind is like a computer. A computer also has a central storage area to store information and to house the instructions needed to run a program. The other part of our mind we will refer to as the “thinker.” This is not an industry term but you get the idea. Everybody has one whether we use it properly or not. It is similar to the processor in a computer where we sort/execute the instructions on the data stored in memory.
Our memory, thinker, and physical abilities are a biological computer. The main difference between a computer and us is that we can do special things with our thinker that computers cannot do in their processor! Our memory is where individual belief systems and principles are stored. These derive themselves from information in our memory that defines our personality, attitude, desires, and abilities. We will classify this information as experience, knowledge, skills, qualities, values, morals, and our own perception of human needs.
Experience as a general concept is knowledge of or skill in or observation of something or some event gained through involvement in or exposure to that thing or event. Our individual experience is a set of lifetime recordings of events and situations. They are things we have done, seen, heard, felt and so forth. These experiences play a role in determining individual beliefs we may have. Knowledge is information that we have learned through study or experience. Skills are intellectual and physical abilities we gain through the practicing of that knowledge in our lives. Qualities describe special characteristics or attributes that we might have. Values are deep-seated enduring beliefs we hold which relate to our life goals and our modes of behavior. Morals are practices or teachings derived from the religious, social, and cultural environments we live in. Finally, within the beliefs are our individual perceptions of the human needs we mostly relate to.
The thinker is an amazing piece of work. This is what makes us different from all the rest of God’s creation. God designed us with special abilities. The thinker has the functions of decision-making, reasoning, recalling, visualization, imagination, and creativity. God blessed us when he designed us with a free will. Our decision making process allows us to carry out free will. It is where choice becomes a reality. Life is abundant with choice. Everything we ever do, think or say is a choice (except involuntary actions). The main barrier preventing us from always seeing the right choices is the lack of truth and knowledge in our belief system. Reasoning is drawing conclusions from information and facts in our belief system. Our senses are a part of that information. If we have the right information and facts, we will usually draw the right conclusion. Visualization and imagination are complementary functions. Visualization is how we form a mental picture in our mind about someone or something. Imagination applies to the ability to visualize believable pictures and ideas of things that have never happened. It uses creativity, which means to bring into existence something new and different.
All of these things work together and influence both our will and behavior. To others, our behavior represents our attitude. An attitude is an individual’s prevailing tendency to respond favorably or unfavorably to an object, person or group of people, institution or event. Attitudes develop over time through a process called conditioning. Many attitudes arise early in life and tend to persist or be influential throughout life. Attitudes can be visible at times and hidden at other times waiting to be triggered by specific events or situations. Attitudes reflect outwardly to our environment as our character or personality. The world has a diversity of different attitudes that exist. Our parents and society’s moral attitudes have habituated us. This diversity of conditioning can be due to ethnicity; nationality, education, religion, culture, and individual family environments. Conditioning is everywhere. It comes as both positive and negative. It comes as both error and truth. For us, the recovering alcoholic, it translates as a major living problem.
We live in a world where error is abundant. Our own experience is based upon many factors and it is in the results of our own human experience itself where proof of an intelligent designer is most clearly identified. All of humanity is riddled with error. This error explains all of the evils we find in our world. The evils of the world are due to belief systems that lack truth and belief systems are what drive us to live. It is the lack of truth that creates moral defects and ignorance. It is the lack of truth that gets us into angers, fears, and selfishness that drives us to seek only after only selfish aims.
Should we blame God for designing the world and us to contain error? Is God not perfect? I think not. We have to have faith that God is perfect and designed us to be susceptible to error for a simple reason. We are an incomplete design without His truth in us. He created us and it is only on the path that he created for us to walk while in the human experience will we find peace and serenity. This itself is the proof that an intelligent designer created us and in such a manner that we would search for Him, the Creator. Only an intelligent designer could create us with our ability to have the experience of being human and as well perfect a plan for us to find Him. It is truth that moves us toward that goal. And it is truth that sets us free.
So how does Alcoholics Anonymous, which is often expressed as a design for living, move us forward in the process of seeking truth and help us to find our creator? That is the topic of the final article titled “Design Demands a Designer – AA and its 12-Step Program.”
In the previous three articles we identified the important need for truth in the search for the God of our own understanding. The bedrock for this search is found in a realistic observation of the abundance of truthful evidence for an intelligent designer of the cosmos (universe) with its infinite uncompressible size, the perfect clockwork of own solar system, and our earthy habitat and the fine-tuning that it had to have to support life as we know it. This should only spur you to do further research of the enormous amount of empirical evidence that supports the belief that there is a master Grand Designer of everything and He is alive and personal.
My own belief is that our own individual recovery from alcoholism is not complete until we accept the Biblical God as the designer of everything from the infinite to the finite, including us – the human being. The Psalmist knew we were designed by God thousands of years ago when he penned “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. (Psalm 139:14 NLT). The writer of this psalm was King David and it provides a strong affirmation of God’s omnipresence. God created an amazing piece of work when he created the human. It is a grand design and we are the greatest of all the living creatures that God made.
There are really two aspects of evaluating the design of the human being. This article looks primarily at the intricate design found in the physical or biological realm while the next article will deal with the human experience and how we operate better when we are in the fullness of His design. Our final article in this series will investigate the design of the AA program and how it aligns itself with Gods design as we pursue the emotional and the spiritual aspects of recovery and as we grow in understanding of the depth of our 12 step program.
We are really a fine piece of work. Our physical body provides a means to relate to and live in our physical environment, the world we live in. Each and every part of us screams intelligent design in a marvelous way. A dynamic framework of bone and cartilage called the skeleton includes self-lubricating hinges and joints that were made to move. It is upon this skeletal system that the other major body systems are fabricated each with their own purpose and function. Briefly they are: The circulatory system moves blood, nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and hormones, around the body. The digestive system digests food and removes waste. The endocrine system regulates various bodily functions, such as metabolism, growth and sexual function. The immune system defends the body against bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that may be harmful. The lymphatic system plays a role in the body’s defenses and fights infection. The nervous system controls both voluntary action (like conscious movement) and involuntary actions (like breathing). The body’s muscular system aids in movement, blood flow and other bodily functions. The reproductive system allows humans to reproduce. The respiratory system allows us to take in vital oxygen and expel carbon dioxide in a process we call breathing. The urinary system eliminates a waste product called urea from the body, which is produced when certain foods are broken down.
Further, our design includes major vital organs that are essential for survival. These are the brain, heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, and skin. The human heart is a responsible for pumping blood throughout our body. Blood is fundamental to the function of every cell, our fundamental building blocks of every component in our bodies. Cells need food to survive, grow, and repair themselves and to fulfill their specific functions, and, to reproduce. Design, design, and more design display a dazzling intricacy in everything we consist of. The job of the kidneys is to remove waste and extra fluid from the blood. The kidneys take urea out of the blood and combine it with water and other substances to make urine. The liver has many functions, including detoxifying of harmful chemicals, breakdown of drugs, filtering of blood, secretion of bile, and production of blood-clotting proteins. The lungs are responsible for removing oxygen from the air we breathe and transferring it to our blood where it can be sent to our cells. The lungs also remove carbon dioxide, which we exhale. The skin is the body’s largest organ. It protects us from the outside world, and is our first defense against bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. Our skin also helps regulate body temperature and eliminate waste through perspiration.
This brings us to the main organ that provides us with the ability to understand our environment and live successfully in it, the human brain. It is the body’s control center, receiving and sending signals to other organs through the nervous system and through hormones. It is responsible for our thoughts, feelings, memory storage and general perception of the world. Our abilities of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch provide a means of sensing the material environment and with the brain helps us interact and live within it. The physical movement of our body and a voice that enables us to communicate with others is under the control of the human brain.
The human brain has intelligence that far exceeds that of the life of the animals we share life with on God’s created world. The brain controls the body’s chemical plant that is far more intricate than any plant that man has ever built. This plant changes the food we eat into living tissue. It causes the growth of flesh, blood, bones and teeth. It even repairs the body when parts are damaged by accident or disease. Power, for work and play, comes from the food we eat. The brain also manages our internal heating and cooling systems, keeping body temperature at about 98.6°F.
Yes, it is a wonderful thing—this brain of ours. In fact, as we look at this very moment, we are actually seeing with our brain. Although, of course, the message is carried there from another marvelous structure, the human eye. Modern cameras operate on the same basic principle as our eyes. In our eye the focus and aperture are adjusted automatically. The human eye is more complex than the finest telescope or camera available. Man cannot make an optical instrument of any kind that is as efficient as the eye. The sound we hear is being played on a perfect little musical instrument inside our ears. The sound waves go down the auditory canal and are carried by the bones of the middle ear to the cochlea, which is rolled up like a tiny sea shell. The outer ear operates in air. But the cochlea is filled with liquid, and transferring sound waves from air to liquid is one of the most difficult problems known to science. Three tiny bones are just right to do the job that enables us to hear properly.
The brain is the centre of a complex computer system more wonderful than the greatest one ever built by man. The body’s computer system computes and sends throughout the body billions of bits of information, information that controls every action, right down to the blink of an eye. In most computer systems, the information is carried by wires and electronic parts. In the body, nerves are the wires that carry the information back and forth from the central nervous system. The brain receives input from the sensory organs and sends output to the muscles for action.
Actions can be voluntary or involuntary. That’s a good thing and we would be a poor design if many things were under our conscious control. And in just one human brain there is probably more wiring, more electrical circuitry, than in all the computer systems of the world put together. Trying to fathom the brain’s mind-boggling complexity and design isn’t easy. What we do know is that it’s the organ that makes us human, giving people the capacity for art, language, moral judgments, and rational thought. It’s also responsible for each individual’s personality, memories, movements, and how we experience the world.
Overall the human body is comprised of a blending of different systems that together make a complex organism that exhibits overall functional order in all of its aspects. The interaction of the brain and nervous system to perform its necessary purpose yields a complexity that demands a belief in an intelligent designer. Another example of complexity is the circulatory system. Its physical make-up yields evidence for design. There are so many proofs of design such as how the heart and vessels came to be so well laid out within the human body; how the heart is protected by a bony cage; and how the heart contracts and pumps blood involuntarily in order to maintain life without our conscious willing of it. There are so many examples of intelligent design in the physical or biological realm that volumes of books would be required to detail all of them. Science establishes evidence all of the time but the most significant scientific discovery to date that validates intelligent design is DNA, and the reason for that is simple – DNA is an information-based system.
In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the genetic structure deep inside the nucleus of our cells. This genetic material DNA is an abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is found in every cell of our bodies and has the shape of a spiral staircase. The steps are like letters in our alphabet and the letters taken together spell words which have meanings. It is estimated that around three billion letters are in the human DNA – about what is found in 1000 encyclopedia volumes. And that is found in a tiny space inside each and every cell in our body.
In a computer it’s a series of bits (zeros and ones) that represent data storage in a computer and they also represent the code that runs the programming. In the same way, DNA is made up of four chemicals, abbreviated as letters A, T, G, and C. Much like the ones and zeros, these letters are arranged in the human cell to represent both information and programming. The order in which they are arranged instructs the cell’s actions and information itself is inherent to the structure. Together It is a highly complicated design that has never been matched by human intelligence. In fact, because of its superior design, major research is now going on to actually see if DNA itself can be used as a storage information system. The only thing that can explain its superior design is for there to have been a grand intelligent designer. There is no other explanation for such a sophisticated method of messaging and coding residing in our genetic makeup, only the hand of God can explain it.
On June 26, 2000, President Clinton congratulated those who completed the human genome sequencing. President Clinton said, “Today we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift.” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, followed that with this statement, “It is humbling for me and awe inspiring to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God.”
According to the Bible, God is not only the Author of our existence, but he is a personal God that is our only solution to becoming a spiritually complete person. All the meaning for life that we crave, our emotional desires for strength for situations that used to baffle us, and our pursuit for peace, serenity, joy, and wisdom as we trudge the road to happy destiny, it is the fulfillment of these things that only God can satisfy. This is the God we seek in AA. Just as he has engineered DNA to direct the life process of each cell, he offers to direct our choices and action to achieve the life he designed us, for his glory and for our sake, because he loves us. The book of Genesis teaches that God took ‘the dust of the ground’, a heap of chemicals, shaped a man and then blew into his nostrils the breath of life. Then man became a living soul. Human beings are different from animals, for ‘God created man in his own image’ (Genesis 1:27). Our bodies have been designed with the ability to pass on to the next generation the programmed information required to form another person from simple chemicals.
The human being is more than flesh and bone. We are designed to find our creator. In order for that to happen we must experience life in not only the physical realm but also to experience Him through the emotional and spiritual realms he designed for us. That requires the human experience – living life to its fullest, not on life’s terms, but on spiritual terms. That’s the topic of the next article.
Be sure and click the Facebook LIKE at the top of this article to be notified when this next exciting and informative article is released. The next article is titled “Design Demand a Designer – Part Five – The Human Experience”
The idea of design implies order and logic and nowhere can this be seen more than our tiny little spot in a universe that is so enormous, it is beyond our comprehension. On a smaller scale we do understand where the Earth fits into the solar system. Over the centuries we eventually figured out that our planet, like trillions of others, revolves around a sun. Today we understand that billions of other clusters of planets with their own suns make up our galaxy. And billions of galaxies like ours make up the universe. The distance between galaxies is so vast our unit of measurement has to be in light years, or the distance light travels in a year. That happens to be 5,878,499,817 miles based upon the speed of light of 186,282 miles per second. The nearest star to earth is a little over 4 light years. The nearest galaxy to our own is 25,000 light years away 0r around 147 trillion miles. It’s not likely anyone we know will go there.
Our sun is perfectly located within our galaxy and our planet is perfectly located within our solar system. We know that the earth’s distance from the sun provides the right amount of heat and light to make the planet habitable for life. Without the unique mix of chemical ingredients that makes up living things, and without liquid water on the planet’s surface, life as we know it would not exist. There is also design to the earth itself. If the earth was not tilted on the 23 degree axis, there would either be no change in seasons, or such extreme changes that no plant life could survive. If the earth was closer to the sun, mankind could not survive the temperature and exposure to the sun; if the earth was further away, we would all freeze to death. The earth has a perfect spin, not to fast, and not to slow. It is 100% perfect for life to be sustained on it. Our wonderful world, with the perfect timing of its revolution around the sun, its axis rotation and tilt, the water evaporation and condensation cycle, the movement of the winds from the equator and back, and the ocean currents, runs like one giant piece of clockwork.
Earth is perfectly designed for life and to date we have not discovered life anywhere else in the universe. The fact is, there is no basis to even suggest that non-intelligent or random causes could create the “just-right” conditions for Earth to exist. The only rational explanation for the precise design of Earth, the cosmos as a whole, and life on Earth is an intelligent supernatural Creator. There is supernatural design in both animal and plant life. The dependence of the flowers on bees for reproduction and of the bees on flowers for food is one of the most amazing adaptations in nature, and it is difficult to imagine how it could have occurred by mere chance. This of course is only one example and there are millions of others. Scientists estimate our planet is home to 8.7 million species and each species is unique in its individual design to live in its earthly habitat. The features that God programmed into each species enable them to overcome the limitations imposed on them by the very laws of nature that some people believe are responsible for their development. These features are so finely tuned to perform their tasks that they are increasingly used as models for human inventors to follow. Some examples are:
The most important evidence for an intelligent creator is the discovery of DNA. For life to exist, an information system is needed to produce and regulate life functions. This information system must also be able to accurately copy itself for the next generation. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the information system for life. Information is a product of intelligence, indicating that DNA came from an intelligent source (the Creator). It stands to reason, then, that God the Creator deserves unending credit as the ultimate inventor. Perhaps we should not take lightly what scripture tells us is Isaiah 45:18: For this is what the Lord says – he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited – he says: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other.
We see order (design) in the natural world; therefore, we know there has to be a supernatural intelligent cause behind it. Man is by far the most intelligent creature on this planet. It is admitted by all that man could not ever create the universe, the earth, or even plants or animals. If man, the smartest being on the planet, could not have created the universe, then that means someone more intelligent than anyone on earth had to have created everything. In our next article we will explore the complex, yet perfect design of man, the human being. Since mankind did not create the universe or the earth with all of it complex varieties of life, designed perfectly for their earthly habitat, it is simply logical and intelligent to express that the only explanation is that there is a creator God. What is important for us the recovering alcoholic to understand is that He is not only the designer of us, He is also a personal God.
God created an amazing piece of work when he created the human. It is a great design. Our physical body provides a means to relate to and live in our physical environment. It houses the brain, which allows for the functions of our soul. This is where our faculties (the will, the emotions, and everything else that make us human) tie together. (Eternal Sobriety – Chapter Five, Made in His Image.)
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (Romans 12:3)
We begin our search for an intelligent designer behind our conscious reality by considering the most obvious and logical proof that exists – the cosmos. Cosmos describes our universe in total, comprised of all of time and space and its contents. It includes the planets, moons, stars, solar systems, galaxies, contents of intergalactic space, and all matter and energy everywhere including the tiniest particles that comprise matter itself. Science continually proves that the universe is a complex and orderly designed system.
The most noted argument for the existence of an intelligent designer (a creator God) of the cosmos is defined as “the cosmological argument.” The reality of the existence of God is based on facts about the universe concerning its own reality, its causation, and its complex and orderly designed system from the totality of it infinite largeness to the smallness of its finite matter. Our quest here is to put some reason and logic to whether the Bible is faithful with what logic and reason tells us about 1) the reality of an incomprehensible universe, 2) that the cause (creator) of the universe is God, and 3) the design itself is the best proof that God exists, is eternal, has intelligence, and has a purpose.
As recovering alcoholic’s it’s likely that we need not discuss the question of whether the universe exists. It would be hard to deny this point. There are those that seem to think that it is all a figment of their imagination but we needn’t go there. We are leaving fantasy behind as we grow in recovery. With sobriety, we are once again experiencing the reality of our own senses being open to wonderment, as we did as children who at one time or another were awed by the vastness of the nighttime heavens. Hopefully, you can relate to this rediscovery of the senses. It makes us open to consider what the Bible tells us about the universe in Psalm 19:1-2: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge“. In recovery, our Intuition is quickened by a growing sense of spirituality and it becomes easier to accept the truth found in these simple words. It is often difficult to understand why so many are blinded to this reality, which in itself, is a general revelation about God to all.
And many are. In the early nineteen-eighties Carl Sagan, now deceased, was a noted astronomer and philosopher who produced a television series entitled “Cosmos”. His mantra was “the cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be”. He stated that “There are in fact 100 billion galaxies, each of which contains something like a 100 billion stars. Think of how many stars, and planets, and kinds of life there may be in this vast and awesome universe.” “We find that we live on an insignificant planet, of a humdrum star, lost in a galaxy, tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe, in which there are far more galaxies than people.” So his estimate of the number of stars was 100, 000,000,000 times 100,000,000,000 or 1 followed by 22 zeros. Carl Sagan was restricted by the limitations of the telescopes of that time.
The physical structure of the natural universe is so vast it is beyond comprehension. Since Sagan’s series and using more advanced telescopes (Hubble) the number of galaxies is now estimated to be 10 trillion so the total number of stars is now estimated to be a 1 followed by 24 zeroes. This is 100 times the number of stars estimated by science a few short years ago. This is a number far too large for us to understand and we still cannot prove there is an end or what may be beyond it. We can now see farther away than ever and also microscopically peer deeper into the actual finite makeup of atomic matter itself. At both extremes our visibility is still dim but complex design is prevalent in everything we do see. In stark contrast to Carl Sagan’s belief, the Bible tells us that we are not on an insignificant planet and that we certainly haven’t been forgotten. As the universe exists so does life on this planet. And everywhere we look we see logic, intelligence, and natural physical laws behind the design of the universe and life itself. The idea that there is no designer behind the creation of the universe is totally ludicrous and becomes almost a farfetched fantasy to believe otherwise. Science has its value and can help us see the reality of existence and its structural design but what it has no knowledge of, is why we don’t see life anywhere else in the known universe or what created the universe.
It is a common belief in the scientific community that the universe started with a “big bang”. Thus science states the universe is not eternal in nature and had a beginning. If that is so then Carl Sagan was wrong when he said that the universe is all there is or ever was or ever will be. Sagan’s viewpoint influenced many and instilled in them the idea that existence is limited to only that which can be seen and proven scientifically. He was of course an atheist. That viewpoint is also in opposition to the biblical account where, within its pages, God is described as an eternal deity. To repeat, science is valuable for discovery but it has its limitations. We are told that the universe is expanding and only a few years ago that it was slowing down and would eventually collapse upon itself. The viewpoint now is that it is actually speeding up, due to dark matter, adding more complex design to the theory. Science with its laws cannot tell us how the universe got here only that it is real. Since it is real, how did it come into existence? The “big bang” is a theory but if it is true it invokes the law of cause and effect and the need to consider both time and entropy (deterioration) as part of the process.
Atheists and agnostics differ by saying, “The Cosmos just is.” However, that explanation is in opposition to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, which, because usable energy is running out, demonstrates that the Cosmos is finite. It must have had a cause/beginning, and of course, an end. If there is no cause that produced the first moment in time of the universe it would be a major contradiction of one of the foundational principles of science. Someone might say that some things are caused by other things, but this does not solve the problem. This is because those other things had to have causes, too, and this cannot go on forever. It is sort of the chicken and the egg dilemma. The natural world is a system based on cause and effect. The universe had a beginning; therefore, the universe had a cause. The very fundamentals of science are that something (effect) is always the result of something else (cause). Theology logically states that this cause, being outside the whole universe, is God. Therefore, there is, at the beginning at least, a first cause—one that had no beginning. This first cause is God, who by definition is eternal. A Divine, Supernatural, Infinite and eternal being is the only rational explanation for the existence of the Universe, and the intuitive knowledge that it is designed specifically for a purpose. God is the uncaused cause and it must have something to do with you and me. That’s what the bible says. That is my belief, is it yours?
The contrast of the awesome majesty of a supernatural holy Creator and the touch of His personal love that is demonstrated in A.A. is evident. With sobriety, the feelings we once had return from deep within us, and we are once again able to appreciate our world. Trees look crisp and clear as we notice the variations of green; before, green was just green. Flowers appear to grow where they never grew before. The air that we breathe smells sweeter and as our aesthetic eyes open, we sense the awe and wonder of nature once again. Though we learn to appreciate it, it is difficult to ever comprehend with our frail human mind the scope of God’s creation. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, and the very first passage provides the simple statement of: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The perfection of the universe with its detail, from the largest sun to the smallest particle, defies description within our comprehension. The world system attempts to explain it away with scientific jargon and guesswork, but that cannot even touch the surface. It is man’s nature to explain everything with his own knowledge and to act only in his own wisdom – a somewhat comical charade to God perhaps. Increasingly, reputable scientists are considering the biblical creation account. This is another instance of God patiently waiting for humanity to catch up.) From the book, Eternal Sobriety, Chapter Six, “This Thing Called Self”
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
Step Two in the AA program states: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
There are many powers that this can define. For example, the collective group of people in the fellowship of AA with their common recovery experience can represent a power greater than ourselves. However, when we encounter Step Three and confront the decision to turn our will and our life over to the care of God, that definition or any other cannot replace the real need for a personal and loving God. Read more ›