a better question

The story of the good Samaritan is Jesus’ answer to the rich young ruler’s question, “Who is my neighbour?”  But crucially, Jesus changes the question from that of being “who is my neighbour?” to “which one was a neighbour to the man”?  One question is about justifying who you do and don’t have to love, and the other is about recognizing the activity of loving like a good neighbour.

In addiction, we often can tempt ourselves with the question, “how much will one more time really matter?”  It’s like the serpent saying, “Did God really say that?”

Recovery, powered by Grace, teaches us to live soberly.  Using the same style of wisdom that Jesus uses with the rich young ruler, we change the question around.  We don’t ask “will this action change much?”, but we ask “how will I act, swiftly, simply and surely, to change this situation, right now!”   One question assumes the addiction to be in charge, and the other puts us back in the seat of self-control.


truth & freedom

The familiar words of Jesus promise that “the truth shall set you free.”  We addicts know a thing or two about this principle.  Having hidden the truth from others (and ourselves), we are amazed by the freedom that comes when it is finally disclosed in the right way, to the right people.

I suppose martyrs also know a thing or two about it as well.  We addicts may think that our truth-telling had a cost to it, as we risked job, marriages, friendships and the like.  But martyrs have not only risked, but suffered, the loss of their very earthly lives.

This perspective helps me stay honest with my spouse.  I really hope I do not ever have a relapse.  But I know that honesty is the only way from here out.  Marriage or no marriage, admitting the truth is the only way to live in freedom, and avoid the slavery of hiding.

deception and awareness

One of the most common and most tragic features of addiction is self-deception.  It is the opposite of self-awareness.


Paul writes in Romans 2 about the way the consciences of the Gentiles both “accuse” and “excuse” themselves.  This is what we all do.  Addicts, however, notoriously distort both the accusation or excusing of self.  When we accuse ourselves, we typically do so with a vengeance.  Going way beyond appropriate taking of responsibility for our actions, we heap huge doses of condemnation, hatred, insults and all kinds of negative self-talk onto ourselves.  This accusation kills self-esteem, and heaps on the shame and isolation.

Likewise, when we excuse ourselves, we typically do so to the extreme.  Circumnavigating any healthy focus on ourselves, we obsessively focus on anything but us: the conditions, that situation, what they did or said (or didn’t say or do), etc.  This excusing blocks us from seeing our part in our problems, and therefore keeps us from doing anything constructive about it.  Like a pendulum, we swing from being ‘innocent’ to being a ‘monster’; and back and forth…


Paul’s argument in Romans begins with an extended (and deliberately exaggerated) critique of stereo-typically negative Gentile behaviour in chapter 1.  In doing so, he gets the Jewish readers on his side, pumping their fists in self-justifying, self-righteous fervour.  But then he pulls the rug out from under them as he turns the corner into chapter 2, boldly claiming that the Jew is just as bad as the Gentile.  Paul’s goal is for the Jew (and Gentile) to have self-awareness.  Nathan did a similar thing with David in 2 Samuel 12: he told him a story about a hypothetical person’s harmful behaviour, and then confronted him with the charge that he had done the same thing.  Finally, Jesus talked famously about the need to focus first on the ‘log’ in our own eye, before we worry about the ‘speck’ in anyone else’s eye.  Interestingly, and with stark imagery, he says that when we remove the ‘log’ in our own eye, we can “see clearly”, or in other words, be self-aware.

As the AA big book suggests, resentment is the “number one offender”.  We get so busy feeling burned up at all the wrong things other people do, we fail to look at ourselves and “change the things I can”, as the Serenity Prayer reminds us.  Until we surrender our pride and become willing to see our faults, defects and sins, we will not see them.  We will continue to resist the advice and feedback from others, and continue to suppress the signs that bubble to the surface of our awareness.

Lest this post be overly filled with ‘we’ statements and devoid of ‘I’ language, let me close by affirming that I can only say the above because, like so many in recovery, I’ve had to  face up to my own behaviour, and I’ve known first hand the humbling and liberating effect of working these spiritual and biblical principles.

God of whose understanding?

A perennial problem Christians often have with twelve step programmes is the vagueness of the ‘God of your own understanding’.  What’s the fuss about?  Should Christians avoid 12-step groups, and form their own ‘Christian’ version of them?

I’m not going to beat around the bush here.  My view is that, as much as possible, Christians should not create their own 12-step groups, but should patiently, humbly and graciously work their programme of recovery as a Christian in existing 12-step fellowships.  Here’s why I think this way.

First, and possibly the most important reason, the Bible seems to consistently witness to the reality of God’s activity in and among people who are not the ‘chosen’ people.  Melchizedek, in the Old Testament, was the high priest of Salem, and was not blessed by Abram, but rather was the agent of blessing for Abram!  That’s not an Abraham-centered moment, and not really a Melchizedek-centered one either, but a God-centered one.  Likewise, the first sermon of Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue refers to two instances of God’s action outside of God’s chosen people.  The God we know and believe in through Scripture, and not merely due to our ability to conceive great godly ideas, is the sort of God who works outside the boundaries, even the ones he allows to be definitive.

Second, we can leave ultimate judgment to God.  The stark reality is that people just plain get better and enter into a new kind of life and spirituality in 12-step programmes.  And by contrast, many people with really sound Christian theology have, like I had for years, terrible hidden behaviour and feeble self-control.  I don’t think that believing in a generalized deity is an automatic ticket to the Age to Come.  All I’m saying is that God uses 12-step programmes.  Not necessarily to bring Resurrection hope for Everlasting Life to people (though some find it as a later result), but certainly to bring a real and worthwhile level of peace, fruitfulness and health.  Theologically, this is called the ‘common grace’ of God.  And thank God for it.

Third, it is a valuable thing to be able to get to know and learn from people of differing religions.  It is a healthy thing to learn how to be with them, and relate to them, without having to pounce on every difference of belief they have.  Sure, Western Christians perhaps have erred on the side of almost never sharing their beliefs, or the content of their faith with others.  Sure, we need to be more attentive to opportunities to do just that. But using a 12-step programme as an opportunity for ad-hoc evangelism will not only be bad evangelism, but is also bad 12 step spirituality.  Far better to take the long, hard road of actually journeying with them together.

Fourth, is the phrase “as we understood God” really so bad?  After all, who has known the mind of the Lord, or been his counsellor?  Yes, we know God through Christ.  But this does not mean that we suddenly have perfect, infallible understanding of God.  Rather than see understanding of God as a binary switch that is off or on, why not see it as a dimmer switch, which burns brightly and brilliantly in the shape of Jesus Christ the Lord when fully lit?  Why not see non-Christian ‘god’ beliefs as ‘on their way’ to the truth revealed in Christ?