The Bible and the Higher Power

Through the influence of AA and Twelve Steps, America has come to know the value of something called the Higher Power in the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. For AA and the Twelve Steps treatment model to have a universal appeal, the Higher Power is never clearly defined and can represent anything outside of oneself. Valverde (1998) argues that the meaning of the Higher Power has been so diluted and imprecisely defined as to become meaningless, as in the suggestion that we pray “To whom it may concern” (133). To become more inclusive as a treatment model, the definition can be whatever the addict decides, as long as it is a reliance on something outside of oneself. The Higher Power can be God or gods, Mother Earth, guardian angels, the environmental movement, or some special feeling.

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For those who have faith in the God of the Bible, it is better to move away from vague definitions of a Higher Power and accept the definition of God found in creation and the Scripture. An imprecise definition of God is not biblical and is harmful to Christian faith. It also confuses and discourages believers from taking advantage of the practical application of biblical teaching that can enhance recovery efforts.

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The argument that humankind is hopeless and helpless to recover from addiction without the direct intervention of something outside of oneself suggests that people are incapable of doing what is in their own best interest, or that they do not have the ability to make common sense choices about their behaviors. It is true that people often do not choose to do the right thing, and the Bible teaches that humankind has a tendency to stray from what is right. For example, the Bible states, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). But the fact is, people can and do recover from drug and gambling addictions without appealing to a Higher Power. People also recover without professional treatment, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, total abstinence, Twelve Steps, support groups, or religion.

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There is no religious requirement for stopping an addiction. Although a religious component can be very beneficial for many believers, it is not a requirement for success, and both believers and unbelievers can do well with a secular and practical approach to recovery along the lines of Peele (2004).

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This is not to suggest that those who believe the Bible should never look to God for guidance. This is what believers do when they turn to the Bible for help, as Jeremiah says, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Certainly, one can benefit from listening to the advice that God gives in the Bible about how to direct one’s life. It is possible that either the Bible or individual spiritual introspection can provide the necessary insight for change. Helpful insight can also occur as the result of visiting with a counselor, religious leader, medical doctor, family member, or friend. Change is difficult, and many people choose not to change, but change is always possible when there is sufficient insight and desire.

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It may be possible to reach a point where addiction has destroyed mind, body, and soul to the point that recovery is impossible. Whether this ever occurs is debatable. No one can know with certainty at what point people lose their capacity to change and become permanently given over to drug or alcohol addiction. Even if it is the case, it does not contradict the fact that addiction is a choice, but only shows that we can be deceived and deluded about our condition. This is in harmony with biblical teaching, for the Bible often warns about the consequences of our actions, and how we can be deceived, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).

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One of the things we can reap is our own destruction (v. 8). The Bible also speaks of the evil that deceives those who are perishing, “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). People do not start deluded and deceived about their behaviors. The Bible says they become deceived and a delusion is sent, suggesting that deception and a delusion are the result of a long process of decision-making.

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As mentioned previously, the Twelve Steps theory of loss of control, powerlessness, and the required action of a Higher Power is a religious-based treatment approach that has its religious roots in the ecumenical Oxford Group and the theological determinism of John Calvin. These deterministic features are present in the treatment methods of AA, Twelve Steps, and the disease model. In fairness, the disease model does not have its roots in religion but in the biological nature of disease, which is also deterministic in that we cannot choose to get sick.

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Because these two views of behavior share a common philosophy, they join together in their approach to addiction treatment. The misapplication of determinism to addiction behavior runs counter to the more practical and successful cognitive techniques described in Beck (1993), Schaler (2000), Peele (2004), and others. This determinism encourages people to define themselves in negative and self-defeating ways, such as “I am an alcoholic” or “I am an addict,” as if this is a part of one’s personhood. Note how this kind of confessional dominates in current AA and disease model approaches to addiction. It is not a mistake, or counter to Scripture, to suggest that individuals have choice, willpower, and control over their lives, even when it comes to addiction.

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J B Myers

jbmyers1@gmail.com

Books:

Faith and Addiction

Elders and Deacons

Life Choices 

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