Friday, March 14, 2014

Coal or Diamond - Part 17

image used under Creative Commons license, from the Toronto History page on Flikr
Our previous post left off where I had my life and thinking turned around and upside down.  It was both good and bad.  

It was good because I was now headed in the same direction as God.  I wasn't fighting the Holy Spirit any longer.  Yes, I had been denying His prior nudges.

It was bad because like that coal wagon, the weight of the baggage I hadn't let go of, yet, had me somewhat stuck in the mud.  And, while I might be becoming useful, I hadn't been pressurized enough to become a diamond, much less a cut gem of beauty.  And, like that horse drawn coal wagon, I may have been adding some usefulness, but I was also still dropping some manure along my spiritual path.  And there were some spiritual realities that, looking back, have had a huge impact on my future walk with God.  And on my understanding of who He is and how He thinks.

Romans 7:19 (KJV)  For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

When I did my spiritual "about face", my drinking had slowed quite a bit.  With the awakening, it slowed even more.  And I came to the erroneous conclusion that God had healed my alcoholism in a way that allowed me to drink socially.  Remember, the church I was connected to didn't disdain social drinking.  Their understanding of it was different than many evangelical ministries.  The result of that was going to prove interesting.

As you might imagine, my social drinking was heading me down a slippery slope.  And that term fits what happened.  I was going downhill with increasing speed, sliding along on a spiritual surface that didn't give me traction to head in the other direction.  There hadn't yet been enough discipleship for me to have the wherewithal to dig in and become entrenched beyond the surface.  So, I was like Paul in Romans 7:19.  My performance was the exact opposite of what I wanted, because it was still me doing it.

If I can take that slippery slope analogy a little further,  the bottom of that hill was the edge of a cliff, as always.  But there was a difference, this time.  God had placed Himself in the picture, being available to catch hold of, to keep me from going over the edge.  While other things in my life were getting worse, the thing that really made a difference was the realization that I was losing all the things I had experienced of God.  He was the one thing I knew I didn't want to lose.

That whole last step of my heading in the right direction with God has shaped how I deal with others and drawing them to God.  It also shaped my understanding of God.  But that was a process that took years of discipleship and study.  

At the end of the Cursillo weekend, there's a ceremony at your home church where you briefly share with the local group what you got out of the weekend.  What I said was that Jesus had become my friend and I wanted to be the same for others.  That sounds very simplistic, but there were volumes of emotional, spiritual, and theological truth hidden in that description.  I had spent years maintaining emotional walls between me and others, as a way to ignore my own lack of a sense of self worth and to avoid pain from others.  My statement said a number of things.
  1. God wasn't some abstract being off in the distance.  He's close, personal, and wants to be involved with us.
  2. I understood His love for me enough to trust Him and let Him through my self imposed barrier.
  3. God's gentleness, kindness, patience, and understanding went beyond any pain I could possibly experience.  And He'd get me through anything, even if it sometimes seemed like an impossibility.
  4. If I was going to be one with God, then I wanted to be for others what God had become for me.  Not me replacing God, but me as an extension of His love.
There's a lot more I could add to that list, but you get the picture.  That's what I saw myself losing if I kept drinking.  It took over a year from that weekend for that to happen.  For a long time after that, I used to joke, "Leave it to a Polack to have his last drink the day before St. Patty's Day.".  At that point, there wasn't anything in the churches to guide me (and others) toward full recovery from substance abuse, so I took advantage of the benefits of AA.  And that's where I differ in opinion from some of traditional Christianity.  Let me explain how and why.

Evangelicals will say that we should trust God to heal us of all kinds of things.  And that's absolutely right.  Where that tends to go off the rails is in an insistence that it must be a miraculous healing every time.  And that substance abusers should skip places like AA and NA meetings.  The reasoning will be something like:
  1. The abuser is replacing God with the program,
  2. the abuser is replacing God with himself/herself,
  3. the abuser isn't trusting God, or
  4. the program is a false church because they talk about a higher power instead of God.
Let's answer those in reverse.
  • If someone had to go to a doctor regularly to take care of a risky pregnancy or for cancer, few (if any) of us would suggest the regular doctor visits were replacing church.  Just because there's a spiritual component to the program doesn't make it a church.  If so, there are a lot of Christians who need to eliminate the benefits of yoga and acupuncture from their regimen.
  • No, the abuser is not necessarily trusting God.  But, if they did, it's likely they never would have become a substance abuser.  We're often mistaught about the nature of God, then expected to trust that idea of an angry, always punishing God, yet we're to believe that kind of God loves us.  And those who aren't Christian should automatically accept God with no evangelism, no discussion.  Does that make sense?
  • The recovering substance abuser is a participant in their own blessing, in union with God, not a substitute for God.  If we go through Leviticus, there are things God says we ought to do in order for His blessing to be poured out.  In Joshua 5, Naaman was told that in order to be healed he had to participate in the process by dipping into the Jordan river seven times.  If he deviated from the process or the location, no healing.  A program in which he needed to be an active participant.
  • Not every substance abuser is a Christian.  Does it make sense that in order to clear the brain sufficiently to possibly fully accept the Living God, the abuser must always first accept the Living God?  The various recovery programs aren't aimed at developing a relationship with a particular god (big OR small g).  They take the abuser's understanding of a higher power (someone or something that is not controlled by that substance) and use it to aid the recovery.
The real problem with Christian churches being against recovery programs isn't that the various churches differ in some doctrinal ways.  Saying the abuser needs to be healed in a specific way puts God in a box, determined by our doctrinal understanding, not who God is and how He determines to act.  And it ignores the capacity of the substance abuser.

In my own church, there's been a discussion about the fact that traditional recovery programs have people saying they are still recovering, a long time after they've been away from whatever it was they abused.  That's to keep the ex-addict aware that they can fall back into their addiction.  My church happens to have a grace oriented alternative program that says addicts are healed, but it also says the flesh is still capable of going against that healing.  I'll suggest that whichever semantic tool works for the recovering addict's capacity (and that can change) is what God wants.

Think of the various denominations, each built around specific doctrinal stances.  And we have the denominational theologians "discussing" their doctrinal differences.  It really comes down to men trying to understand something that's too vast to ever fully understand.  And, at the same time, they're too afraid to admit they really don't completely understand it.  Because that might bring into question some of their other pronouncements.  In the meantime, they lose opportunities to enjoy watching God at work because what they see doesn't fit their doctrine.  No matter what area of life it is, I suspect we'll find there are things we all have something wrong because we see only a small portion of what God is about and what He's doing.  What we see and base our decisions on is really tiny because that's all our capacity can handle.  

In our earthly life, we can't stretch our perceptions to be either eternal or infinite.  Till we gain that capacity to fully comprehend all of who God is and how He acts, we're all going to leave the temporal with something we got wrong.  Till our knowledge becomes a lot more perfected, I'm going to be pro anything that draws a person into the clarity of mind afforded by eliminating the fogginess of addiction.  That clarity will give each of us a real opportunity to get to know God in whatever way He chooses to reveal Himself to us.  That might happen in an instantaneous, miraculous healing.  Or it might be through a long term, mundane recovery program.  But don't you think that's God's choice, not ours?

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