“The door opened and he stood there, fresh-skinned and glowing. There was something about his eyes. He was inexplicably different. What had happened? I pushed a drink across the table. He refused it. Disappointed but curious, I wondered what had got into the fellow. He wasn’t himself. “Come, what’s all this about?’’ I queried. He looked straight at me. Simply, but smilingly, he said, “I’ve got religion.’’
I was aghast. So that was it—last summer an alcoholic crackpot; now, I suspected, a little cracked about religion. He had that starry-eyed look. Yes, the old boy was on fire all right. But bless his heart, let him rant! Besides, my gin would last longer than his preaching.
But he did no ranting. In a matter of fact way he told how two men had appeared in court, persuading the judge to suspend his commitment. They had told of a simple religious idea and a practical program of action. That was two months ago and the result was self-evident. It worked!
He had come to pass his experience along to me—if I cared to have it. I was shocked, but interested. Certainly I was interested. I had to be, for I was hopeless. He talked for hours. Childhood memories rose before me. I could almost hear the sound of the preacher’s voice as I sat, on still Sundays, way over there on the hillside; there was that proffered temperance pledge I never signed; my grandfather’s good natured contempt of some church folk and their doings; his insistence that the spheres really had their music; but his denial of the preacher’s right to tell him how he must listen; his fearlessness as he spoke of these things just before he died; these recollections welled up from the past. They made me swallow hard.
That war-time day in old Winchester Cathedral came back again. I had always believed in a Power greater than myself. I had often pondered these things. I was not an atheist. Few people really are, for that means blind faith in the strange proposition that this universe originated in a cipher and aimlessly rushes nowhere. My intellectual heroes, the chemists, the astronomers, even the evolutionists, suggested vast laws and forces at work. Despite contrary indications, I had little doubt that a mighty purpose and rhythm underlay all. How could there be so much of precise and immutable law, and no intelligence? I simply had to believe in a Spirit of the Universe, who knew neither time nor limitation. But that was as far as I had gone.
With ministers, and the world’s religions, I parted right there. When they talked of a God personal to me, who was love, superhuman strength and direction, I became irritated and my mind snapped shut against such a theory.
To Christ I conceded the certainty of a great man, not too closely followed by those who claimed Him. His moral teaching—most excellent. For myself, I had adopted those parts which seemed convenient and not too difficult; the rest I disregarded. The wars which had been fought, the burnings and chicanery that religious dispute had facilitated, made me sick. I honestly doubted whether, on balance, the religions of mankind had done any good. Judging
from what I had seen in Europe and since, the power of God in human affairs was negligible, the Brotherhood of Man a grim jest. If there was a Devil, he seemed the Boss Universal, and he certainly had me.
But my friend sat before me, and he made the point blank declaration that God had done for him what he could not do for himself. His human will had failed. Doctors had pronounced him incurable. Society was about to lock him up. Like myself, he had admitted complete defeat. Then he had, in effect, been raised
from the dead, suddenly taken from the scrap heap to a level of life better than the best he had ever known! Had this power originated in him? Obviously it had not. There had been no more power in him than there was in me at that minute; and this was none at all.
That floored me. It began to look as though religious people were right after all. Here was something at work in a human heart which had done the impossible.
My ideas about miracles were drastically revised right then. Never mind the musty past; here sat a miracle directly across the kitchen table. He shouted great tidings. I saw that my friend was much more than inwardly reorganized. He was on a different footing. His roots grasped a new soil.
Despite the living example of my friend there remained in me the vestiges of my old prejudice. The word God still aroused a certain antipathy. When the thought was expressed that there might be a God personal to me this feeling was intensified. I didn’t like the idea. I could go for such conceptions as Creative Intelligence, Universal Mind or Spirit of Nature but I resisted the thought of a Czar of the Heavens, however loving His sway might be. I have since talked with scores of men who felt the same way. My friend suggested what then seemed a novel idea. He said, “Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?’’
That statement hit me hard. It melted the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I stood in the sunlight at last. It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself. Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning. I saw that growth could start from that point. Upon a foundation of complete willingness I might build what I saw in my friend. Would I have it? Of course I would!
Thus was I convinced that God is concerned with us humans when we want Him enough. At long last I saw, I felt, I believed. Scales of pride and prejudice fell from my eyes. A new world came into view.
The real significance of my experience in the Cathedral burst upon me. For a brief moment, I had needed and wanted God. There had been a humble willingness to have Him with me—and He came. But soon the sense of His presence had been blotted out by worldly clamors, mostly those within myself. And so it had been ever since. How blind I had been.
At the hospital I was separated from alcohol for the last time. Treatment seemed wise, for I showed signs of delirium tremens.
There I humbly offered myself to God, as I then understood Him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care and direction. I admitted for the first time that of myself I was nothing; that without Him I was lost. I ruthlessly faced my sins and became willing to have my new-found Friend take them away, root and branch. I have not had a drink since.
My schoolmate visited me, and I fully acquainted him with my problems and deficiencies. We made a list of people I had hurt or toward whom I felt resentment. I expressed my entire willingness to approach these individuals, admitting my wrong. Never was I to be critical of them. I was to right all such matters to the utmost of my ability. I was to test my thinking by the new God-consciousness within. Common sense would thus become uncommon sense. I was to sit quietly when in doubt, asking only for direction and strength to meet my problems as He would have me. Never was I to pray for myself, except as my requests bore on my usefulness to others. Then only might I expect to receive. But that would be in great measure.
My friend promised when these things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; that I would have the elements of a way of living which answered all my problems. Belief in the power of God, plus enough willingness, honesty and humility to establish and maintain the new order of things, were the essential requirements. Simple, but not easy; a price had to be paid. It meant destruction of self-centeredness. I must turn in all things to the Father of Light who presides over us all.
These were revolutionary and drastic proposals, but
the moment I fully accepted them, the effect was electric. There was a sense of victory, followed by such a peace and serenity as I had never known. There was utter confidence. I felt lifted up, as though the great clean wind of a mountain top blew through and through. God comes to most men gradually, but His impact on me was sudden and profound. For a moment I was alarmed, and called my friend, the doctor, to ask if I were still sane. He listened in wonder as I talked. Finally he shook his head saying, “Something has happened to you I don’t understand. But you had better hang on to it. Anything is better than the way you were.” The good doctor now sees many men who have such experiences. He knows that they are real. While I lay in the hospital the thought came that there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what had been so freely given me. Perhaps I could help some of them. They in turn might work with others.
My friend had emphasized the absolute necessity of demonstrating these principles in all my affairs. Particularly was it imperative to work with others as he had worked with me. Faith without works was dead, he said. And how appallingly true for the alcoholic! 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. If he did not work, he would surely drink again, and if he drank, he would surely die. Then faith would be dead indeed. With us it is just like that.”
–Bill Wilson (1895-1971) quoted from The Big Book, Chapter: Bill’s Story.
The change that took place in Bill’s life is incredibly revealing. He walks us through his mindset and the changes that took place in a very descriptive manner. I don’t normally include quotes this large, but Bill Wilson’s spiritual journey is a fascinating topic. He touches on so many thoughts that I’m sure many of us have struggled with in our own spiritual journeys.
Whether you struggle with alcoholism, drug addiction, or just life on a daily basis, or if you’re just an average Joe, I think we can all relate to the thoughts and reactions within Wilson’s story. Bill’s situation was dire. And whether we want to face it or not, each and every one of us face this same predicament.
We have our current lives, day by day. And eventually we face death. It’s true. No one comes out alive. The current death rate of all humans who’ve ever lived on Earth is 100%. We get 70-100 years and then we’re done. Many don’t even last that long. More and more are dying in their 50s and 60s from cancer, heart disease, and other issues related to overeating and poor diet (among other issues). We all face the death that Bill had come upon early in his life. The alcohol simply sharpened the edge and forced him to face the full fury of destruction and death early on.
So we all face it. Many of the attitudes and functions of life and the society around us seem geared to help us ignore and push aside that face off. But it’s there none the less. As uncomfortable and difficult as it seems to be.
Every single human being born on Earth (aside from a certain Jesus Christ) begins a journey, after birth, headed in the direction of the first two humans, Adam and Eve post-fall. They have an attitude of resistance to the correct nature of reality, which is man in connection to God. There are three basic functions of the mindset of every human:
1) A disgust for any God, a disdain for religion, and yet a quiet yearning for a perfection of existence and a penultimate relationship.
2) A tendency toward wrong actions (sins) and a tendency to flee from God, and from the guilt of those wrong actions. Yet a notable sense of a moral universe, that is, structures in which things ought to be “fair.”
3) A primarily selfish attitude, a concern for self and the glorification of self, and the service to self. Included is a tendency to want to play god, and redefine good and evil to suit personal preference.
We live in a sort of tangent universe, a tangent reality, unsustainable and rushing into oblivion. It doesn’t appear that way at first though. Especially in the United States. Things are tough, but overall there are sunny days of laughter and balmy nights of passion.
I get a picture in my mind of a person almost being “force walked” down a path to the left; a path that unwittingly leads to destruction, being rushed down that path… while the head slowly turns and the eyes track toward a path leading to the right, to peace and everlasting life, with an increasingly grimacing appearance to the face and an increasing resistance to the dismal march down the road to disaster.
Is it any wonder that so many choose the wrong path? Many, many do. And I can understand why. The default positions of the human mind, with what theologians call “the sin nature” tends toward selfishness, materialism, and an anti-God attitude. Is it so strange that the world is just the way it is now? I don’t think so. If the “sin nature” weren’t enough, we’re also told there is an evil kingdom on Earth that welcomes us into such derision and encourages us to proceed down the wrong path.
Thankfully, there is also a Spirit. A sort of Gandalf the White individual, fully God, galloping about the kingdoms beckoning people to come down the path of everlasting light, gathering the body of Light for battles against the growing darkness. Or as C.S. Lewis pictured it, a sort of Maquis, a french resistance beckoning believers to acts of holy sabotage against the kingdom of darkness.
There is a God. And we see so clearly in Bill’s Story how God will work on an individual. We see how God will offer his path. God kept Bill safe as he struggled more and more, and then made himself available to Bill through the words of a childhood friend. Yet Bill had to struggle through his old ideas. His old attitudes about life remained and he had to confront them directly.
Recently I read the stories of two men, Chuck Colson and William Wilberforce. Both of these men had to experience these transitions as well. Just like Bill Wilson, and myself. The old ideas, the post-fall ideas are there right when the conversion occurs. We give our lives to Jesus Christ, but the old ideas are still in the mind. I’m convinced the first few years after any conversion exist for the purpose of processing from the old self centered worldview to the Christian worldview.
If the old mindset was 1) anti-God 2) tendency to sin and 3) selfishness, what does the new mindset look like? Perhaps something like this:
1) A growing love for God, a growing level of forgiveness and grace for those of religious persuasion. And a growing enjoyment of the newly founded relationship with God through Christ. Also, a continuing yearning for a perfection of existence and relationship that is yet to come.
2) A growing tendency to live in a healthy (righteous) manner, while also struggling day to day with temptation and sin. A tendency to begin to come to God in prayer when facing guilt, pain and daily struggles. And of course a continuous yearning for the perfect moral universe to come when God repairs/renews the tangent universe.
3) A growing selfless attitude, or an approach to life that places Jesus Christ at the center. Service to others begins to play a prominent role in life. The default mindset begins to develop, that his or her primary purpose is to glorify Christ who in turn glorifies God the Father. The individual less and less turns to worldly views regarding reality and increasingly trusts the Bible for knowledge about the world (He/she stops playing god and let’s God reign in their lives.)
As Bill Wilson put it “God-consciousness.” Theologians might call it “the process of sanctification.” In other words, becoming more like Christ. Wilson was very severe on the fact that the religious experience was an entire life process that needed to be practiced and built upon.
Another great Christian man named Chuck Colson also believed that the Christian life was much more than a “one and done” affair. He firmly believed that being a Christian was akin to relationship, but also about holding a “Christian worldview.” Colson described the process of worldview change that happened in his life after he gave in to God, crying desperately in his car on a rainy day. That change is an internal change, yet it’s also an external change. The Christian change is different from others in that in affects entire communities.
Let’s look at an example. Suppose a man comes to the odd realization that UFOs must be real and aliens are certainly scampering about in the bushes. As a result, internal ideas are altered but externally nothing really changes. The people at the local diner may look at him funny. When a man switches over to Jesus Christ, some may look at him funny, but lives are beginning to change around him. I saw much the same happen when Jesus Christ entered my story. I had gone on various crusades about the city, calling for political change, writing stories to inspire, but nothing had really caught. Apathy reigned in general. But after the Christian change, I noticed others beginning to rally as well. After two and a half years I’ve seen a genuine spiritual awakening in central Wisconsin, based around the hard work of many young leaders in this area. It’s a beautiful thing.
We are human beings in need of an outside source of assistance, not something within us, but a force outside us. We all need the massive overarching deus ex machina provision, the provision of Jesus Christ. We need the heroic force from around the corner to enter and save us. That process plays out in reality as the real God entering our stories. We are in need of a hero, a certain Jesus Christ to help us to become heroes of our own stories.
Until meeting him we’re all playing it down, and living on the outside of our own stories. We might be working decent jobs, selling vacuum cleaners or shuffling paperwork. Or maybe we’re smoking dope and hiding in lavender white walled apartments on the wrong end of town. Yet glory and eternity call out to us, beckoning us come and die to self. We must stop begging for pocket change in the ghettos of our stories, when we can be the conquering heroes. Of course all for the glory of the Lord of life, Jesus Christ. But we must first face down the problem, courageously.
What is the root problem you ask? The problem is our desire to rebel against God. The solution is turning to God, and inviting him to full sovereignty of our lives. Paradoxically from that submission comes the most profound power and provision. Or as a certain European philosopher put it: When one makes the commitment, from the commitment flows providence.
Our problem goes all the way back to Genesis.
“Did God really say that?” (Genesis 3:1).
“You will not surely die” (if you eat of the tree) (Genesis 3:4).
And of course:
“Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:5).
Three lies told by a rogue angelic being. And they believed him. Now every person born on this planet is default with those false positions of the mind. And it’s only through a great deal of suffering that we are broken of them.
Fascinating isn’t it, that those three views are so prominent today? Think about it.
The authority of the Bible is constantly attacked… “Did God really say that?”
Sin is good, it doesn’t matter, there are no consequences, there is no God anyway! Sex whenever, drugs, alcohol, materialism, do what you want, live for the moment. “You will not surely die.”
Self help, self enlightenment. Ah, and the New Age movement: We must all wake up to the fact that we are gods and our minds control the universe. “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”
Red pill or blue pill. We can go on believing lies, or we can wake up to a hard truth: “I do need God, and I can trust his Word. Sin is bad (just look at the suffering in the world). I’m not God, but I can be his friend.”
The struggle of Bill Wilson played out through alcoholism, self achievement, and deprivation… is all of our struggles. His journey simply magnified the process. It really jumps out in alcohol or drug abuse. Yet we can all relate to that process of searching for self achievement, falling short, and being left feeling empty and excluded from something beautiful that we can’t quite grasp.
The spiritual journey hinges on Jesus Christ. We come home to Christ. He embraces us as his children, adopts us into a new family.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” -Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV)
The promises become a reality, yet so important is the fact of continuing forward in the Christian life. The daily practice of the faith is vital. The spiritual awakening must be built upon, or it fades and diminishes. They call that “backsliding” in church lingo. Bill Wilson built on his spiritual experience. He began helping others. He began studying and learning about faith. He made amends to those he had harmed in the past. He made frank examinations of his past, and outlined his character defects. He dealt with those defects in quality changes, and attempts to practice the opposite. As a result he became a giant of faith in God, triggering several massive movements, based around the twelve steps which he designed to harness the spiritual experience and build upon it.
In conclusion, God is God. We can trust the Bible, from cover to cover, every book of it. We must trust it, completely, because the world is vying for our trust, in it’s false belief systems. The spiritual awakening that has happened in my life, in Bill Wilson’s life, in the lives of Wilberforce, Colson, and so many others; It’s open to everyone. It’s open to you. Simply begin pursuing it. The apologetics are sound. The reasonable arguments are powerful. The expert testimony provided by the greats of history is astounding. And the magnificent figure of Jesus Christ told of in the gospels is a worthy God to follow. Most importantly: God is real. And he has made a way home for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Believe it. It’s real. Peel away the false reality, see the truth.
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
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- Liberty University Graduation, Young People, and Great Minds
- How does God communicate with us?