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Alcoholism, and Being "Spared"

[Today’s Christian, July/August, 2004] 

 Q. I come from a good family and have always worshipped God. But as I got older I started drifting away. I have a problem with alcohol. I am a diabetic and I know I should not be drinking. Once I was able to stop for 4 months, but as soon as I stopped going to church I went back to that bottle. My heart is really heavy but I just keep on keeping on. But I know this is not the answer. The tears I shed let me know that. What can I do?


A. Michele, your story is a good example of why certain Christian denominations refuse to use alcohol at all. The ruin that some people experience is tragic, and in the process they drag down alongside them spouses, children, and friends. Alcoholism damages not just the body, but the soul as well, since it distorts the ability to perceive reality. People who work with alcoholics note that they become reflexive liars, a habit that serves well the agenda of the Father of Lies.

Because alcohol can be so destructive when misused, some believe that it should be avoided entirely, so that a weaker person will not be led into danger by example. Many Christians point to Romans 14:21, “It is not right to…drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble.”

Most Christian groups, however, allow the use of alcohol in moderation. They would cite the many positive references in Scripture, such as God’s gift of plants that provide “wine to gladden the heart of man” (Ps 104:15), or Jesus’ miracle at Cana, where he provided a wedding banquet with an overabundance of excellent wine. Drunkenness is universally condemned, but moderate use—to mark the joy of a wedding banquet, for example—is usually permitted.

This is not your situation, however, and you are no longer able to control your consumption of alcohol. This is a serious sin, as well as a serious illness; the two intertwine, as your initial decision to drink increasingly becomes something you cannot decide to resist. An old Irish saying goes, “First a man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man.”

As you perceive, “keep on keeping on” is not an adequate strategy. You will have to stop drinking, and never drink again for the rest of your life. This is the only solution. You are probably not able to do this on your own, not because God is unable to miraculously heal you, but because your lack of accountability with others will always tempt you to “go back to that bottle.” Now you need to choose to hold yourself accountable to others, perhaps in an Alcoholics Anonymous group, which has been the lifeline for many alcoholics and a doorway to permanent freedom from the compulsion to drink. The “12 Steps” A.A. will require you to undertake are not easy, but they are familiar to any Christian, consisting of admitting your weakness, looking to God for help, and amending your life in ways great and small.

Somewhere along the way you made a decision to pick up a bottle. Now its time to make another one. Pick up the phone book and find a local meeting.

Q. Why do people say, “God spared this person”? I heard this a lot after 9-11. Why would God “spare” one person over another?


A. Isn’t that a funny thing to say? If someone escapes an accident, it’s “God protected him.” If they’re slightly injured, it’s “God protected him from serious injury.” If they’re seriously injured, then “God protected him from death.” If the person died, “God wanted him in heaven.”

Clearly, we don’t have any idea what God’s doing. We’re making guesses, trying to reconcile what we see—that there is suffering and death in this life—with what we know: that God is all-powerful and all-loving. If God loves us, and he can do anything, why does anyone ever suffer or die? We don’t know, and in case-by-case situations, we make these childlike guesses.

But that’s not to say *God* doesn’t know. I once heard it said that God is like a master chess player. Moves occur on the board that spring from rebellious human free will or from the malevolence of the Evil One, and he does not use his omnipotence to overrule them; he permits them to happen. But they will not change the ultimate end of the game, which is that God will win. He is always able to make a counter-move, so that his will is ultimately done, and the players on the board are being gradually moved in line with his will. God will win the chess game in the end, even though in the meantime we can’t foresee how.

So when a person is “spared” or “taken” it may not be a direct act of God; it may not have been a chessboard move God initiated. Sometimes we must look at a situation and say “An enemy has done this,” like the man who found weeds growing up among his wheat (Matthew 13:28). That farmer decided not uproot the evil weeds immediately, but to wait till the harvest to sort them out. There are a lot of things on earth that we won’t understand—why someone was “spared” and another “taken home”—until the great Day when the books are opened, and all our guesses find their answers at last.

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