This week’s DYK was written by a prominent professor with long-term sobriety: Preaching the law, Paul says, does no good for someone caught up in temptation. An obsession is an idea that overcomes all other ideas and rational thoughts. Scolding, punishments, and threats of hellfire not only will not work, but can make the behavior even worse. When alcoholics are scolded for their binge drinking, for example, their instant reaction is to crave a drink even more and escape back into their bottle. The more the compulsive overeaters cringe when people make fun of them and call them “fatty,” and the more people scold them, the more they crave doughnuts, potato chips or whatever comfort food they are using to relieve stress. If we have destructive tempers which cause us trouble, if we are continually blowing up at our bosses, spouses, children or strangers in traffic, the attempt to control our anger by sheer will-power alone will not work or worse, it can plunge us into chronic depression.
Preaching Absolute Unselfishness, Absolute Love, Absolute Purity, and even Absolute Honesty (in this kind of text) is legalism or “preaching the law.” It is an attempt to save ourselves by performing “works of the law.” This will not improve our behavior and will more likely make it worse. Our lives become justified-are brought back into harmony with God-through faith and practicing different daily actions, not through trying to perform “works of the law.” This is not only the teaching of the divinely inspired apostle, but is backed up by good sound modern psychology.
If I am an alcoholic who is drinking uncontrollably, the only thing that will save me is turning my life and will over to the care of God (as we understand Him), in faith, where faith means trust in God’s love and compassion and willingness to help me. Telling me that I cannot stop drinking until I start also trying to achieve Absolute Unselfishness, Absolute Love, Absolute Purity, and Absolute Honesty-all four-will plummet mortal humans into despair. So the first reason why Bill Wilson was so strongly opposed to the Oxford Group’s emphasis on the Four Absolutes, was that-in an organization that otherwise had done a marvelous job of rediscovering and revitalizing the central gospel message-it was a disastrous turn back into the kind of “legalism” and “works righteousness” which was a total betrayal of the true gospel message of faith and divine grace.
If however, the Four Absolutes are used as questions when attempting to determine God’s will for us; they make more sense. Determining God’s will for us, can indeed, become a slippery slope for people who are new at practicing spirituality. New people in A.A. frequently dream-up all sorts of erroneous and nonsensical ideas about what God’s will for them is. Some, for instance, believe it is God’s will they should buy a new Mercedes Benz, or some other self-serving wish-full thinking. If however, they first apply the “Four Questions” to their brainstorm it can be helpful instead of self-destructive: Is this idea unselfish, is it unconditional love, purity and is it honest, and if it fails any of the “Four Questions” it should be discarded. And, if any further doubt remains about this idea; it should be discussed with an A.A. sponsor or some other, mature, spiritual advisor. To be continued…
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