belief

…as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results… (Big Book, p. 46)

What Bill is saying here is that you don’t have to believe in God in order to work steps. You can get a spiritual program without believing anything at all. You just have to have willingness, which is an entirely different thing.

For example, I can, as a habit, be willing to eat whatever my wife makes for dinner, even meat loaf, which I don’t particularly enjoy. Even if she never serves meat loaf, I’m still willing to eat it, and that is all that is required for me to have a pleasant evening with my wife.

And so, I can be willing to believe in God, or even become a Bible-beating Christian, if that’s what’s required. But if that meat loaf never gets served—if my experience of the program never forces the issue—I won’t have to eat it. And I can still stay sober, and develop a healthy spiritual life.

Belief is not required.

But willingness is. And oftentimes willingness is harder to come by.

For example, there are many nights when I come home all grumpy, and I’m not willing to eat meat loaf. If I happen to think I smell beef baking in the oven, I’m liable to throw a fit. Then the evening is ruined, even if she was cooking something else.

In the same way, if I come into this program unwilling to taste anything spiritual, I’m going to go hungry. In fact, I have come into the program many, many times with exactly that attitude, and every time, my lack of willingness took me back out.

I had to be in a lot of pain before I was willing to sit down with someone and have him explain the program to me. What he said was that all my arguments against God were beside the point.

You don’t have to believe in God, he said, but you do have to be willing to experience the power of God.

It was a strange statement, not at all what I expected. It was reassuring, because it meant that he wasn’t going to cram the Bible down my throat, but it was also scary. It meant I was going to have to take this God stuff seriously, more seriously than most church folk do.

It’s one thing to believe in God. That’s easy. You just go along with the crowd and agree to whatever the guy up front is preaching. But to willing to meet God face-to-face, even if God doesn’t exist—that’s a tall order. You have to put everything on the line—your whole life hangs on this thing—and you don’t even know if it’s going to work.

What if its a hoax? What if you get willing to meet God, to surrender everything, and God never shows up? You’ll be left in the same mess you were already in, dying in your addiction, but with egg on your face.

Or, even worse, what if it’s true? What if there really is a God, and it changes your life? Then what? Judging from most of the religious people we know, the results are probably not going to be good. We might end up wearing white ties and selling Bibles door-to-door. Or worse.

We might become anything God wants us to be. We don’t get to control or predict what going to happen to us. We don’t get to peek into the future before we make our decision. We just have to hold our noses and jump in.

All we know is that we’re going to change. It’s sort of like dying and being replaced by a pod-person. You won’t be you anymore. You’ll be some other person, some spiritual person who has the same name and features, but doesn’t think or act or talk or feel at all the same as you did before.

If it works, that is.

If it works people might think you’re not cool anymore. You might never get laid again. You might have to get on your knees to pray and hold hands with people and sing and talk about how God is such a great guy.

Or it might be a joke, and you’ll be dead.

With this sort of thinking, many of us decide we’d be better off drunk than taking a chance on God.

But, if we’re lucky enough to have a decent group around us—if the people who are talking about willingness are also living in willingness—then we’ll have some actual evidence to consider.

In the eyes of every person who is living this program, we will see peace and contentment. These people are not crawling around in their skin the way we are. They are not fighting off the urge to drink. They’ve found something that works.

Oddly enough, they all talk a little differently about that “something that works.” In fact, no two of them quite agree on exactly what God is, or how it does what it does. And yet this thing is working for each of them, regardless of their respective beliefs.

If we pay attention to these people, rather than to our self-pity and fear, we’ll find we have good reason to take a chance on God.

God works, even if he doesn’t exist.

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