There are a lot of references to God in the twelve steps, and yet AA has managed to stay fairly clear of many of the controversies that go along with religion. They meet often in churches (because churches will donate their facilities more readily than others), but the things that keep people commonly away from church don’t seem to keep them from AA meetings. People come as they are. Some smoke outside during breaks. There may be some raw language used in the telling of stories. No one minds. There is no pastor or even AA leader in charge. No one talks down to anyone; they all talk across. The lead passes from one to another each week, but these are people who have been coming for years and have their own stories to tell. There is no “minister to alcoholics.” If ministry goes on, it’s alcoholics ministering to each other. Most non-Christians are comfortable at an AA meeting because no one is trying to push anything. They’re just trying to help. It’s a totally different environment than church. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
God is mentioned in four of the steps and alluded to in two others. Once He is “a Power greater than ourselves” (often referred to as the “Higher Power”). Once He is simply the male pronoun, “Him.” Twice, He is “God as we understood Him.” For people who feel uncomfortable around any mention of God, there are secular steps and secular AA meetings where all mention of God has been removed, but it’s hardly necessary. “God as we understood Him” pretty much takes care of everyone.
Actually, “God as we understood Him” is a pretty good term for us all. Certainly we have much to understand about God from the scriptures where His attributes are listed and His actions in history can be noted and things deduced from those actions about His character. But “God as we understood Him” implies also a personal knowledge of God that we each have that is unique to us. This is “God as we understood Him,” and God, as we are understanding Him to be each day as we grow in the knowledge of Him. It is a living, experiential reality. I would call it, “God, as we are coming to know Him.”
Our knowledge of God is entirely need-based. We do not come to know God as equals chatting over coffee. We come to know God through our deep and lasting need for Him. He has created in us a hunger that can only be satisfied with Himself, and He allowed us to fall so we would discover how bad off we are without Him.
This is the magic of AA. You come in the door with your need all over your face, your life, your relationships, your heart, and that need takes you to the only one who can truly help you — to the Lord Himself. Call Him whatever you want, He is the savior of the world.
Millions of people have become sober through AA. When you consider that many of them are meeting God in the process, you realize that sobriety is only a means to a much greater end. The road to recovery leads to the lap of God.