Throughout the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous there are 134 instances of the word God. In addition, there are over 20 words and phrases which Bill W. uses to refer to God.
FUN FACT: When a word or phrase appears capitalized in the Big Book and it normally wouldn’t be, that word or phrase is being used as a pronoun for God.
Unlike the observation made in the article about Character Defects vs Shortcomings, the different words being used for God do actually have different implications. These implications are names for God or, more specifically, names for the different types of relationships we can have with God.
Perhaps there was a time in your life when you had to navigate many different types of relationships with the same person and this can be challenging. For example, in my own life there was a time when my father was my landlord, my ride to work, my boss, and my dealer all that the same time. Any one of these relationships can be difficult to navigate by themselves, but all of them at once? That’s a nightmare.
While it is certainly challenging, if not impossible, for people to successfully navigate multiple types of relationships simultaneously with a single human being, It is not only possible to do this with God but it often proves quite natural.
This is often the first type of relationship with God many of us feel comfortable accepting. It represents God as a source of power, a source of strength, an unconscious energy with which one need only align and avail themselves. If we imagine a ship, navigating the waters of life, then this relationship represents God as being the wind in our sails.
This type of relationship with God represents what some would call the path, the way, destiny. It is the course through which our lives move. To continue with the ship analogy, God would not only be the wind in our sails but also the ocean through which we move.
In this type of relationship, God is our guide.
As the Director, God has a perspective that people, as actors, couldn’t possibly possess. He knows how all the individual parts are supposed to work together including all the parts that are never seen: background actors, lighting, costuming, set design. Thus, we become free to concentrate on playing our own role as best we can.
It is important to note that in this type of relationship, we rely on God simply by virtue of the fact that we have no other option. It’s like being in a totally dark room and following directions from a person wearing night-vision goggles. We could say “Give me a reason to listen to you.” and all the other person would need to say is “What choice do you have?”
Some people never explore a relationship with God any deeper than this. They are content with “God says so” and can often live happy, joyous, and free lives.
Here, God is not merely the wind in our sails and the ocean through which we move, but also the compass which directs our movement.
This type of relationship with God creates what some would call a covenant, which is another way to say agreement, arrangement, or a contract.
In this type of relationship we aren’t merely following God’s guidance because “God says so”, instead God offers us rewards for doing His work. In the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, these rewards are called “promises”.
To stick with the ship analogy, this type of relationship with God represents God as the captain of the ship.
Perhaps this type of relationship with God is more difficult for people to grasp than the rest. This could be especially true if we have had earthly fathers who have been less than perfect, or even downright hurtful. Yet, this type of relationship with God introduces an element all the others lack: love.
After all, a director provides everything we need because that’s their responsibility. An employer provides everything we need because we work in exchange for it. A father, however, provides everything we need because it’s an absolute joy for him to do so, because of the love in his heart.
Incidentally, this is the God most 12 step groups use, as per the second tradition: “A loving God, as He may express Himself…” As individuals, we get to have whatever kind of God we want, but our fellowship has chosen to use one that loves us.
This type of relationship represents God as one who is emotionally invested in the success of the ship’s journey. He will never abandon the ship no matter how lost it is; He will send help and supplies no matter what the cost; He will stop at nothing to salvage the ship should it ever sink. He is the ship’s owner and, as such, it’s caretaker.
This type of relationship with God can sound religiousy at first, but it needn’t be. This is especially true if we take a new view of the act of creation.
If creation is a one-time, past-tense event, then it can be difficult to see the practicality of this type of relationship with God. But if creation is an ongoing, present-tense experience, the way an image on a screen is continually being created by the light inside the projector, then it can become easier for us to view ourselves as a work in progress — a slab of clay on a potter’s wheel.
So God is now the wind in our sails, the ocean through which we move, the compass used to navigate, the owner who loves the ship endlessly and now it becomes clear that we, in fact, are the ship.
This type of relationship may appear to be incongruent with the previously mentioned Director, Employer, and Father, especially when we considers some of the people who may have held these roles for us in the past. However, this type of relationship adds an arguably crucial element the other ones miss: companionship.
In fact, every other relationship with God pulls us closer to this relationship.
God is creating us for companionship. Companionship with a perfect creator requires imperfect creations to undergo refining. Thus God directs us when we need guidance, employs us when we need challenge, and fathers us when we need love.
…all of this with an eye on guiding our (presently) wrecked vessels into His Harbor of Friendship.
Of course there are many other names for God throughout the book, each with their own nuances and meanings. These happen to be seven which resonate powerfully for many.
I’ve developed a printable checklist to help you stay mindful of your efforts.