Whats with “God as we understand Him”?

September 28, 2010

I hear ongoing concern and even debate over “God as I understand Him”.  For those not familiar with the 12 steps or AA, “God as I understand Him” comes from the wording in the third AA step.  Specifically, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him”.

Those who have a clearly defined understanding or belief of who God is, appear often to find this challenging or offensive.  I suppose I understand.  Yet even among people of the same faith systems, do we not all know God only as we understand him?

Do any two Christians, Muslims, or Jews understand God the exact same way?  What about our various denominations, sects, and cultures of any major faith?  Do they not all have very distinct view of what they presume to be the same God?  Are there not members of major faith systems who profess the same God yet some feel God is a God of violence while others feel God is a God of peace and kindness?  Clearly a difference in understanding.

Others are concerned that AA, which certainly appears to have been rooted in Christianity, was tainted when step 3 was changed from “God”, to “God as we understood Him”.  On one hand, I understand their concern over the morphing of their specific belief that yielded results into something compromised for broader appeal.  On the other hand, I don’t understand where this is still not an honest statement because we all can only believe to the degree our understanding allows us, can’t we?

My understanding of God changes continually as I feel he reveals more to me of who he is and how he works.  I believe in the same God I believed in many years ago when I was going nuts with anxiety, depression and ramping up for active alcoholism.  But I understand God today a lot differently than I understood Him then.  This does not mean God changed.  It means my understanding changed.

I used to believe the philosophies and theologies of men who sought to package and sell God to me through their organizations.  And much of what I understood has indeed proven to me to be correct.  But the understanding I had of God through this set of perspectives did not help me get sober.  In fact, their input based on their understanding barely helped me at all.  Some of them even told me that God did not work a certain way or through certain people or organizations that turned out to be the very people and organizations who did indeed help me get sober and recovering.

So were they really interested in helping me find God and seek his help, or were they more interested in my conformity?  Perhaps I will never know.  Nor do I resent them for trying.  They were likely just trying to share God as they understood Him.

One day, I am sure greater truths will be revealed.  And we may find out which understanding of God is correct and incorrect.  Maybe there is a “Road to Damascus Experience” awaiting us and thus we ought to use wise caution in saying who God is or isn’t.  Until that day, how can any of us not be limited by our experiences, cultures, perceptions, and basic natures in our understandings of who God is and how he works?




  1. Being raised as a daughter of Missionaries – I was taught who God was – every day, from the Bible. But my 2 ACoA parents also interpreted Him thru their own lens – not always so great. Eventually I had to connect to HP in my own way. It was definitely God who brought me to Al-Anon in answer to prayer. But in the beginning I knew I could only stay if the principles of the Program matched the Bible. They did, so I got the healing I needed!

    PS. I just got connected to another ACoA blog, which I highly recommend — http://www.guesswhatnormalis.com. Really great stuff!

    • Thanks Donna….my point exactly. We discover what we discover when we discover it. I too feel the steps were a gift I received and give God the credit for them. Others feel differently. No surprise. Will check out the suggested blog.

  2. Hey Chaz,
    Hazelden has just published a brand new book called “The Book that started it all.” It’s the manuscript used in printing the Big Book. There is a page on my blog about it up front. The line about the “God” issue was mentioned in the press release.

    You might find it interesting.


    • Thanks Jeremy… The publicity around the manuscript was actually what prompted me to write this post. It appears to be causing some controversy in some circles.

      But whatever. God’s principle simply work the way they work. Even if he is not recognized for them.

      I will check out your blog.



    • Hi Again Jeremy…

      I read your post. Mind if I link it?


      The article feels quite balanced. My mind can’t help but wonder what any of us would do in the setting of the 1930’s if we had discovered a method that worked for us and others that we felt may be life-changing for others.

      We would have our personal tastes and preferences based on our own experiences that would invariably filter into the delivery of the message we wanted to carry.

      In addition, the cultural influences of the day would likely have had a huge impact. Were people of the day put off by hell-fire preachers? Was a public distaste for know-it-all preachers something AA founders were avoiding sounding like? I personally don’t know but perhaps this was the case. And perhaps the originators simply did not want to be linked to anything they felt was negative in the cultural climate.

      I can relate in that I have a distaste for many of the cultures I have experienced amongst people who believe the same faith as I do. I am not eager to link myself to the likes of Rev. Ernest Angely, Peter Popoff , Corporate Mega-Churches, or many others.

      The expression of what I believe I hope will simply show itself in what I do and how I treat others. And less in what I say and who I am presumed to be aligned with.

      Yet at the same time, I can’t buy in to the notion that God is just whoever one wants him to be. I personally believe that God is who God is and doesnt change and adapt with who I need him to be.

      So it remains a delicate tight-rope. I dont suppose it was any easy task coming up with the final manuscript for publishing something the authors felt of such great importance and impact, while being careful not to turn people off. Is this not the quandary of most people with a strong message?



  3. Hi Chaz. Great post. I wish everyone could realize that “God as I understand him” isn’t the same understanding anyone else has, and, far more importantly, that it doesn’t have to be. It would eliminate a great deal of violence in this world from people willing to kill to enforce their understanding of God on others. All the best.

    • Thanks Piper… yes, the sooner more of us understand that we will not likely all understand God the same way, and that we never have, the sooner humanity will live in greater peace I am sure.



  4. […] Chaz Recovering – Read more […]

  5. I would have run a mile if my interpretation of a Higher Power wasn’t left to my discretion. I don’t believe in God – my Higher power is the power of the group and the programme – that works for me. In fact two people gathered together for mutual aid is a power greater than me.

    • I too find many powers greater than myself that are not God. Agreed, there is power in fellowship and there is power in having a track to run on … or as we call it, a program. Frankly, pretty much anything outside of our active alcoholic selves is a power greater than our alcoholic-thinking and alcoholic-behaving selves.

      For me, I do believe in God. The fact, however that I can rely on powers that are not directly him does not compete with my faith and relationship with God. Some people who do believe in God appear to be threatened by anyone else having a contrary experience or belief.

      Yet they claim to be people of faith? I don’t get it.

      Thanks for reply Recoveryboy.



  6. Chaz, coming into recovery. I had a lot of issues with religion. I grew up in a home where my father abused me everyday and then went to church every Sunday. He would tell me his sins were forgiven and i was going hell. So needless to say I grew up with a lot of issues with God. Coming into treatment and just seeing the word God on the wall, I almost walked out the door. I’m glad I didn’t.
    I’ve got almost 2 1/2 yrs clean today and im still working on understanding exacting what my Higher Power is. I choice to call him God. buut i do not see my God the same as other see God as in the bible or church. I see him in my own understanding.
    I believe it is so important, absolutely life saving that people be able to believe in a power greater than themselves to succeed in the battle to fight the disease of addiction and alcoholism. There are so many of them that are angry or fearful of god coming into recovery the last thing they want to see is the word god. It scares so many people away. The fact that it can be something that can be something of their understanding makes all the difference in the world.
    In recovery we come in here with nothing, broken empty,devastated soul. Faith is all we need, and it only take a tiny bit to save a life.
    thank you for your post.

    • Shertrouble…

      Thanks for your reply. Your story is exactly what a lot of narrow-minded people who are intolerant of others perceptions of God would probably benefit from hearing.

      I have met many people who claim to represent God yet are the very reason that others are turned off of ever wanting to know Him. This may describe your situation.

      People who harm or offend others in their efforts to propagate their faith are often the first ones to be surprised when people want nothing to do with the God they claim to represent.

      Regardless to who God really is, we as recovering addicts and alcoholics do stand a far better chance of living and recovering if we reach out to any power other than our addict or alcoholic thinking. For this reason, some who merely reach out to a fellowship and not God, do indeed find help. A fellowship of sober alcoholics or clean addicts have far greater power to help us get/stay clean than our insane, dysfunctional thinking/behaving in active addiction. Reaching out to a higher power does therefore not mean that we have found God, but merely a power greater than what we are currently doing. Which frankly aint hard to beat!

      Frankly, powers greater than myself that I reach out to on a regular basis include my sponsor, my fitness routines, my job, involvement with my family, and self-help books. None of these are God and I do not revere them as such. To me they are gifts of God that he makes available for my use on practical levels.

      I am glad to hear that you are finding what it is taking to keep you clean. 2.5 years is lots to be grateful for and I am grateful right along with you. I am so sorry to hear of the abuse you suffered and the hypocrisy you experienced from someone who you trusted.

      Good on you for staying open-minded enough to at the very least try to seek again. I certainly understand your allergy to the word “god”.

      Yet I can tell you, anyone I have ever met who talks one way and acts another way, especially to the extremes you experienced, is no representative of the character and nature of God as I have experienced or understand him.

      Keep seeking. I am sure greater understandings will continue to unfold.



    • how can you understand God if you dont know Him? can you understand a relative that you never met or never read about? it just doesnt make sense. You see i understand who God is cuz i read the Gospels. I know why Christ came and what HIs purpose was. I understand God because i know Him. in order to understand God you have to get to know Him and in order to get to know Him you have to speak to Him and read about Him. its just common sense.

  7. Hi Chaz, I have been thinking about starting a web page and blog to kind of mix people in recovery and followers of Christ I have some ideas about it and was researching and I found this post. I would say and only from personal experience that some how God had his hand in from the beginning of AA. That God as you understand him was ok in as much as the program saves lives and some of the lives it saves go on and follow Christ and their souls are saved. I am a big book follower and have witnessed it to be the most successful way to recover from addiction my self included. Was a Heroin addict along with alcoholism. I now am a follower of Christ ( or Christian if you prefer ) and see that there is much confusion between the 2 groups ( church and program ) and want to speak to both. I like the way you think when I start my page I hope you will find it and comment. Thanks

    • Hi Mark…. thank you for your comment.

      Although this post was done years ago, my perspective has changed little.

      I would be pleased to check out your site and comment. Hope to see you there…. will try to find.

      Thanks for adding to this dialogue.

      All the best,


      • Ps…. how do I find you?

  8. The phrase is as “we” understood him. If I make it about how I understood him it is a matter of my ego. After more than 7 years in a 12 step program I have surrendered to the fact that my understanding must be tied to one of the great traditions (in my case Catholicism)…without the deep history, traditions and writings of one of the world religions it becomes difficult to fully surrender my will and to fall in love with a higher power of my own creation

    • Thanks for adding your thoughts Tom.

      Agreed that a God of one’s own creation would be suspect of being created in a self-serving, self-pleasing manner that would undoubtedly be tainted by our ego.

      When I hear, “Go ahead and create your own God”, I am certain, even if I were an atheist, I would not trust such a creation. I would be too quick to create a God that met my expectations and comforts.

      I am ok with God as I understand him, knowing full well that part of my understanding comes from “we”. And “we” being the culture and fellowship of people who believe in the same God and teachings as I do.

      I do still contend that no two of us see God the exact same way. Even if we are standing shoulder to shoulder with a fellow Baptist, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Bahá’í, or Agnostic. We as humans just do not see identically, which to me keeps some healthy honesty to the notion of “as I understand him”.

      Humanity has declared war and committed heinous acts of murder and other atrocities driven by their understandings of God. Which to me states indelibly that difference in understanding have and probably always will exist.

      AA in my view steps out of the debate by adding the “as we understand him” inclusion in step 3.

      Thanks for adding to the dialogue.


  9. Reblogged this on Debrincon's Blog and commented:
    Good info for all people dealing with Addict lifestyles.

    • Thanks Debrincon 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: