Recently I had the opportunity to attend an AA meeting.
My friend was celebrating a year of sobriety and they asked me and a small group of their supporters to come celebrate with them.
The celebration was a typical AA meeting complete with someone reading the 12 steps of recovery as well as some people speaking on behalf of those completely a sobriety milestone.
The thing that struck me about this meeting was how brutally honest everyone was. Everyone who stood up to speak would introduce themselves, “Hi, my name is [blank] and I’m an alcoholic.” Everyone else would respond, “Hi, [blank]!”
One woman in particular stood up to tell her story. She had been sober for a number of years but told us of how she initially got involved with AA, realized her problem, and began to seek help.
At no point in her story did she try to pump up her tires or make herself look better than she was. She was completely open and vulnerable about who she was and where he former lifestyle had taken her.
The first three steps of AA are all about recognizing you are powerless over your problem, believing that a higher power can rescue you from that problem, and deciding to turn yourself over to God as you understand him.
While not everyone who attends AA believes in Jesus, all of them are willing to tell you exactly what God is saving them from: Themselves. Specifically, from their dependency on alcohol.
As I sat there and listened to the stories from these people I couldn’t help but contrast that with the way we often hear sin talked about in churches.
For many Christians, the only thing God saves us from is hell. And the only reason we are doomed to hell is because we happen to be born into a sinful and fallen human race.
Sure, we all have individual sins as well, but confronting those actual sins seems at best secondary. God first and foremost wants to save us from a hell which, for a lot of Christians, only exists because God needs to punish sin.
It’s almost like we view sin as an arbitrary list of rules God has created and asks us to obey, not for our benefit, but in order to show our devotion. If we fail to live up to this arbitrary standard set by God—which if you believe we were born inherently sinful because of Adam, is impossible to live up to—than we deserve eternal punishment from God.
The problem with this view is that it fails to truly understand the damage sin does to those around us. In truth, God doesn’t need to actively punish sin in order to make hell terrible. He could simply allow sinful people to live the selfish, self-centred lives we want to and we will make hell a miserable place on our own.
In which case, what God needs to save us from is not a hell that he himself has created as punishment for sin. He needs to save us from our own propensity to create hell around us. He needs to save us from the ways we continue to act selfishly. He needs to save us from our own angry, from our inability to love and forgive, our own addictions to sex, money, power, alcohol, co-dependency or whatever else we continue to trust over Him.
And in order for him to save us, we need to be willing to recognize our own deficiencies. It’s not enough for us to repent of some generic idea of Sin. It’s not enough for us to ask for forgiveness for simply being born human.
We need to own our very specific and very real sins. Our gossip, our jealousy, our laziness, our greed, our bitterness, our selfishness. These are the things Jesus wants to rescue us from. These are the ways Jesus will make us whole.
Maybe the church could learn a thing or two from AA. Maybe we can learn to become brutally honest about the areas of our lives where we need Jesus to rescue us.