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God Loves the Alcoholic
December 12, 1976

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

Mr. X began drinking at the age of 16 1/2 which is a too familiar part of the high school scene. He experienced his first drunk two years later at the age of 18 1/2. If he were asked, “Why do you drink?”, he would have answered, “Because I feel good. I feel more adequate, I feel more self confident.” This is true because of the effect that alcohol has upon the body. Alcohol serves as a depressant. It puts the body to sleep. It almost immediately is absorbed into the bloodstream and is carried to all parts of the body, to all the organs, especially to the brain. It puts the cerebral cortex gradually to sleep. That part of our brain is the seat of our conscience, inhibitions, self control, and judgment. As it begins to go to sleep, to be sedated, Mr. X relaxes. He begins to talk more, he overcomes his shyness, he laughs, the jokes gets louder. And at the same time, his reasoning power is affected, is impaired, and his judgment is impaired. What happens is interesting and also frightening. 

Why does alcohol have this effect upon the body? How does it put our organs to sleep? This happens, according to what I've read and recent research, through a process called blood sludging. Alcohol serves as a sludge. As the blood is carried to all parts of our body through an intricate system of capillaries, oxygen is produced within these capillaries, oxygen which keeps our body alive and which feeds the cells. When alcohol enters into the capillaries, it serves as a sludge—it plugs up, clogs, and prohibits oxygen from being produced. As oxygen is prevented from being produced, those affected cells die, are destroyed. 

This happens whenever alcohol is taken. This happens whether one is a moderate social drinker, or how little, or how much. Every time alcohol enters the body, it destroys cells. With an alcoholic whose drinking is uncontrolled for years and years, you begin to see in that person the effect of the accumulation of cells that have died. You see impaired judgment, impaired self control, bodily functions and the mind. This process also causes diseases of the body such as ulcers, cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, pneumonia, impotency, malnutrition, delirium tremens when the body shakes out of control. An alcoholic is expected to die years before his or her time. 

Alcohol not only has an effect upon the body, it has an effect upon the mental and emotional state of drinkers. The emotional and mental state of a person is what causes one to be an alcoholic. And then the alcohol has an effect upon the mental and emotional state. It is a vicious cycle. Mr. X enjoyed drinking because he became somebody he wasn't. Without alcohol, he was shy, inhibited, uptight, closed, and had difficulty relating to other people. He was lonely. He felt inadequate. But with alcohol he became gregarious. He began to relate to other people, usually on a very superficial level, but he began to relate, to talk with them and enjoy them. He found self confidence. He became a different type of person. But soon it became apparent that he needed alcohol in order to be this kind of person. In fact, it soon became apparent that he could not stop. Alcohol had control of him, he was losing control of his life, he had become addicted, he could not stop. It frightened him and it frightens all of us when we realize we're not in control of our body. When we're not in control of what goes into us, not in control of our lives, it frightens us. 

Out of fear, out of fright, he began to lie to himself. He said, “Oh, I could stop anytime.” He began to lie to his family. He began to sneak and hide bottles. His life became increasingly disorganized. He lost his friends. His friends tired of him, he wouldn't take their advice. They got tired of having to take him home. He began to have trouble at his job. He wasn't as effective as he used to be. The employer began to speak to him about his increasing ineffectiveness, and he became frightened about his future. His family problems, his home problems became increasingly severe as those around him, those who loved him, began to suffer.

The tragedy of alcoholism, according to one of the scholars, is the breakup of families, the dulling of fine minds, and the warping of lovable personalities. But perhaps the most tragic effect of alcoholism is the effect on those around the alcoholic. It's more than just saying, “Well, a person can do what he or she wants to do. After all, it's their life. If they want to throw it away, if they want to drink it away, that’s their concern.”  But it's a wider issue than that. Because for every alcoholic, and the estimate is between five and nine million, four or five other persons are deeply and sorely and hurtingly affected. Almost every single family is affected by this number one mental health problem in our nation. Alcoholism is a major cause of the breakup of homes. Alcoholism causes, or at least has terrible consequences, for divorce, financial insecurity, unemployment, physical illness, accidents, desertion, cruelty to children, juvenile delinquency, and crime. 

That is the story of an alcoholic, a sad, pathetic story. That's the drama of an alcoholic—a person male or female who cannot control drinking, a person who allows alcohol to interfere with some area of their life. Alcoholics are caught in a whirlpool. They cannot get out or they get caught on a slide that is rapidly taking them to the bottom and they cannot get off. They can't stop. They can't turn it around. They can't jump off. They're caught in a vicious cycle. They are unable anymore to help themselves. 

Especially is this tragic at Christmas when home after home prepares for Christmas with fear and trepidation. They walk on eggshells, wondering if the alcoholic is going to be drunk or sober, wondering what kind of mood the alcoholic is going to be in, wondering if there's going to be violence. They approach Christmas with fear and trepidation. The alcoholic, sensing their anxiety, is filled with deep guilt, deep remorse, and a feeling of weakness and helplessness. Because he/she can't do anything about it, he/she compensates by drinking more—caught in the whirlpool. 

The good news at Christmas, the good news to alcoholics, the good news to families of alcoholics, the good news to those we love is that God loves the alcoholic. God has not deserted the alcoholic. An alcoholic is still of infinite sacred worth, created by God and redeemed by Jesus. An alcoholic is of inestimable value. God loves him or her, and he/she can be saved for there is help. An alcoholic has a spiritual sickness, the sickness of the soul. An alcoholic is seeking for God in every bottle, seeking for salvation, seeking for forgiveness, seeking to be loved, seeking to be saved. And the good news is that redemption is possible. 

The most effective program we have is Alcoholics Anonymous—AA. Hospitals and treatment centers are most effective when they use the principles of AA. There are AA groups in almost every community, including Manteca. Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of alcoholics in relationship with other alcoholics, mutually supporting, strengthening and encouraging each other. The philosophy of AA is beautiful, simple and effective. Any person, any alcoholic can be helped through the principles of AA when he/she: Number one, admits a hopelessness of their situation, admits they are controlled by alcohol, admits they're powerless to do anything about it, admits “I am an alcoholic.”

Secondly, when an alcoholic desires and seeks the help of God, when he/she relies and is dependent upon a source of power outside themselves, works at improving one's personality, works at improving relationships with other people, and lastly, reaches out to help other alcoholics, he/she can stay dry one day at a time. 

This process works because it's right out of the Bible. It's the straight Christian gospel. The gospel that reaches out to each one of us begins with the admission that I am a sinner and I cannot make it all by myself. I am powerless in the situation without the help of God, without the help of God's grace, forgiveness and redemption in Christ. And as part of the Christian fellowship, we work to improve our own lives. We work out relationships with each other. We call this repentance—to turn from our previous behavior and to work out a new lifestyle. And then finally, do missionary work. Witness to our faith and reach out to the world. That's the Christian gospel that helps us all. That’s the gospel that helps the alcoholic and that's the good news. 

But now, how do non-alcoholics relate to alcoholics? How do we relate as a church, as individuals, as family, to those caught in the web of alcoholism? How? We love the alcoholic as God loves the alcoholic—the same way we treat everyone else. We treat everyone else in the same love that God has for them, accepting them as God accepts them—no nagging no criticizing, no lecturing, no pressuring, not giving anyone those old cliches—Why don't you clean up your life? Don't you have any sense of decency? Look at your family. Why are you ruining your life? Have you no willpower?“ Saying such things to anyone is out of place. Especially is it inappropriate because an alcoholic knows all those things. That's why he's drinking and feels so guilty about it. There is no place for lecturing, criticizing and judging one another in any circumstances, because we are all spiritually sick. We all have souls that are sick, and it manifests itself in different ways in different people. If there's anyone here who does not think that you are spiritually sick, you really are. You are blind. We are all in need of God's grace. 

I like what an older minister once said, a retired minister. When he got out of seminary and into his first church, he visualized himself, (we all image ourselves as to how we relate in situations). He envisaged the world as drowning in a river. All these people with all their problems were struggling in a river with water over their heads, trying to reach the surface, trying to grab a few breaths, and looking for help to get out of that situation. He imagined himself being a great preacher standing on the bank, giving out the Word, giving them encouragement. He could just see flocks of these drowning people coming out of the river being saved. Well, after a few years, when that didn't happen, he began to change his image, realizing that just preaching the Word wasn't enough. He needed to picture himself being down on the bank of the river, reaching out his hand to those who are struggling. The Christian is one who stands on the bank, reaches out his hand to anyone who would hang on, and help pull him out of the drowning situation. 

He said that image lasted most of his ministry, but then in the last few years of his ministry, he finally began to realize that he was not such a hot savior himself. In reality, he wasn't standing on any bank giving out any word. He wasn't standing on any bank holding out his hand. In reality, he was in the river with the rest of them. We're all in that river. The Christian is the one who helps each other hold up. The Christians are struggling out in the river helping each other to make it. How do we hold each other up? Not by helping anyone else out of their situation, because that's impossible. We can only help others as they help themselves. No one really helps anyone else because we're all in this together. What we need is mutual support and encouragement to live our own lives, to handle our own lives and keep our heads above the water by ourselves. The Christian’s purpose is to give each other the encouragement to make it by themselves. An alcoholic can only be helped when people help him to want to help himself to face the reality of his situation, to face the reality of what's going on. Sometimes that requires a kick in the pants. Sometimes in the case of alcoholism, that requires the threat of divorce, or the threat of losing one's job. Sometimes it requires a crisis to help a person face his life, to face what he’s doing with his life. It is your and my responsibility to live the kind of life, to be the kind of person who helps each person help themselves. 

The glorious good news is that God loves the alcoholic as God loves you and me, and we are called to share in God’s love.

© 1976 Douglas I. Norris