Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself … who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.'” Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.” Isaiah 44.24, 28; 45.1-6.
I have never before written a post at someone’s request, but I am doing so today — though I shall not be making a habit of it. The fact is that one of my regular readers has got himself into a contentious dialog on another Christian blog and has asked me to give my views on the issue that is being debated there. The issue is whether or not it is legitimate for a Christian to be involved in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps Programme because (as the author of the posting in the other blog would have it) “the AA co-founders were not Christians”.
This issue is very close to my correspondent’s heart because he is both a committed Christian and an alcoholic who recovered from his addiction with the help of the AA Programme; but it is, it seems to me, both addressed and answered unambiguously in the passage from Isaiah that I have chosen as this morning’s reading. That passage is all about the sovereignty of God and the immovability of his purposes, but the startling fact that it contains (and it is an assertion from God himself) is that, in his sovereignty, God will use even a pagan foreigner to bring his purposes to pass. The lost sheep of Israel are to be gathered together and herded back into their fold in Judah by Cyrus, king of Persia, whom God here calls “my shepherd.” He, Cyrus, is more. He is God’s “anointed.” He is, in other words, God’s divinely-chosen and divinely-empowered king — a king that God “calls by name” and “equips” to deliver his people from captivity even though he does not know this God who has chosen him and is using him.
So the question whether Banting and Wilson were Christians or not seems to me to be quite irrelevant. The question is, “Does God use AA to deliver folk from the captivity of alcohol?” and the testimony of my correspondent and innumerable others is that he does. Another correspondent on that other blog dares to suggest that if the deliverance comes through AA it is not real deliverance! I imagine he would want to tell the Jews arriving back in Judah from Babylon that they weren’t really there at all. “You can’t be,” he would say, “because your so-called deliverance came through a pagan king. You are deluded.” What nonsense! Deliverance, if it is real deliverance, is deliverance.
All real deliverance does, of course, come from God; but I am in no doubt that God uses a variety of means and measures to bring about deliverance, and it is sheer folly for us to start judging one means to be legitimate and another not. By using a particular means, God himself legitimises it. In the same way that God legitimises hospitals and clinics and doctors and nurses by using them as channels whereby he heals folk of their sicknesses (and whether those who channel the healing and those who receive it acknowledge it or not, it is always God who does the healing) so he legitimises AA by using it as a means whereby he brings folk like my correspondent out of their bondage to alcohol.
What folly and what arrogance to try and tell God how and when and where and through whom his mercy and redemption and deliverance can be channelled to those who need it. As Frederick William Faber’s well-known 19th century hymn puts it …
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in His justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.
For the love of God is broader
than the measures of man’s mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.