My friend Cheryl was in tears the other day. She has to pay for her wedding because her father burned up the family savings, going in and out of rehab programs in a futile attempt to get sober.
A few months ago, he was in yet another program, hundreds of miles away from home, in another state, in another part of the country. But wherever he goes, and he’s gone to them all, he can’t get sober. He doesn’t want to get sober, Cheryl says.
His drinking has destroyed their family; and his marriage may not last much longer because his wife has been drained of compassion. Adding to the misery, he isn’t invited to the wedding because they know he’ll get drunk and scandalize the family.
He tried Alcoholics Anonymous, but after the meetings, he would go drinking and come home reeking of booze. And there’s another problem. AA is a spiritual program, based on a belief in a higher power that most members call God. However, Cheryl’s father doesn’t believe in God. He’s too “smart.”
He has a background in science – he’s a regular Stephen Hawking – so to him, God and faith are nonsense. Unfortunately, all the science in the world won’t get him sober. It must be tough having all the answers, especially when they’re the wrong answers.
Without a higher power, the odds aren’t good that he’ll turn his life around because God’s grace is the fundamental force behind all positive human change. God helps people get sober, although atheists will never believe that.
I could identify with Cheryl’s situation. I grew up in an alcoholic home; fortunately, my father, who was sober for the last 25 years of his life after 40 years of drinking, trusted in God and turned to him in his darkest hour.
The famous Fifth Chapter of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, which is titled, “How It Works,” says:
“Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely. Remember that we deal with alcohol, cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power, that One is God. May you find Him now!
“Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon. ... Our personal adventure before and after make clear three pertinent ideas:
(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought.”
About a year ago, I was confronted by an atheist who was angry over something I wrote, and he wanted to debate me. I’m sure he read Feuerbach and Freud, Marx and Bertrand Russell, not to mention Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. (As G.K. Chesterton once said, “If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”) I also knew that in 1,000 years I could never prove to him that God existed.
His mind was closed. It was locked tight, impregnable. You’ve heard it said, “If today you hear my [God’s] voice, harden not your heart”? Well, this man’s heart was hardened.
I did, though, offer him a wager, which I think was even better than Pascal’s. I promised him that if he sought God with a sincere heart and asked God to reveal himself, God would oblige. The atheist refused to even discuss my suggestion. He was the victim of his own anger, arrogance and intellectual pride. He was like a spiritually dying man with no hope of surviving, except one – an emergency infusion of grace. His only hope was prayer, so I started praying for him.
Someone recently sent me a prayer for atheists and agnostics, and I’ve been saying it every day: “In the Name of Jesus, Who said that anything we ask in His Name will be given to those who believe, I ask that those who have not come to know the love of the Heavenly Father will be blessed with the knowledge that they are loved by Him beyond all human reasoning and understanding. Please grant them the gift to feel His love as it enfolds them to such an extent that they will be unable to resist or deny it. May the knowledge of the Heavenly Father’s infinite love stir within their hearts the desire to return that love to Him, and to reflect it to all others. May their lives be a pure reflection of His resplendent love. I ask this in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Amen.”
That prayer can warm hardened hearts. Say it often for unbelievers. Say it every day.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.