4. After The Victory

As and when your loved one quits the bottle for good, your problems may not be over. Consider this strange but true statistical phenomena: A relatively large number of partners welcome back their ex-alcoholic partner into family life. He or she remains sober. But they... leave the dried out partner and marry...another alcoholic. Why and how ever could this be? During the period of alcoholism, the partner [especially a woman] takes total authority. They have to make decisions with no reference to the alcoholic. They know best. They are in an extraordinary position of power in the relationship. On drying out, the family or relationship must return to what it was before- a bonding of equals, with no manipulation, superiority, despising of the other. And this is actually incredibly hard. The implications of forgiving the alcoholic practically have to be thought through. It really is hard, very hard. And again, fellowship with others who have been through the same will be of great help.

The parable of the elder brother needs to be thought through. Perhaps this was the essential message of the parable. The elder brother was basically jealous and full of self-pity. He felt that his years of patient obedience [and surely he over-rated his own righteousness!] had all been forgotten just because the prodigal had returned. He forgave nothing- he ran on about how the prodigal had spent his father’s livelihood on whores. His brother’s former sins were utmost in his mind even after his brother had so clearly reformed. And the result was tragic- he no longer wanted to be part of his Father’s fellowship. All because he would not truly forgive.

5. Conclusions

In the end, the question will arise for all involved with the tragedy of alcoholism: Why me? Why am I an alcoholic...why was my destiny to live with an alcoholic? Without an acceptance that God not only really exists but has a serious, powerful plan to manifest Himself in us, and that all aspects of our lives are guided to ultimately enable this, these questions remain tragically unanswered in many unbelieving minds. I am convinced that a just God will not ultimately try any of His children more than others. We must each take up the cross. No matter how many times we stumble and fall whilst bearing it- and even our Lord did this in His final walk to Golgotha- we are to be dominated by the image of cross-carrying discipleship after Him. The way, the path, the channel which each of us is given by our Lord will vary. For some it will be alcohol; for others, living with marital unfaithfulness, narcotics, physical or mental disability. And so the list goes on, as and if we could survey the private struggles of each of God’s children. We each have our path to the cross, to the attempted imitation of Christ to which we are each undeniably, unavoidably called.

As my friend Steve Johnson put it to me once as mystified by events we drove through the snowy fields of Latvia: “It’s the process, not the product”. Or as another dear friend John Stibbs put it to me in the heat of a personal tragedy in suburban Australia, sitting together on a steamy Brisbane veranda: “It’s the ride, not the destination”. As Gregory of Nyssa put it in his Life of Moses : “Virtue is discovered not so much in the attaining as in the trying, the struggling, the running of the race”. Whether or not your family member quits their alcoholism isn’t quite the point, ultimately. It’s your reaction to it, which prepares you for the ultimate destination of the Kingdom. And this is the only end point which is of ultimate consequence, hard as it is to grasp as we live out our lives in a world bent on personal happiness in the here and now. I know how it seems that God is so unfairly distant from you in these crises. Try to grasp the spirit of Manoah, who so wanted God to intervene directly, to send an Angel and tell him what he was to do with his son Samson. “The angel of the Lord did no more appear to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the Angel of the Lord” (Jud. 13:21). It was the very absence of God’s direct appearance in his life that in the end persuaded Manoah that truly, he did have a fully valid relationship with Him. May you know this to be true for you, as so many others have. The Lord Jesus had a way of gently turning comments and questions back on the person who made them, and of redefining the terms used. A man told Him once that he would follow him “whithersoever thou goest”, i.e. to whatever end point the road may lead to. The Lord replied that He had nowhere to lay His head. In other words, it’s the following of Him that we need to focus on, rather than the hardness of some possible great future sacrifice that may lie ahead. It’s the road, and not the destination, that are important (Mt. 8:19-21).

Jeremiah saw his beloved people consumed by the results of their own actions and attitudes. He realized that there but for God’s grace would have gone all of them. Jeremiah thanked God: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we [this is where the emphasis is] are not consumed [i.e., as they have been], because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him” (Lam. 3:22-25).

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