Thirst – God and the Alcoholic Experience

by James B. Nelson [1]

Book excerpts collected by David Tillman – 2012 [2]

Chapter 2 – God thirst and alcoholic thirst

“Spirituality is a response to her human sense of incompleteness – whatever form that response might take. Religion, on the other hand, is a communal expression of that response – and persons bound together by similar spiritualities develop group patterns of nurturing, expressing, extending, and preserving those experiences.” (page 22)

“Human beings are, as Karen Armstrong says, “compelled to search for hidden meaning and to achieve ecstasy that makes them feel fully alive.”” (23)

“Hence, desire is at the core of our spirituality, a burning desire for that which promises to bring us closer to completion and certainty and wholeness, I desire to connect with what feels most life-giving. As Ronald Rolheister puts it, “there is within us a fundamental dis-ease, and unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace.”” (23)

“Spirituality, then, has to do with how we deal with that basic human desire experienced in the totality of her beings – how we handle our yearnings, our hunger for connection, our restless yearnings to find a place called home in the universe. It is about Eros, that the mention of our love born of desire.” (25)

“Spirituality inevitably involves faith. As a Christian, I can speak of faith is confidence and trust in God, who I have experienced primarily through the community of Jesus Christ. Faith is not fundamentally I sent to doctrinal truth, leaf. It is more a matter of trust and dependence. It is more a gift than an achievement. That is a fairly typical Christian description.” (25)

“Gerald G. May observes, after 20 years of listening to the earnings of people’s hearts, I am convinced that all humans have an inborn desire for God. Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is the deepest longing and our most precious treasure.” (27-28)

“Creation is good – positively, unambiguously good. God looks at everything created and declared it very good. Yes, the creaturely can become demonic, but that is a distortion of its creative goodness and not an in transit evil. The symbolism for this in Christian tradition is the devil as a fallen angel. The devil is not pure evil, but rather fallen goodness.” (31-32)

“All of this is important in very practical ways for the alcoholic. If we describe anything as intrinsically evil, our language, attitudes, and actions become dualistic. We are at war. It is good against evil, the righteous against the unrighteous. Such perceptions play havoc in human relations, near lethal in international affairs.” (32)

“Yet my thirst for alcohol never eradicated my thirst for God. Even when trying to articulate why they wanted so much to keep drinking even in those extremities, it could convey the conviction that – even then – alcohol was not an end in itself. It was a means to something else. And that something else had to do, even if in a terribly inverted way, with the larger and more connected self. I believe that the image of God in us is never destroyed. The imago dei is not a substance, a thing that we possess. Rather, it is a relational reality. It is our connectedness to God. Even when we, by our own actions or will, try to sever all relationship with God, the Holy One does not sever the relationship with us. The imago dei maybe defaced, but it is never eradicated. Even when we are taken over by an addiction so strong that God consciousness feels utterly alien to us the point of contact is never lost. And that is why, for all of the understandably celebrative and exuberant language of a ‘new creation’, our salvation is best understood as a transformation of what is, rather than its replacement by something totally new.” (33-34)

“Our diseases often do seem to arise from some profound, mysterious place, and then journey deeply into them we sent that the gods themselves suffer with our sickness. Finally, however, it is not the God who suffer. It is God. It is a Holy One was wounded with their wounds. Indeed, that is the story of the cross once, in our drinking days, we were blind, but now we begin to see. In recovery gradually grasp the meanings behind her desires and begin to decipher the language of our thirst. Then we understand, anyway we could not have predicted, that thirst is led us closer to home. It truly is as Augustine prayed: our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” (34-35)


[1] James B. Nelson, Thirst – God and the Alcoholic Experience, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2004), chapter 2 excerpts.

[2] For Addiction and Recovery class taken at United Theological Seminary, New Brighton, MN – Fall 2012, taught by Rev. Dr. Robert H. Albers.