Perspectives – The Patriarchs of Genesis; Our Companions in Experiencing a Higher Power (Part 2)

Richard D. Grant, Jr., Ph.D.

Richard D. Grant, Jr,. Ph.D., is a psychologist who had a private practice in Austin, Texas, for over 40 years. With Andrea Miller, he is the author of Recovering Connections, a book which combines recovery, Christianity, and Jungian psychology. He is very interested in The Twelve Steps corresponding to Biblical stories.


New companions are one of the greatest blessings in recovery.  There is a new basis for relationships in shared brokenness, making amends, and belief in a Higher Power.  This was also the recorded experience of people in the Bible, whose stories have been told down through the generations.  People from the Bible would feel quite at home telling their story at 12 Step meetings.

The earliest record of Hebrew faith encountering a Higher Power is recorded in the Genesis stories of the patriarchs.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob responded to an invitation from a Higher Power (God) who promised them and their descendants a greater life. The sequence of stories of these three patriarchs in Genesis seems to offer a remarkable parallel to the “story” of the Twelve Steps in a person’s recovery. All these Biblical characters are male, because that was the literary tradition of the time, but their stories have much to offer both male and female experiences of recovery.  In offering companionship to those working the 12 Steps, Abraham seems to be the companion for Steps 1-3, Abraham/Isaac the companions for Steps 4-6, Jacob the companion for Steps 7-9, then all three in combination in Steps 10-12. Steps 4-6:  Abraham and Isaac

  1. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  2. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  3. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

The child born late in life to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, is the promised vehicle for Abraham to be father of a great nation.  But now comes an internal deepening of Abraham’s external journey:

      …God put Abraham to a test.  He said to him, “Abraham.”  He answered, “Here I am.”  God said,

      “Take your only son Isaac whom you love and go into the district of Moriah and there offer him

      as a holocaust on the hill which I shall point out to you.”  (Genesis: 22:1-2)

Abraham is plunged into a dreadful paradox.  His child is the vehicle of the promise (many offspring), but if he sacrifices the child, how can the promise be fulfilled?  Abraham has thought he understood God’s plan and had followed it, but now it seems God contradicts his very promise.  Abraham is deeply attached to Isaac, but is also in a covenant relationship with his Higher Power.  Such a relationship includes a natural urge to be mutual, to reciprocate in some way for what Abraham has been given.  An existing custom of sacrificing first fruits to God as a ritual of thanksgiving comes to mind for a dreadful moment, but a human sacrifice, and his only son?

We can relate to Abraham’s dilemma and his anguish in working Steps 4-6.  These steps involve our relationship with the gifts of God in our own life.  It seems a spiritual truth that, in our addictiveness, we can grow so attached to the gifts of God that we are liable to forget about the God of gifts.  And so God asks us, “Take your only son Isaac (the plan itself, your very future) whom you love…and offer him up as a holocaust on the hill which I shall point out to you.”  Abraham must sacrifice (“make holy”) his relationship to Isaac and to the promise by radically detaching himself from this gift. 

It seems our greatest gift often becomes our greatest attachment and paradoxically our greatest obstacle in continuing our spiritual journey, unless we “let go and let God.”  We would control our very recovery if we could!  Along with Abraham, we must face our self-centered attachments through a searching and fearless moral inventory.  We discover that this inner journey is often more wrenching than any external journey of “setting out” from our “father’s house,” but it is the next step to a deeper relationship with God, with ourselves, and with other human beings.  It is noteworthy that God leads Abraham gradually: “…offer him…on the hill that I shall point out to you….,” just as an inventory is best done gradually, without preconceptions, guided by God’s gentle revelations. 

When they arrived at the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.  Then he bound his son Isaac and laid him on the wood of the altar. Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to kill his son, but an angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!”  He answered, “Here I am.”  He said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy; do nothing to him.  I now know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from me….Again the angel of the Lord called from heaven to Abraham and said, “I swear by myself, says the Lord, since you have done this and not withheld your only son, I will indeed bless you, and will surely multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens….” (Genesis 22: 9-13, 15-17)

In a very real sense, our searching and fearless moral inventory is a human sacrifice.  Exposing and giving up our deepest attachments is a real death for the ego, but this very sacrifice paradoxically becomes the basis for a deeper relationship with God, ourselves, and other human beings (see Psalm 118:22).  Along with Abraham, we discover that self-exposure and sacrifice to not lead to the loss of what we really need for our lives (“Do not lay a hand on the boy”), but that shared brokenness becomes the basis of an irrevocable relationship with our true selves, with God, and with other persons in recovery. 

In Steps 4-6, we discover the secret of true community.  Instead of relating to others on the basis of our successes, we share our brokenness under the protection of a Higher Power, and we discover that we are accepted and are able to accept others at a much deeper level.  To continue recovery after Steps 1-3, God knows we need inner detachment through sacrifice, which opens up in us a capacity for relationship which we could not have imagined before recovery.  This new basis for relationship can produce a community as numerous as “the stars of the heavens,” because it can include anyone willing to enter into recovery.  Understanding a bit more of God’s transformational ways, we become conscious collaborators with God, becoming entirely ready to have God remove all our defects of character.  All this is preparation for the next chapter in our story of recovery: Jacob. 

Steps 4-6:  The Sacrifice of Isaac

  1. What do I believe is my most important gift from God?
  2. How has attachment to my most important gift gotten in the way of my recovery?
  3. How do I detach from my most important personal gift, so that God can bless it and use it?
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