Step Two: Power

“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Capital “P”

The first allusion to G-d in The Steps is found in Step Two where He is referred to as “a Power greater than ourselves.” Note the capitalization. It is evident that we are not just talking about any power which happens to be stronger than we are. If that were so, then the recovering person might believe that gravity or electromagnetism could restore his or her sanity. Those are powers that are greater than we are. We certainly cannot defy their effects. But we also have no reason to believe that they can do anything for us other than blindly impose their influences as dictated by the laws of nature. When we speak about Power, that is, the proper (capitalized) rather than common (uncapitalized) noun, we are talking about a force that transcends all of the other various powers in the universe.

The Zohar, the canon text of Kabbalah, says of G-d, “Master of the Worlds, You are the Highest of the High, the Causer of Causes.” Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish legalist and theologian, expresses much the same idea in his Principles of Faith, albeit in a more philosophical tone, where he writes, “[G-d] is the cause of all that exists… and there is no possibility that He does not exist because without Him, all existence would cease. [Whereas] if we could imagine the absence of all existence other than His, the existence of God would not cease or diminish, for He is self-sufficient and His existence requires nothing other than Himself.”

In other words, while the phrase “a Power greater than ourselves” may lend itself to being interpreted out of context as any power whose effects are unavoidable, nevertheless, if read in the context of the rest of The Steps, it is obvious that the Power mentioned in Step 2 is not the sun or the ocean tides but the same G-d who is explicitly mentioned throughout the following Steps – the G-d who restores sanity (Step 2), who cares for the individual (Step 3), who removes character defects (5,6 and 7), who lets His will be known and grants power to the individual to adhere to that will (Step 11).

Higher or Highest

One still might ask, if this “Power” is indeed singular and unique, if it is none other than the Power behind all other powers, then why is it referred to only as “a Power” and not “the Power”? Perhaps the following story will prove helpful in finding an answer to this question.

A popular AA speaker, Clancy I., talks about his early experiences grappling with belief. He relates how he told his sponsor that he could not believe in G-d. His sponsor asked him if he could believe in G-d and just not use the word “G-d.” Clancy said that he could not. The sponsor asked him if he could believe in the power of the AA group. Clancy said that he could not do that either. Finally, the sponsor asked him, “Can you admit that I am doing better than you?” Clancy said that he could. “Congratulations, kid,” said the sponsor, “You’ve just met your new Higher Power.”

Yet, more telling than the story itself is its epilogue. Years later, Clancy’s sponsor stopped working the program, got drunk and died. What was Clancy to do now, what with his Higher Power being dead and all? Would he lose his direction, his faith? Not at all. As Clancy explains it, by the time he lost his sponsor, Clancy already believed in G-d. It was his belief in his sponsor as a power greater than himself that was the necessary first move away from total self-reliance. Once he was able to accept his dependence upon something outside of his own ego, he had already begun his journey toward finding G-d.

In other words, it is most probably safe to say that a person can get sober and work an effective 2nd Step just by believing in any power greater than himself. Indeed, it is often the case that belief in a higher power – any higher power! – is that which marks the nascent beginnings of a process toward discovering the Highest Power. It is this Highest Power that is referred to explicitly in the following Steps which come right out and unambiguously invoke the word “G-d.” So, while Step 2 does not tell us that we need to believe in “G-d” per se, it most certainly begins to lead us in that direction.

This method of finding G-d through a process of deduction is exemplified by the spiritual quest of the world’s first champion of monotheism, Abraham. As Maimonides describes:

"[Abraham] was but a small child when his mind began to seek and wonder, ‘How do the heavenly bodies orbit without a moving force? Who moves them? They cannot move themselves!’ …His heart sought and then came to know that there is but one G-d... who created all and that in all existence there is none other than Him.”

G-d in the First Step

In a very important way, the process of finding G-d as Highest Power was quietly begun in The First Step where the addict admitted his or her own powerlessness.

It might be useful to note that chasidus (the mystical teachings of Chasidism) teaches that the opposite of serving G-d is not idolatry but self-obsession. At least idolaters turn to an entity outside of themselves while egomaniacs – and addicts, almost by definition, fit the bill – cannot peacefully defer to anyone or anything aside for their own ego. Thus, the mental shift which is most critical and urgent is for the addict to adhere to that simple piece of advice oft-heard in the rooms: “Get out of your own head.”

The Talmud relates that G-d says of an arrogant person, “It is impossible for he and Me to dwell in the same place.” Although G-d is omnipresent and thus to be found everywhere, His Presence cannot be felt where there is haughtiness and pride. In order to allow the Power of G-d into one’s life, one must first acquiesce to the fact of his or her own lack of power. The story is told that when the Rabbi of Kotzk (1787-1859) was but a small child, he was asked, “Where is G-d?” To which the young rabbi-to-be replied, “Wherever you let Him in.” This same idea is expressed by the Midrashic saying, “You cannot pour into a cup that is already full.”

In other words, G-d will always fill whatever spaces that we make for Him but He will not intrude where He is clearly unwelcome. In order to experience G-d’s Power in Step 2, one first makes a “power vacuum” in Step 1. This recognition of the limits of personal power sets the scene for entering into a relationship with that which is Unlimited Power.


In Step 1, one becomes ready to meet G-d. In Step 2, one actually meets Him and it is there that G-d is first introduced, not as “G-d” but as Power. Why this description of G-d rather than any other? Why does the first reference to G-d in The Steps allude to Him specifically as “a Power”?

One might answer that since “G-d” is a word fraught with so many connotations and which evokes so many prejudices, that it just works better to “ease into it” and not to use the word “G-d” right away. This is certainly a valid point, as we find in the old Jewish tale of the rabbi who tells the atheist, “My son, don’t worry. The same G-d that you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either.”

But this still does not answer our question. Why allude to G-d specifically as a Power and not with any other word besides G-d?

The concept of power is one that is central to recovery from addiction. The disease – regardless of drug of choice – is essentially an obsession with control and power. The addict wants control and finds it in the altering of his or her state of being through indulgence in the addictive behavior. In order to recover, the addict must surrender this desire for control. But surrender it to what? To G-d? The prospects of this surrender being effective depend entirely on one’s concept of G-d. Simply put, the idea that G-d can heal the addict only seems true if one’s conception of G-d is one that is worthy of being surrendered to. G-d may be many things to many people, but for the recovering addict, G-d must first and foremost be Power.

Indeed, this may be the reason why the practice of religion by itself is almost always far from adequate in treating addiction. One can believe in G-d and even practice some form of devotion to Him, but if one does not see G-d as a Power, then there is nothing to which the addict can surrender control. While there may be many religions or belief systems that view G-d as the archetype of many such abstractions as Love, Wisdom, Peace and the like, in recovery G-d is the quintessence of Power and is introduced as such even before He is introduced as G-d.

The medieval Jewish philosopher, Judah HaLevi, explains in The Kuzari why the first commandment in The Decalogue states, “I am the L-rd your G-d who took you out of Egypt.” Why did G-d not introduce Himself as “The Lord your G-d who created the heaven and the earth”? Surely that is a far more impressive credential than engineering the Exodus. HaLevi answers that G-d chose to introduce Himself in the way that was most relevant to those to whom He was addressing. The concept of creation seems too abstract, dare we say, too impersonal, to serve as a basis for a truly intimate relationship with G-d. The Exodus, on the other hand, demonstrates G-d’s direct involvement in the affairs of man – that G-d did not just make the world but that He is actively involved in the world and that He is all-powerful to act within it as He wishes. Thus, the Jewish relationship with G-d is not predicated upon His role as Creator but as Power.

I once spoke to a young man who had been in recovery for about a year and had not managed to put together any significant amount of time. He called me up because he said that he needed to believe in a Higher Power but that he lacked the background to be able to figure out who or what that was. I asked him to describe for me the G-d of his understanding. He told me that, as he understood it, G-d was compassionate, just and wise. I told him that according to our tradition all of those descriptions are true, but that he left out the most important one. He grappled, without luck, to find the word that I was waiting for. I told him, “You told me that you came to me because you wanted to find your ‘Higher Power.’ If your Higher Power is G-d, then why didn’t you mention that G-d was powerful?”

We began to discuss various mystical concepts which describe G-d’s absolute control over the universe. Chasidus is replete with analogies and examples which illustrate how G-d did not just create the world but that He continues to exert absolute control over every detail of reality. I told him about the concept of “on-going creation,” that even now, G-d is bringing the universe into existence out of absolute void and nothing. As G-d continually creates something out of nothing, He places everything exactly where He wants it at this very second. Without this constant imposition, all of creation would revert to nothingness. There is no automatic pilot; G-d is always in control. In the lingo of recovery, “Nothing absolutely nothing happens in G-d’s world by mistake.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 417)

Although he found our discussion to be intellectually stimulating, the young man stated that “in his heart,” he could not bring himself to believe in this kind of absolute omnipotence. I asked him, “What good is a G-d who is compassionate, just and wise if He is unable to exercise His compassion, justice and wisdom whenever and however He likes? How can such a weakling restore you to your sanity, let alone be deemed worthy of having you give your life and will over to him?”

G-d cannot be an abstraction. He must be an active force in our lives. My personal spiritual master, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, delivered most of his public addresses in Yiddish. But whenever he would speak in English, he would always refer to G-d with the somewhat unusual phrase, “G-d Almighty,” although this was not a direct translation of the term for G-d that he most often used in his first language. There is something telling about that. When we speak of G-d – particularly in a secular language whose terminology for Divinity is lacking – we must underscore that G-d is Power, that He is not just “G-d” – whatever that means to each of us – but that He is “G-d Almighty.”

Shais Taub

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