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God Is Just
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., February 1976
easy it is to be taken in by a treacherous human failing
TEARLY IN MY AA experience, I became well acquainted with
two older members who resented each other. I liked both
men, and each had helped me in certain ways. But each man
also told me what the other was doing wrong. It was evident
that there was a lot of bad feeling between them.
Both men eventually drank again, despite having been AA
stalwarts for several years. Nobody can say that their resentments
toward each other caused them to drink, but this bad feeling
certainly wasn't a healthy condition in their sobriety.
And even if several factors may lead a person to drink again,
it's not unreasonable to suggest that resentments are like
the proverbial straws that break the camel's back.
Most of us in AA know the danger of resentments. We talk
about resentments often. "To resent is to drink, and
to drink is to die" is a bit of AA logic that is almost
never questioned. Then why did my friends, like many other
fine AA members, become victimized by resentments?
Maybe the clue word here is "justified." Each
of my friends probably knew that his strong feelings were
akin to the feelings that go with resentment. But each also
insisted that he had good reason to feel as he did. One
would say, defensively, "I don't resent him! I just
feel sorry for anybody who's so damned stupid, that's all!"
The other would say, "That fellow really has an odd
way of following the AA program. He works the program to
I was no help to either man, partly because I was a newcomer,
but mostly because each member was so persuasive in describing
the other's faults. I'm sorry to say I tended to agree with
each person's point of view at the time he was airing his
grievances! Since then, there have been countless other
times when I've agreed with the justification for resentments
which I or others have held. Only later did I reconsider
my views and realize that I'd been taken in by a treacherous
human failing. What I should have known from the beginning
is that there is no such thing as a justified resentment,
any more than there's such a thing as a justified first
Emmet Fox called resentment and condemnation the "swing
doors to hell" and repeatedly warned his readers to
check themselves for such negative feelings, which would
usually be disguised in some clever way. In his book The
Sermon on the Mount, he referred to an old sermon, delivered
during the French Revolution, in which the speaker said
that it was surely justifiable to hate the arch-butcher
Robespierre and to condemn a certain murderer. But Fox pointed
out that we heap trouble on our own heads when we entertain
such negative feelings, and that the question whether the
man Robespierre was, in fact, a demon or an angel of light
has nothing to do with the matter. "You might just
as well swallow a dose of prussic acid in two gulps, and
think to protect yourself by saying, 'This one is for Robespierre;
and this one for the. . .murderer,' " Fox wrote. "You
will hardly have any doubt as to who will receive the benefit
of the poison."
Wise words, but difficult to remember in the heat of emotion.
I first read this in 1951 and have since quoted it frequently
in AA talks and at closed discussion meetings. Very few
AA members will argue with this logic; it fits the AA program
like a glove. It is widely understood in AA that we are
seeking a measure of peace and happiness, as well as sobriety,
and almost any of us will admit that severe resentment can
rob us of all three. When truly understood and accepted,
this explanation leaves little room for any justification
of a resentment.
As I ponder the problem, however, I am conscious of my own
poor track record in putting this knowledge into practice.
Why does the justified resentment hang on so tenaciously?
Here are several reasons from my own experience and observations.
There must be additional reasons that I haven't been able
to understand, because resentment is one of my major problems.
One reason that we have trouble facing the truth about resentment
is that "everybody does it." Justified resentments
are acceptable to most people, not just to alcoholics. There
is a dangerous backlog of bitterness and hatred in the world.
A man resents the loss of a job, for example, and spends
a great deal of time inveighing against the people or conditions
that brought about his termination. An individual is bitter
against a doctor who bungled an operation or a lawyer who
mishandled an important legal matter. There are deep resentments
over business and financial problems, and the world seethes
with political and religious hatreds. It is possible to
find groups and organizations that virtually owe their existence
to commonly shared resentments of various kinds. Quite often,
resentments take on a certain amount of respectability when
they are endorsed by prominent individuals or prestige organizations.
As a recovered alcoholic, however, I have to remind myself
that no amount of social acceptance of resentments will
take the poison out of them. In a way, the problem of resentments
is a lot like the drinking problem. Alcohol is never safe
for me, no matter who is offering it. I have attended cocktail
receptions at worthy organizations, often in a friendly
atmosphere that makes drinking seem almost harmless. Just
as I politely but firmly decline alcohol under any conditions,
so must I refuse to accept resentments, no matter who is
I've often found that there's a connection between my fears
and my resentments. If I secretly fear that I am inadequate,
I will deeply resent anybody whose actions or statements
expose my inadequacy. It is too painful to admit that my
own doubts and fears about myself are the cause of my resentments.
It is much easier to find bad behavior or selfish motives
in the other person and to use that as the justification
for my resentment.
I once resented a person who was a threat to me at work.
Several others who felt similarly threatened shared my resentment.
Soon we found that the person had all kinds of shortcomings
to justify our resentment; he was "pushy," "smart-alecky,"
"out for himself," and "too much in a hurry."
Yet we often found the same traits admirable when they appeared
in people who did not threaten us.
In this case, the justification came after the fact; I resented
a person, and then I produced logical reasons for my negative
feelings. I was, of course, guilty of being dishonest about
my real feelings. The fundamental error, however, was in
thinking that justification somehow made resentment acceptable
and harmless. This venture in self-deception did not work,
of course, because my anxiety and fears were compounded
by my resentment, and there may have been an added burden
of guilt. In the end, I had to settle the matter in the
only way that really works: facing my fears, discussing
them with others, and turning the resentment over to the
Higher Power. This method worked well that time, but I've
had to deal with fear-induced resentments time and time
One of the most common errors in AA is to deny that one
is feeling resentment at all. As my friend said, "I
don't resent him! I just feel sorry for anybody who's so
damned stupid, that's all!" Like other flights in self-deception,
this is as futile as drinking muscatel and calling it grape
pop. No matter what you call it, resentment is a feeling
of indignation and hostility. Most of us, when we're angry,
don't really have the capacity to feel genuine pity for
anybody, much less for a person who has crossed us. In some
cases, resentment is misidentified as pity or concern, but
the disguise usually doesn't fool anybody. I have tried
to use this device now and then, and I later had to admit
that the sound thinkers in AA never really bought it.
Incidentally, the device of "feeling sorry" for
another person can be a way of putting him down. (This individual
is so misguided that we need to pity him!) I've even heard
some people voice a resentment by saying, "I'm praying
for you." In effect, what is being said here is: "I'm
praying that you will come to your senses and change your
views to correspond to mine!"
"Justice" and "justification" also seem
to work together in producing and prolonging resentments.
True justice appears to be in short supply in our troubled
world, and this sorry condition has made the search for
justice a big business indeed. It would be difficult to
list all the organizations and groups whose announced aim
is true justice for themselves and others, and almost everybody
has strong feelings on the subject. Many times, I have been
caught up in the demand for justice as a result of reading
a book or watching a movie or listening to a very persuasive
person. Justice certainly seems to be on the side of the
angels. And for that matter, who would want to live in a
world that completely lacked any concern for justice?
But justice can be a very tricky cause, because few people
really agree as to whether something is just or unjust.
Meanwhile, some advocates of justice are so sure of their
cause that they deeply resent anybody who disagrees with
them. I have played in that league, and I know from personal
experience that a powerful desire for justice breeds both
impatience and arrogance, to say nothing of self-righteousness.
Once we are deeply aroused by a just cause, it is easy to
feel deep hostility and contempt toward anybody who disagrees
with us or will not aid us in our work. Now and then, a
self-proclaimed seeker of justice becomes so carried away
by his feelings of rage that he acts unjustly!
The lesson here is to remember that a good cause does not
excuse bad feelings and wrong actions. The person who has
worked himself into a condition of rage in the cause of
justice is not given a license indemnifying him against
the consequences of his thoughts and actions. Again, it's
a first-drink thing--something that never is justified under
Many people are unwilling or unable to admit that resentments
are the major difficulty in their lives. There are others
who will make such an admission, but still have trouble
dealing with their resentments. A great deal of pride and
fear blocks the path for most of us. We may even feel that
a capacity for indignation is an important part of us, and
that we are being somehow dehumanized if we attempt to abandon
Fortunately, this is not the case. We must never think that
we have to give up our ability to feel strongly about certain
things, even though we are putting aside resentment. There
are probably many people who appear to be free of resentment,
but are actually only indifferent and apathetic, lacking
strong feelings of any kind. To the emotional, high-strung
alcoholic, this kind of person is a vegetable or a robot,
and who wants to be either? So what we are looking for is
an attitude that will dissolve the cancerous cells of resentment
while retaining and strengthening the good, vital tissues
of our feeling nature.
The AA program and its implied way of life are a godsend
to the person who suffers from "justified" resentments
and wants to be relieved of this difficulty. AA does not
say that a person must give up cherished causes and deep
feelings in order to stay sober. It does imply, however,
that an orderly approach to human problems is both necessary
and effective. We have to set priorities in our lives, and
after we've done that, the proper attitudes and actions
will become clear to us. The Slogan that covers this is
the very simple First Things First.
What things should come first? For the recovering alcoholic,
the primary thing is always continuous sobriety, under any
and all conditions. But after that? The next objective,
closely related to the first, should be happy sobriety--that
is, not only sobriety, but also mental well-being, serenity,
confidence, high self-esteem, and gratitude. The alcoholic
who possesses both continuous and happy sobriety can then
set up other priorities as they come, always rejecting any
idea, attitude, or practice that threatens the two fundamental
Now and then, some individuals feel that they are being
self-centered and selfish in wanting happy sobriety. They
are saying, in effect, "Why should I be happy when
there's so much suffering in the world?" This is erroneous
reasoning. We can't really help others effectively when
we are terribly disturbed ourselves much of the time. Beyond
that, no person who has truly found happy sobriety is selfish
in the bad sense of that term.
What does all this have to do with "justified"
resentments? A great deal, since it is usually resentment
of any kind that directly robs us of happy sobriety. If
we make happy sobriety a goal, setting it only a notch or
two under continuous sobriety in our scale of needs, we
will not be deceived by "justified" resentments
appearing in any form or guise.
Not everybody will approve of us when we adopt this new
stance. People who are constantly embroiled in various causes
may even denounce us as being smug and irresponsible. People
who tend to react violently to offenses may feel that we
are being spineless. Why sit still and take abuse or put
up with something when you don't have to?
I am not suggesting that there are not proper times for
action. A chief difficulty of resentful people, however,
is that their actions usually intensify resentment and often
do not solve the problems at issue. There are better ways
of solving human problems if we will look for them.
One of the best examples of a better way occurred some years
ago, when the AA Fellowship was attacked in an article appearing
in a national magazine. I spotted the article while browsing
in our local library, and I can still remember the anger
and indignation that the article aroused in me. The attack
not only seemed gratuitous, but also contained, in my opinion,
several errors. Like many AA members, I sent off a hot letter
to the magazine. I was certainly resentful, but if ever
a resentment was justified, here it was! Why shouldn't I
have resented an attack on the beloved Fellowship that had
saved my life and the lives of thousands of friends and
still had so much good to do in the world? I was damned
mad, and so were many of my AA friends.
Although I should have known better, I really did expect
AA to make some kind of official reply to this attack. No
direct reply ever was made. AA did respond, however, and
this response, when it came, was far better for the Fellowship
than an angry, retaliatory sort of reply ever could have
The first response took the form of an article by Bill W.
in the April 1963 Grapevine. After mentioning that a national
magazine had published an article critical toward AA, Bill
reviewed AA guidelines that had been developed years before.
The point was that "our critics can be our benefactors."
If a person publishes material that is critical but true
(the guidelines said), we should accept this criticism gracefully
and make appropriate changes in our own behavior and attitudes.
If the criticisms are untrue, all the more reason that we
should remain silent. In any case, nothing is to be gained
by replying in kind or by adopting the tactics of the critic.
The second response was that AA took its collective inventory
during the next two years and, in 1965, adopted the well-known
Responsibility Declaration [see page 40 in this issue] to
remind our membership of AA's primary purpose. Several other
critical articles about AA were published, but the attacks
soon died down. Meanwhile, AA continued to grow in the following
years and still enjoys the respect and the support of the
general public. The critical articles did not really harm
us and may indeed have helped us review our own values.
I am amused and also somewhat embarrassed when I recall
how resentful I felt upon reading the first critical article.
My resentment was a waste of time and energy. AA's Bill
W. showed us a better way, which was actually based on the
Biblical injunction "Resist not evil."
In the long run, our success in coping with the "justified"
resentment will be guaranteed if we remind ourselves that
God is just and that there is perfect balance in the universe
and in our affairs. When I was alone in the bitter world
of drinking, I often lashed out at injustice and even used
it as proof that there could be no God who was both all-powerful
and all-loving. I now realize that I was incapable of understanding
true justice. Despite many years of good AA training, I
still do not understand true justice and would be incapable
of dispensing it even if I was given authority over other
people's lives. What I see as "justice" or "fairness"
is really only a limited, human concept; another person
may see the entire matter in a different light. Indeed,
both of us could use the term "justice" and actually
be speaking of things that are directly opposed to each
In view of that problem, I should not spend too much time
building any so-called justification for my resentment.
If life and the universe are perfectly balanced, and if
we are moving in an upward direction, all things will be
set right. I have been my own worst enemy most of my life,
and I have often injured myself seriously as a result of
a "justified" resentment over a slight wrong.
There are many causes for resentment in the world, all of
them providing "justification." We could not begin
to settle all of the world's grievances or even to arrange
matters so as to please everybody. If we have been treated
unjustly by others or simply by life itself, we can avoid
compounding the difficulty if we completely forgive the
persons involved and abandon the destructive practice of
reviewing our hurts and humiliations.
It has long since been proved that resentment and rage are
killers. No alcoholic who values peace of mind and sobriety
can afford to keep company with them. Are there times when
I dare make an exception, when the enormity of the offense
justifies my resentment? In my opinion, the answer is always
"No"--unless there are also times when I could
justify taking a first drink.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., February 1976
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