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Recovery and Circumcision


Recovery through the 12 Steps is a lot like the ancient Biblical practice of circumcision. Circumcision is the surgical removal of flesh (foreskin) from the male penis, having possible origins in ancient Judaism.

In the book of Genesis, the Biblical God made a covenant of circumcision with Abraham, and from then on, it became a tradition for all the men of Israel. However, the physical act was intended to represent the inward change of hearts.

Either way you cut it, it’s a painful process.

The removal of flesh, in the literal sense, represents the removal of flesh in the spiritual sense. The term “flesh” is used frequently throughout the Bible, rarely referring to actual bodily flesh. According to the Archdiocese of Washington, the flesh is “… that part of us that is alienated from God. It is the rebellious, unruly, and obstinate part of our inner selves that is operative all the time. It is that part of us that does not want to be told what to do. It is stubborn, refuses correction, and does not want to have a thing to do with God.”

Biblical flesh sounds a lot like me in my alcoholism. In order to be free from my flesh, I must first acknowledge its presence and power in my life, believe that God can change it, and then invite him to do so. That’s basically what the 12 Steps guides us to do.

Some people ascribe a spiritual principle to each step of the 12 Steps. In order, the spiritual principles coinciding with each step are: honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, willingness, humility, brotherly love, justice, perseverance, spirituality and service.

On top of abstinence, one may say that full recovery looks a lot like a life consisting of these things. Deuteronomy 30:6 states, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart… that you may live.” The circumcision of the heart is to allow God to cut away our rebellious natures, egos, fear, selfishness, dishonesty, destructive, and harmful ways… so that we may live. In recovery, we are taught to continuously seek direction from God in order to set aside these things that ultimately will hold us back so that we may find real joy in sobriety. Recovery teaches us how to invite and allow God to take away our “flesh” and circumcise our hearts.

In the book of Galatians in the New Testament, Paul the Apostle lists the works of the flesh which include but are not limited to: hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, arguments, and drunkenness. I don’t know about you, but those sound a lot like my character defects. Paul also writes that in contrast, the fruit of the Spirit of God is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Those things are fairly similar to the spiritual principles of the 12 Steps. To allow God to replace our character defects with the fruits of his spirit looks just like recovery.

So, whether you ascribe to Biblical teachings or not, recovery is a lot like circumcision, and in fact I would much rather let God cut away my character defects than well… my… foreskin.

Good thing that as a woman I don’t have one of those anyway.

Works Cited

Archdiocese of Washington. What Does the Bible Mean by the Flesh? 17 March 2013. 29 April 2013.


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Melanie is a 27-year old Southern California native who studied at Pepperdine University. Loving to travel and experience new places and cultures, she spent two years living in the Southern states of Texas and Tennessee before returning to Los Angeles where she began working in the legal industry writing content and managing communication to class members of class action lawsuits. She now is focused on her continued sobriety, and her motto in life is to never take herself too seriously. She is often described by others as an "old soul." She loves music, photography, and makeup artistry and likes to entertain herself with astrology and numerology. She is a Sagittarius and a number 9, and shares her birthday with her beloved late grandmother and her favorite author, C.S. Lewis.

Filed under: Addiction, Life, Recovery, Spirituality, Substance Abuse · Tags: 12-steps, alcoholism, circumcision, circumcision of the heart, flesh, foreskin, Galatians, God, New Testament, Paul the Apostle, Recovery, sobriety is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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