One of the mistakes people make when studying complex issues in the Bible is they often rush right to the passages that are most puzzling. They pull two contrasting statements out and assert a biblical contradiction, or perhaps they pull out one that supports their position that the other position has trouble explaining. The reason this is a mistake is that an attempt to actually understand a complex biblical issue must needs begin with a wider base. The pinnacle of the spire on the top of New York City’s Freedom Tower only makes sense in the context of the foundation lain deep below. Above that foundation comes an entire superstructure and not until then is it finally crowned with a spire. Understanding it, grasping it must include the entirety of it.
Context is critically important. The English word “bank” may mean the edge of a river, a place to store money, or the turning of an aircraft. I determine an accurate understanding based on context. Someone asked me after my blog post last week on weight where I got this new hermeneutic of weight. “I'd really like to hear an explanation to this. I'm not familiar with the ‘hermeneutic of weight’, but I'm sure that it could be said a different way somewhere? Maybe? Where does it stand within the rest of hermenuetical principles?” That is an excellent question and my answer is that weight is context.
The context of a passage is not just immediate. It is parenthetical. By that I mean the context expands out in ever larger brackets. The context of a word is the phrase, of the phrase is the sentence, of the sentence is the passage, of the passage is the book, etc. But beyond even the book there is the larger context of what God means about a certain subject as revealed in the entirety of Scripture. If I want to know what "love" means in a particular verse I need to examine it through the light of all of those contexts. Weight is simply another way of saying the entire Bible context.
Thus it is that in writing this series on what the Bible says about alcohol I am purposely beginning with the broad strokes. I aim to show you the larger context in which the Scripture places the subject before we narrow our study down to the more complex passages. In saying this some will no doubt accuse me of seeking to instill a bias prior to examining problem passages. What they call bias I call context.
Today I want to examine some of the consequences of drinking. What does drinking produce? What does drinking bring? The world would no doubt answer that question with some variation of a good time. Beer is fun. Beer is All-American. Beer tastes good. Wine is sophisticated. Spirits are manly. I know all of these things because television tells me so. We shall look for our answer instead within the pages of God’s Word.
In 2008, for instance, the people of America bought 213 million barrels of beer produced by 3500 different breweries. In the United States there are 521,000 places one can go to purchase beer. When you combine an addicted clientele and an ease of procurement what do you get? People who spend themselves broke feeding the monster. In my state alone that year the average consumption of alcohol was over thirty gallons per person!
Peapod has a twenty-four pack of Budweiser listed at $18.99. At that price beer averages $8.44 a gallon. At 6.6 billion gallons bought in 2008 that means America spent $55 billion on beer alone that year. That $55 billion did not get spent on education, health care, mortgages, rent, electricity, gas, bus fare, or car payments. Nope. Instead it took food out the mouths of children, clothes off their backs, roofs away from their heads, dentists away from their teeth, and ruined their family’s financial present and future. He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich. (Proverbs 21.17)
Drinking alcohol produces spiritual delusion. That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments:but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. (Amos 6.6) Amos is here speaking of God’s judgment being poured out on a rebellious Israel. Sadly, this judgment does not produce any spiritual sorrow in the people because the wine they chase dulls their spiritual perception.
You cannot give yourself to drinking alcohol and be spiritually sensitive at the same time. Another Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk, pronounced judgment on God’s people and linked their spiritually disastrous state to their drinking. Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people. (Habakkuk 2.5) Daniel tells us that when Belshazzar was drinking he was so out of touch spiritually he could not recognize the finger of God when it appeared before him. Nabal would not give David provisions but was willing to throw a party and debauch himself into a drunken stupor totally ignorant of the great danger he was in spiritually and physically.
I love each person who attends my church, those who drink and those who do not. Yet those who do, curiously enough, do not tithe, do not give to missions, do not witness, and have a life that looks no different than the lost world around them. I cannot see their heart of course but the only thing that visibly marks them as God's people is the occasional Sunday morning visit. At the same time, if you ask them, they think they are in pretty good shape spiritually. The fact of the matter is they are delusional. They are spiritually deluded.
Moses said it this way. Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood; And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: The LORD will not spare him, but then the anger of the LORD and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the LORD shall blot out his name from under heaven. (Deuteronomy 29.18-20)
Additionally, Hosea tells us drinking and rebellion are found in concert. Woe unto them! for they have fled from me: destruction unto them! because they have transgressed against me: though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against me. And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds: they assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me. (Hosea 7.13-14) I attended a strict Christian high school. Not coincidentally, when those churchified kids wanted to rebel against the rules of their parents and their school how did they choose to do it? Yep. You guessed it. By throwing alcohol soaked parties.
To this Moses again adds his agreement. If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. (Deuteronomy 21.18-20) There are certainly many contributing factors that combine in a rebellious life. Alcohol is not the only one but it is one.
Drinking alcohol produces sadness. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. (Proverbs 31.6-7) Some people use this verse to justify drinking. They fail to understand that Scripture is speaking ironically here. Think with me for a moment. When we are sad, what or who are we supposed to run to? Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. (I Peter 5.7) Solomon speaks here specifically about poverty. When you are troubled about your financial state what are you to do? Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4.11)
Obviously drinking gives no permanent comfort to a man who is economically stressed or in a heart breaking situation. Drinking does not help him to deal with it all only to avoid it. Guess what is there when he sobers up? The heartbreak and the discontentment. Problems must be dealt with not papered over for problems avoided become problems enlarged. What really happens is that when the guy sobers up he is even sadder than he was before because now he has a hangover to go with his suddenly returned sadness. Drinking has never cured any ill, fixed any problem, or healed any heartache.
Ask yourself this question: How does God want me to best handle my stress and sorrow? If your answer is drinking rather than prayer and faith your concept of God and your understanding of God’s Word is totally flawed. No, this passage does not teach permissible alcoholic ingestion when you are heartbroken; it teaches, rather, that heartbreak remains and worsens when it is dosed with alcohol. The context of Proverbs 31 is plainly negative on the subject of alcohol. Solomon is saying that it is ridiculous to think alcohol helps you solve your problems. It is the last thing you would rationally want to do.
Lastly today, drinking alcohol produces health problems. It increases your risk of harming yourself due to accidents. It is the leading preventable cause of cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, dangerous heart rhythms, and stroke. It prevents food digestion and produces gastritis and ulcers. It reduces brain activity (which is why your speech gets slurred). If you drink enough your brain actually shuts down (which is why you can’t remember anything the next day). It robs the brain of the combination of water and glucose that it feeds on (which is why you have a hangover the next day). It destroys brain cells (which is why Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is so damaging; it severely impacts the brains of developing babies). Since 90% of alcohol is metabolized in the liver the more you drink the more you risk cirrhosis (scarring) and hepatitis (inflammation). It depletes the lungs of glutathione which leaves them more vulnerable to infection and disease. In the pancreas it produces pancreatitis, diabetes, and ulcers. It can cause blindness. It lowers bone density. It reduces the immune system thus increasing the risk of developing pneumonia, tuberculosis, liver disease, HIV, gastrointestinal infections, and septicemia. I could go on and on and on along this line. Just google the health effects of drinking and you can spend hour upon hour scaring yourself to death.
I suspect many of you will not agree with everything I have written today but I want you to honestly ask yourself this question: Where does the weight lie? When you place the positives of drinking on one side of the scale and the negatives on the other side how does it tilt? Ask it in the privacy of your heart and the integrity of your conscience. Ask it the context of how drinking affects not only your life but the lives of others around you. Ask it in the context of how your drinking influences those who follow you. Where is wisdom? Where is foolishness?
Maybe the real question is not whether you can but whether you should…