Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How Should Christians View Alcohol?

Hello J---,

As I told you yesterday, for a while I was anti-alcohol. Although I grew up in a home where my parents modeled how to enjoy wine without abusing it, when I was a teenager I started listening to certain teetotaler preachers which made me, for a time, hostile to drinking. Ultimately all I could say to my dad was: "Why do you need to drink anyway? What's the point? Can't you enjoy yourself without it? And since it can lead to drunkenness--and many lives have been destroyed by alcoholism--why should we partake in it? The world is really into drinking, so it just feels worldly", etc. I came to see that these were bad arguments, spawned more from naivety and superstition than from God's Word. What I was saying could not ultimately be supported by the Bible, nor by common sense.

When I was 20 I was at a friend's wedding and champagne was being served, and everything finally came into focus for me. No one was getting drunk, and I saw that the special-ness of the champagne was a way of celebrating the special-ness of the momentous marriage. It then made sense to me why Jesus made wine at the wedding in Cana and not grape juice. There is something rich, refined and rare about alcoholic drinks that puts them in a class above water, fruit punch and sparking apple cider. The process to make them is longer and more costly, and therefore they are more celebratory and meaningful.

On top of that, the Bible shows how God designed alcohol to be a blessing and an encouragement to man. It helps us relax and enjoy ourselves and one another in our uptight and sorrowful world. Seen rightly, it is a gift. For those who drink alcohol, they know what a blessing it is. It's a revelation of God's goodness to mankind. Benjamin Franklin didn't actually say this famous saying, but he did say something like it, and it has become a classic: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

For these reasons, alcohol has always been a major part of both Judaism and Christianity, which recognize and give thanks to God for His blessings of creation. Judaism and Christianity are not aesthetic religions that despise the human body and the physical world, but that rejoice in God's works and seek to enjoy them as they were meant to be enjoyed. The Jews have many prayers of blessings for alcohol and use wine in many of their rituals, and Christians likewise have celebrated the Lord's Supper with wine for two millennia.

I'm quite convinced that modeling the moderate use of alcohol is one of the major keys to combating alcoholism, since abuse often happens because we tend to have extreme reactions to that which is forbidden, and because people often don't know how to drink moderately, or even realize that moderate drinking is an option. Just because something can be abused doesn't mean we should avoid it altogether. I encourage drinking for the simple fact that it is a blessing from God. It also helps us be less stuffy in the eyes of non-Christians. Just because the world enjoys something doesn't automatically mean that it is wrong and worldly. The world enjoys sex--and food, too!

Here are some verses on alcohol:

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"You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart." (Ps. 104:14-15)

"But the vine said to them, 'Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?'" (Judges 9:13)

"And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household." (Deut. 14:24-26)

"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)" (Gen. 14:18)

"May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine." (Gen. 27:28)

"Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins. All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy... And after that the Nazirite may drink wine." (Num. 6:2-5, 20)

"All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the LORD, I give to you. The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the LORD, shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it." (Num. 18:12-13)

"He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you." (Deut. 7:13)

"And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil." (Deut. 11:13-14)

"So Israel lived in safety, Jacob lived alone, in a land of grain and wine, whose heavens drop down dew." (Deut. 33:28)

"Then he said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." (Neh. 8:10)

"Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine." (Prov. 3:9-10)

"Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do." (Eccl. 9:7)

"Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything." (Eccl. 10:19)

"I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!" (Song of Solomon 5:1)

"And your mouth like the best wine." (Song of Sol. 7:9)

"Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water." (Is. 1:22)

"On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined." (Is. 25:6)

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." (Is. 55:1)

"The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: "I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine for which you have labored; but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary." (Is. 62:8)

"Thus says the LORD: "As the new wine is found in the cluster, and they say, 'Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,' so I will do for my servants' sake, and not destroy them all." (Is. 65:8)

"They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the LORD." (Jer. 31:12-14)

"More than for Jazer I weep for you, O vine of Sibmah! Your branches passed over the sea, reached to the Sea of Jazer; on your summer fruits and your grapes the destroyer has fallen. Gladness and joy have been taken away from the fruitful land of Moab; I have made the wine cease from the winepresses; no one treads them with shouts of joy; the shouting is not the shout of joy." (Jer. 48:32-33)

"For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, 'I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.' Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, 'I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.' And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal. Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness." (Hosea 2:5-9)

"The LORD answered and said to his people, "Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations." (Joel 2:19)

"For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women." (Zech. 9:17)

"I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matt. 26:29)

"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins." (Mark 2:22)

"And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'" (Luke 5:39)

"For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by all her children." (Luke 7:33-35)

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There are many more verses, but this is a big enough sampling to get the idea. Here are some quotes on alcohol from outside the Bible:

"Wine was created from the beginning to make men joyful, and not to make them drunk. Wine drunken with moderation is the joy of the soul and the heart. Sober drinking is health to soul and body." - Sirach 31:35-37

"G-d creates the grapes from which wine is pressed and when drunk in sensible proportions, wine gladdens the heart and drives away melancholy. It heightens the intellect and even prepares the mind for prophecy." - Rabbi Kimchi

"He [Augustine] always had wine because he knew and taught, as the Apostle says, that 'every creature of God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it be received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified through the Word of God and prayer.'" - Possidius

"It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotalers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who can’t drink at all without drinking too much, or because he wants to give the money to the poor. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he can’t give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That isn’t the Christian way." - C.S. Lewis

"This means that a bishop should be sober. He may drink wine, but he should not be given over to wine." - Martin Luther

"He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long." - Martin Luther

"Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read." - Francis Bacon

"Wine...is one of the noblest cordials in nature." - John Wesley

I don't expect you to be convinced overnight, but give this some thought. Of course, no one should drink if it can't be done with a good conscience.

Love to you, J---,
-Eli

1 comment:

Paul Arsenault said...

Great post.