Wasting our lives and glorifying God

Wasting our lives and glorifying God
Notice God's unutterable waste of saints, according to the judgment of the world. God plants His saints in the most useless places. We say - God intends me to be here because I am so useful. Jesus never estimated His life along the line of the greatest use. God puts His saints where they will glorify Him, and we are no judges at all of where that is. ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, August 10

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Theology of Drink

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."  I Corinthians 10:31

I've been mulling this blog post over for about three years.  That's about as long as I've ever kept anything to myself.  Usually if I have the thought, "I should blog that" it happens with days--weeks at the most.  This one, I don't know, it just needed some real rumination first.

A little background: I grew up with total abstinence when it came to alcohol.  Wine, beer, liquor was never found in our house.  Everyone I knew was the same.  I didn't really grow up knowing anyone who drank alcohol.  In high school there was a group of lovely homemaking women (at the time they were friends of my mom and now I consider them dear friends myself) and we'd get together once a month and do things like learn to knit or make homemade pasta.  One month we studied herbal tinctures and decided to make some home remedies.  The recipe called for vodka in which to distill the herbs and bring out the healing properties.  There was an in-depth conversation about who would buy the booze.  Not one of us wanted to be seen holding vodka in the check-out line.

It's not that my parents ever taught that it was a sin to drink.  In fact, I remember them saying the opposite.  But, it's just something they never did.  It wasn't how either of them were raised.  They both came up in wonderful Pentecostal churches where there was a big emphasis on holiness.  Being pastors they never wanted to cause someone else to stumble and they both have a real call to holiness on their lives.  (Yes, we are all called to holiness, but there are those that God sets aside at different standards than others--such as Nazarites in the Bible.)  My dad was always clear that it was a sin to be drunk, but not necessarily a sin to drink.  However, one should obey whatever the inward witness of the Holy Spirit tells them, even if it goes a little higher than other people's standards.  My parents always taught us to raise the standard in our lives and not to succumb to the things of this world.  I will forever be grateful for this foundation.

But, my theology of drinking, or abstinence as it were, did not come wholly from my parents.  I heard it other places simply because I grew up in a conservative church culture. 

For my 21st birthday, my brother gave me a small bottle of champagne.  Honestly, it was sort of a joke.  I just tucked it away.  When I got married six months later, Gana and I shared it on our honeymoon--mixed with some juice.

From that point on we would very occasionally have a little drink--like on our anniversary or once I stuck a single beer in Gana's Christmas stocking.  Somehow, though, I hadn't quite reconciled the thing inside me.  Was it OK?  Was it not OK?  How much of what I was feeling was genuinely the Holy Spirit's conviction and what was simply embedded cultural theology?  So, I stopped even the occasional drink until I figured it out.  I started digging deeper.

What Does The Bible Say?

The Bible references wine 228 times and strong drink 19 times.  And not all those references are negative.  In fact, quite the opposite.

CategoryWineStrong Drink
Use accepted as normal part of culture581
Symbolic (The wine of his wrath, etc.)321
Wine called a blessing from God270
Use in offerings and sacrifices241
Loss of wine an example of a curse from God191
Examples of abuse of alcohol163
Vows of abstinence156
Warnings against abuse134
Gifts between people90
Comparisons (x is better than wine)50
False accusations of drunkenness31
Rules for selecting deacons30
Abstinence in deference to weak consciences10

(H/T Chet Day. Source for chart here.)

The negative references to alcohol in the Bible equal only 16%.  Neutral references (like used symbolically and such) equal 25%.  Favorable references to alcohol equal 59%.

"Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine." Genesis 27:28

Realizing this, I could not take the position that to drink was a sin.  Over and over again in Scripture wine represents a blessing.  I grew up claiming Deuteronomy 28, that I was the head and not the tail, that everything I put my hand to would prosper.  Well, that passage says that the lack of wine is a curse.  Sometimes in the Bible it almost seems like a command.  So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this!  Ecclesiastes 9:7. That was something to consider.

Then there are all the references to Jesus drinking wine.  His first miracle was turning water into wine.  He taught in parables of new wine in old wine skins.  The good Samaritan poured wine and oil on the injured man to heal him.  Jesus instituted the Eucharist during Passover, a meal in which four cups of wine are drunk.  Would the Passover and thereby the Eucharist make any sense in a prohibitionist world?  He said, "This is my blood."  This was something else to consider.  WWJD and all that.

ברוך אתה ה' א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, בורא פרי הגפן.‏
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha'olam, bo're p'ri ha'gafen.
Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.

Then there were the other New Testament references to consider.  Paul told Timothy to take a little wine to aid his digestion.

So, it's not a sin, but was it for me?  Should I be drinking, even occasionally?

But what about all the arguments against drinking I had heard over the years?  Let's look at some of those.

You shouldn't do anything to make another stumble.  Yes, this is true.  Romans 14:21: "It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble."  Those who over the years have preached to me about not drinking were not vegetarians.  Why is this particular Scripture applied the way it is in regards to wine, but not as it applies to meat?  Ponder that one a while.

This admonition not to drink wine because of a weaker believer is one verse out of 228 references to wine, 59% of which are positive.  Would seem odd to let this one verse over shadow the rest.

There must be a way in which to apply this verse that is contextually correct.  

There are two things mentioned: eating meat and drinking wine.  Paul says let those who drink not judge those who don't.  And those that abstain should not judge those who partake.
Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don't. And those who don't eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them.  Romans 14:3
The whole passage stresses walking love with one another and not letting your liberty or lack of liberty be something that injures your relationship with others.  Relationship over rules.  Spirit over the letter.

When you can turn water into wine, then you can drink it.  Believe it or not, I have heard this exact phrase.  Fairly bad Scriptural application there.  Jesus didn't drink all the wine He created at the wedding in Cana.  He served it to all the guests and to the wedding party.

Besides which I have heard true accounts of water being turned into wine during the revival in Indonesia.

The wine mentioned in the Bible wasn't really wine.  It was just grape juice.  Well, in Matthew 11:19 Jesus was accused of being a drunk.  How is that that that would make any sense if He only drank grape juice?  And what about Paul's admonition to the New Testament church not to get drunk during communion? (I Corinthians 11)  My church serves itty-bitty shot of white grape juice.  No one's getting drunk on that.  Must have been something different served in Corinth.

What parents allow in moderation, children will excuse in excess.  This little platitude is said with quite a bit of authority in some circles in which I have moved.  At first hearing you say, "Oh wow.  That's true."  Because, we have all heard stories or known someone who sneaked their parents' scotch from the liquor cabinet and got drunk.  But, upon further evaluation, this doesn't make a lot of sense.

I grew up watching my dad drink coffee in moderation.  I am not addicted to caffeine.

I grew up watching my mother occasionally fry chicken or make cake.  I'm not obese.

I grew up watching a moderate amount of television and movies.  I'm not a couch potato.

The logic just isn't there and Scripture does not back this up.  Moderation is a good thing. "Let your moderation be known to all..." Philippians 4:5  All extremes are bad. "The man who fears God will avoid all extremes." Ecclesiastes 7:18.

Alcohol is bad because it's mood altering.  If you drink to alter your mood, that's wrong.  You should only rely on the Holy Spirit for that.  Yes, a very spiritual argument.  At face value this is a tough one to argue.  If you need a lift or to relax, you should go to God.  Yes, I really do believe that.  But does that completely preclude a glass of wine after a hard day?

Well, let's re-frame the question: Is eating cashews a sin?

A couple handfuls of cashews has the same mood altering properties as a prozac

Is eating chocolate a sin?

Dark-chocolate is hailed as an anti-anxiety drug--dating back to the Mayans.

Is taking a fish oil supplement a sin?

Fish oil helps aid in depression, anxiety and managing anger.

So, is the fact that wine is mood altering a reason to avoid it completely?  I don't believe so.  In fact, the Bible seems to approve of such use: He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man's heart.  Psalm 104:14-15

I don't want to support an industry that has destroyed so many lives.  I really respect where this argument is coming from.  Alcoholism has destroyed a lot of lives.  Yet, alcohol hasn't done it.  People have.  Just like "guns don't kill, people do."  

If it wouldn't be OK for the kids to drink, you shouldn't drink it.  Don't be a hypocrite. I know a lot of people feel this way about alcohol.  But are our kids really incapable of understanding that some things are not meant for children and that's OK?  Gana and I each have a cup of coffee with breakfast.  The kids understand that that is not something they are going to get.  They may drink it when they are older.

Drinking is dangerous because it can lead to drunkenness.  Yes, this is true.  In the same way eating is dangerous because it can lead to gluttony.  

My Decision

So, I became neutral on the issue.  1 Corinthians 8:8: "Food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat we are the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse."

I was then in a good position to decide what I believed was OK for me.  I was in a position of liberty and a clear conscience before God.

I considered a few things.

1) I want my kids to see me live the values of moderation and liberty.  If I don't wrestle through those tough things, but take the easy way out by avoidance, what will I teach them?

2) I want to give my kids a healthy context for eating and drinking.  For example, my kids know how I feel about drive-thrus.  Food is not meant to be consumed en masse, in the car, off a paper wrapper.  Food is meant to be eaten sitting at a table with others.  And I model this for them.  (not as a sin issue, but simply from a context of health and well-being)  I want them to have the same sort of context in which to evaluate wine and other alcohol.

3) I don't want to glory in my own goodness.  This is a weakness of mine; I know this.  I could very easily take pride in the fact that I never drink.

So, I decided, very deliberately to start taking wine and occasionally other alcohol.  It was a conscious, theological and Spirit-led decision.  

First of all, I take it in the context of food.  I don't go out drinking as an entertainment in and of itself.  And I have never been drunk.  But, it is now a common thing that we have a glass of wine at dinner.  Or if it pairs better (I'm still such a foodie, after all) we'll have a beer. (On a hot summer day nothing is quite like a grass-fed handmade burger on the grill, topped with blue cheese and accompanied by a summer ale.)  This way the kids learn to view it as food--just as they do my morning cup of joe.  Just as Gana and I don't eat to excess, we do not drink to excess.

Food, and therefore drink, is meant to be enjoyed in the context of community.  Eating is a social thing.  It has been since our first taste of food at our mothers' breasts.  Food is one way we connect with the larger community and culture.  So, now it is also common that when we have people over we open a new bottle of wine to share or when we are celebrating something, we pop a bottle of champagne.

I do not always drink wine with dinner, just as I do not always drink coffee at breakfast.  Sometimes it's water all day.  Sometimes for health sake.  Sometimes because the Holy Spirit says, "Not today, my daughter."  Sometimes I don't, just because I do not want anything to become a necessity to me.  "All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." I Corinthians 6:12

I know that I take a great risk in posting this that some will wonder why I bothered explaining something so trivial.  Others will think that I've lost my salvation.  Let me be clear: I do not feel that every Christian should drink.  I have come to believe that this is a very individual decision.  If God has not given you a taste for wine (I know people who don't drink it simply because they don't like it!) there is no reason why one should feel compelled to try to enjoy it.  If you came to dinner at my house you would have complete freedom to partake or not to partake.  That is why you sometimes see pictures on this blog and my other blogs of us enjoying wine or beer along with our food and with friends.  If you didn't feel comfortable with it, we would all drink iced tea instead and be happy in your company.  We have come to the place where it is a non-issue in our home.  

I do believe that we must be responsible and eat and drink with integrity.  Everything we do must be for the glory of God--including how we eat and drink.


Happy Elf Mom said...

Ahhhh I knew this post was in you somewhere. I just knew it.

You are my beautiful sister in Christ. I respectfully disagree because you know what? I have a lot of alcoholics in my family and it's no fun. I do take NyQuil though when I get really sick. This is only because I am a hypocrite... or... because when I am really, really sick I just don't care about theology.

(I'm serious.)

But I always appreciate your loving spirit, your thoughtful reasoning, and your open door for a chat. :)

Sue said...

Very thoughtful post! I can really see your heart in this.

I went through a very similar process and came to the same conclusions. I still very much respect those (like my dearest father) who still feel adamant about abstaining. I totally get his reasons (mainly the witness thing, and that if you don't start you know it will never ever be a problem for you).

I also mourn the fact that it seems some in my family have taken the liberty to drink too far. That is definitely not a good thing.

That moderation thing can truly be difficult. I don't happen to struggle with it in the alcohol department - I have no trouble sticking to an occasional glass of wine - but I struggle with it in other areas.

Kristina said...

Very well said! I really appreciate how intentional you were and still are in your choice! The rest of us could stand to learn a lot more about living intentionally, whether it's in regard to alcohol or anything else we do.

I love you, dear sister!!

Serena Abdelaziz said...

I enjoyed reading all of your thoughts WRITTEN out. I do agree with them all. Our family came to the non-issue only about a year ago, and we enjoy just being free. I do not care for wine or beer, but I do enjoy a "Dessert" drink. Our friends have learned that most of the time I won't drink, but I no longer have an issue. Wow, we could probably talk all day long about it. The Holy Spirit has stretched me more in the last 4 years than I ever imagined.

Sarah said...

Brilliant! I love your thought processes. One of the most balanced posts on that topic that I have ever read.

Starr said...

Couldn't agree more, with all points. Well done.

Claire said...

I was raised in a non-believing home where my parents had either a cocktail or a glass of wine every single night. I never saw them drunk. Ever. I did not feel that alcohol was a tool to deaden senses. My father is from a French heritage, and we were given watered down wine from the time we were six years old.

I did go through a stage before I was saved in which I abused alcohol. I was not an alcoholic, but I definitely used it to get numb. After I was saved, I stopped all drinking for several years, but then began drinking just one cocktail or a glass of wine occasionally.

All that said, can't wait to hang with you and Gana again and have a glass of wine (or whatever). :P

Karen Joy said...

I could have written the same exact post. Well, maybe not. I don't think it would have been as carefully researched and beautifully, clearly written. But I echo the idea behind it... :)

I have gone down an almost identical path. I grew up in an abstaining, Pentecostal household, but I never got the feeling that my parents were strictly teetotalers; they just never drank, that I knew. When I went to college -- in New Orleans, where the drinking age is 18, though the purchase age is 21, so technically, someone older should purchase for you -- I came to the conclusion that an individual drink isn't wrong, but being drunk was. I was really content with this stance, but when I met my to-be husband, that got rattled a bit. He was (is, I suppose) and ex-alcoholic. He drank heavily from about age 14 - 25 and well-acquainted with the dangers of alcohol. In addition, he was the worship leader (now pastor), and concerned with leading others astray, accidentally, by his example.

Fast-forward ten years or so, he relaxed. We'd drink a glass of wine on rare occasion. That "escalated" over the course of the next 5-7 years to us buying roughly a bottle of wine a week. But, in the last year, we've gone back to "special occasion" drinking only, just because we've been extra-careful tightwads, and wine -- even cheap wine -- is darn expensive!! I'm just not willing to spend my grocery budget on a bottle. :)

In addition to that, with my celiac diagnosis nine years ago, that ruled out all beer. Not that I was an aficionado of anything, but of beer, more than wine. And, I just don't enjoy wine enough to drink it on more than an occasional basis. (I've had a number of g.f. beers, and they're all pretty bad.)

Well! Perhaps that was TMI, especially for a comment.

I appreciate your transparency and your heart. And it makes me think about how... even when we do the right thing from a young age, God still must very often take us through a process to imprint onto our heart and convictions that which was previously only done... to follow the rules, or because someone else taught it, or because that's what our Christian culture has led us to believe, etc. Know what I mean? So, I appreciate the process, both in myself, and in reading yours.

cocorricco said...

Love it Daja!

You have known me over half my life. You know I have never had a drink. It just doesnt appeal to me. I think it stinks-LOL!!! But...I have absolutely no problem with people having that occasional glass of wine or spirits. Everyone of my roommates always had alcohol in the house. My boss has a TON in the house. 99 % of my friends have that occasional glass. Its all about moderation. Jesus did turn water into wine. People get worried about alcohol becoming someones god, in a sense, and becoming addicted, OR just think its plain wrong. People do the same thing with so many things in their lives, but dont think its as bad as alcohol because it doesnt look/seem as bad. People have addictions to soda, smokes, FOOD, working out, working. You having your glass of wine once a week is the same as me having that doughnut. It is fine in moderation, but both things can be taken out of hand. Alcoholism can kill...but so can obesity. MODERATION and BALANCE with EVERYTHING is key.

Melinda said...

I appreciate your reasoning and I feel much the same way, except that I still do not drink out of respect for my husband. In my childhood, my father drank quite a bit, but I hardly remember it because I he stopped when he was saved (I was about 5 at that time). We were never taught that it was forbidden to drink, but because his life changed when he was saved, he quit completely for a good while. He began to drink again occasionally after I was married and out of the house and my mother keeps some wine in the house right now.

My husband, however, was raised in a Southern Baptist home and not drinking was part of the church covenant one agreed to abide by when joining the church. Also, there was a large number of lushes in his family and he always wanted to stay away from it because he saw the effects of alcoholism in his family. In some cases, we have seen a progression from alcoholism to drug abuse and the awful consequences. A year or so ago, I was thinking about trying to make homemade vanilla flavoring, but he asked me not to do it because he didn't want the vodka in the house. He was afraid it might be a temptation to our teenage sons.

When I was a teenager, I would often say that I was going to try a wine cooler just to see how they tasted, but I refused to break the law and I was waiting until I was 21. However, by the time I was 21, I was married to a Baptist preacher and I have still never tasted a wine cooler (that's 20+ years). I don't think it will be happening any time soon, either.

I have always been careful to try to teach my children that occasional drinking is not a sin; getting drunk and being enslaved to drink is. I want them to understand that we don't do it because of the danger for those with a history of alcoholism in their family, not because we think we're better than others.
I will add, however, that we had a sad example in a visit a couple of years ago with some of my extended family who were drunk. We didn't visit very long but that experience did not make me want to try alcohol. Despite all the hilarity, I wasn't convinced they were really having a good time. It seems to have struck the children the same way, but we will see when they are grown up and on their own. It strikes me as ironic that getting drunk makes people act crazy, but I don't think they really enjoy it in the end. Maybe it is like overeating. It seems like a good idea at the time, but you pay later.

Also, I don't think it would be worth the expense. Tea and coffee are so much more affordable!

I've been considering commenting about this subject since you shared the article about the church that was meeting in a bar, but I didn't know how to go about sharing my opinions and experiences in such a way as to not sound like I was trying to pick a fight or like I think I'm better off for having made a different decision. Thanks for this opportunity!

God bless,

Gombojav Tribe said...

I really appreciate the way everyone is handling this discussion. Well done, y'all!!!

Civilla said...

I'm sure I would be with your parents on this idea. While I would certainly not say drinking a glass of wine would send you to hell, I would be wary of being a bad testimony to people -- especially people who may have a problem with alcohol. We would all agree that drunkenness is wrong, but you know, I have been around drinkers a lot (including fellow ministers at a ministerial alliance where alcohol was served), and very few drinkers will admit that they are drunk. They can be totally tipsy and not even realize it. So I do see danger here.

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