Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. Proverbs 31, verses 6-7.
So, yesterday the verses were about moderation and today’s are about consumption. Really? Really, really. If you recall, yesterday talked about how a king shouldn’t imbibe too much (in any kind of intoxicant) lest he make unjust decisions. Today’s verses, however, are a bit more generic and render what would seem to be the opposite advice. Notice to those who would use Scripture to rail against consuming alcohol: Scripture forbids and stigmatizes intoxication, not consumption. Taken literally, this verse (like others) advises consumption of alcohol under certain circumstances. Alcohol is a gift to us, given so that we might use it wisely and judiciously. That wisdom means that it might be good for some but not for all; cite the Apostle Paul’s admonition that if something leads a person into sin, then what might be healthy for one person is sinful for another. Centuries after this was written, Christ used alcohol to transubstantiate His blood. If that isn’t a Divine acceptance of the stuff, I don’t know what is.
So much for the idea that the Bible forbids partaking in the fruit of the vine…but I digress.
Give beer to those who are perishing and wine to those who are in anguish. I like my beer and I like my wine. In fact, I like almost any kind of alcohol. If you look at the extra pounds I’m carrying around you’ll see that it likes me back, too much in fact. It took years to put on the pounds that came from hundreds of tasty pints, bracing shots, and glasses of good red wine. At my advanced middle age, with all those drinks behind me and the prospect of decrepitude ahead, I’m working my backside off to lose it…literally! Even today, I enjoy a drink now and then, though I’ve recently cut my consumption way back. You can’t lose weight if you’re still taking in too much of what made you heavy to begin with. And the beers areusually ultra-light beer now. I mostly switched to Michelob Ultra several years ago; hey, if you’re going to drink beer, at least drink one that isn’t overly bad for you!
But the thing is that, if you keep drinking the way I used to, you’re not only going to get heavy. You’re going to venture into sin. Rewind back to the reality that drunkenness and intoxication are the primary sins that God forbade with alcohol. He didn’t say to not drink, but He repeatedly said to not be sinful about it. Drunkenness clouds your judgment, lowers your guard and resistance, and weakens your resolve. In a world stacked against us, we need all the resolve we can get. Here endeth the preaching.
We can stop talking about it because, let’s face it, alcohol isn’t all bad for you. You’ve probably read about the health benefits of red wine. There can be good in having a drink to relax, loosen up, and relieve stress. It can be useful to help block the full-frontal assault of stress on us until a point where we’re ready to handle it. I think that’s one thing to which the verses today are pointing. Life really is hard. Keeping a positive outlook isn’t really all that difficult, but sometimes even the most positive, cheerful and happy among us get down. Sometimes things just get to be too much to handle.
Don’t beat yourself up if, when that happens, you have a drink to steady yourself, to numb things just for a little while. No, I won’t go all Dr. Laura on you and chide you if you have more than one or more than one a day. Just learn your limit, know it, and respect it. That’s what the verse is saying. It’s saying that it’s ok to escape and recharge and then to help keep that positive outlook, to remember misery no longer.
If you find yourself doing that too often or if you find you ‘need’ it more than ‘want it,’ you may find its time for a gut-check as to why. There’s a line to cross for everyone, and mine will differ from yours. Yet we both have one, and before getting to close to it, it’s the right and honorable thing to do to check ourselves on it.
But there’s another lesson to be had in these verses, though, and it really has little to do with alcohol. I will ask you to please indulge me in one more review. Verses four and five encourage the king to not overdo it, and verses six and seven talk about how to properly use it. I think that, if you read the four verses all at once, you see that the section is also talking about compassion. Two verses encourage us to self-control, and then the next two encourage us to help others. It’s no coincidence that the first word in verse 6 is “give”, while the first verse of 7 is “let.” Those are words of action and incarnation. They remind us that leaders don’t just lead: they give and facilitate. Leaders use their talents, what is given by God, to a higher purpose that isn’t all their own. The true purpose of a leader is to give glory to God, and the first and foremost way of doing that is to give and let others. That alcohol is the vehicle used to make this point is ironic because alcohol, taken in excess, robs us of the ability to give and let. It’s poetic justice and justice made poetic by the just poet of the ages. So, while on the surface the passage may be about the potential dangers of a sin, completing that passage is yet another verse of how God has compassion on us so that we might share that compassion with others.
And since that’s the case, let me be the first today to offer a toast to Him who gave us the grape for our happiness. It’s five o’clock somewhere, even if it is closer to five AM, and I think I hear Jimmy Buffett. I’ll offer the toast, then put it on ice for a few hours until I can share it with someone in thanks.