Thursday, February 21, 2013

Should I Start Drinking? If So, Why?

When it comes to the use of alcohol, more and more sincere Christians seem to reason, “The Bible does not say not to!” They figure that, since the Jews of Jesus’ day drank at least small amounts of alcohol diluted with water, alcohol itself is not inherently evil. Therefore, they say, drinking in moderation is a matter of personal preference today. They ask, “Why not drink?”
I’d like to ask a different question. Instead of asking, “Why not?” I’d like to ask, “Why?” Is there a strong, convincing reason for me to start drinking? Will anyone say, “Cory, you really ought to start drinking, and this is the reason?” So far, no one has proposed anything strong enough to get me started.
In first-century Judea, there was just such a reason. The water was contaminated and unsafe to drink. As Tom Standage points out in his epilogue to A History of the World in 6 Glasses (New York: Walker & Company, 2005, p. 269), The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 80% of all world illnesses are caused by waterborne diseases. Jason Freewalt writes, “Contaminants such as human waste, animal waste, and chemicals cause deadly diseases and/or make water unfit to drink.”
In such situations in ancient times the addition of a little alcohol purified the water so that it could be used. I understand that. It makes sense. In such cases, a little alcohol was not optional. It was essential.
However, one is hard-pressed today to find any equally compelling reason to start drinking. Some might try to make a case for the alleged health or sleep benefits of drinking a little wine. However, I know personally of an outstanding preacher and Christian college president who secretly began drinking “a little” wine to help him deal with stress. Over time he increased his usage, and while driving he eventually killed two women and injured a third as a result. His true story helped me decide not even to start without some very strong reason that would be worth the risk. So far I have not found it.
Why do people begin drinking? Perhaps they want to be social or to experience a high. They want to have a good time and to fit in with their peers. Perhaps they grew up in a home or a culture where it seemed that “everyone did it.” Perhaps their parents said “no,” and they with their friends thought they had to prove themselves.
Most start when they are young. They are often first exposed to alcohol in their own homes, by their own parents. The older a non-drinker is, the harder it is to convince him or her to start drinking. People over time seem to realize that, even if they could start, they do not need to start. In the first century it was essential. In our own day it is not. So my first question is not, “Could I?” My first question is, “Should I?”
Yes, one may say, “The Bible does not say not to!” The same can be said of other practices as well. In such cases we must exercise wisdom and judgment.
“The Bible does not say that I cannot smoke just one cigarette, or even a pack.” That may be true, but I just do not think it’s smart for me to do it. I ask, “Why should I?” Plain old common sense and my doctor tell me to avoid tobacco and nicotine.
"The Bible does not say that I cannot have most of my body tattooed.” How should we answer that? We may consider Lev 19:28 and its application today, but I still want to ask, “Why should I? What would be the purpose?” I just cannot find a compelling reason.
“The Bible does not say that I cannot blow $20 on lottery tickets, just for an evening’s entertainment.” That may be true, but I cannot find a good reason to try it. The thrill of the lottery comes from the exciting idea that I might win or gain something for little or nothing. I would support the gambling industry by doing so. Perhaps I could try that, but again I ask, “Why should I?”
In my youth I heard, “You must not start drinking alcohol because …” Various reasons were given. These included the Bible’s warnings about alcohol, the potential loss of one’s influence, and the financial cost. I was warned against supporting the alcohol industry, about the association of alcohol with various sins, and about the link between alcohol and disease and death. I was told that 50% of all traffic fatalities involved the use of alcohol, for example. I heard of people who started drinking socially but eventually lost their jobs and their families as their alcohol use increased. I was taught that drunkenness was a sin, and that I would never become drunk if I never started drinking. All of that made sense to me. Frankly, it still does.
One of my high school classmates began drinking with his buddies behind the stands at football games. He thought it was cool, and he gained “friends” by providing them with enough to go around. One thing led to another, and he became a drunk and a drug addict. Now he is clean. Imagine someone saying to him today, “You know, the Bible does not forbid you to start drinking again!” Does anyone think he should?
In my own life I have watched and learned from his experience and the experience of others. Could I drink? My response is, “Tell me why I should.”
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise. Prov 20:1