To Gladden the Heart of Man

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“[14] You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth [15] and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.” – Psalm 104:14-15

Recently at Living Stones Church in Carson City, I mentioned beer in our post service announcements in our gathering as two of our members were moving to Bend, OR to work at the Deschutes Brewery.  Afterward, a few deacons stopped by to chat about it, mentioning some were concerned about mentioning alcohol from the stage and asked how they should respond.  I hope this blog suffices to address the issue of alcohol and how we should address it in the gathering.

We have to begin with God’s design for alcohol, and the reason he led man to create it.  Psalm 104:15 says he caused plants to grow for food and also for “wine to gladden the heart of man”.  God gave man the grape to make wine through fermentation, and the purpose was to gladden the heart of man.  If you’ll notice, he didn’t give food or oil to gladden the heart of man but wine, setting aside wine as something that would have a specific effect on man.

When humanity fell in Genesis 3, we would become idol-makers.  We had lost communion with God and would spend thousands of years seeking a replacement for the “eternity” he had set in our hearts; an eternity sized gap meant to be filled with himself.  And we would make functional gods, things that would give us joy and meaning and relief from the pain we felt, alcohol being one of them.  And Noah would be the first recorded man in the bible to become “drunk” though excessive drinking after delivering his family from the flood, a man from which we all would descend.

As Jesus came to earth as a man, he would seek to recreate the broken creation that Adam had produced in eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  It’s no coincidence, then, that Jesus’ first public miracle would be to turn 150 gallons of water into wine at a wedding, wine that was then consumed by men and women who had already finished the first batch of alcohol.  This miracle was a statement not only of his power but his plan, that he would redeem the creation that God has meant for good, from people to the things people had made into idols.

Many of us have lived and ministered to an area hit hard with alcoholism, giving us first hand experiences on the lives that this sin can destroy.  Due to many compounding factors, from casinos to prostitution to all night liquor stores, Northern Nevada has one of the highest rates of alcohol abuse in the nation, and as a lover of this city and its people it breaks my heart.  Alcoholism is a dark reality that has produced reactions inside many believers to feel and think many different things about alcohol, for good or for bad.

So given the history in our state, how do we navigate these two sides, biblical text on God’s design for alcohol (and the limits therein) and cultural context of abuse? Do we accept culture’s practice and engage and promote drunkenness?  Or do we reject alcohol altogether and categorize it as sin?  Any theologian would admit both approaches are unfaithful to the bible and add to what God has said.  The call then of the Christian is to neither reject nor accept, but rather redeem alcohol for the glory of God, as Jesus did at the wedding at Cana.

Part of redeeming is walking patiently with those who are unable to fully accept this freedom in Christ and who will always struggle with it as an addiction.  Romans 14 is a great chapter about church unity, the context being Christians who are unable to walk in freedom through consuming food/wine offered to false gods because they are susceptible to idol worship, and complaining that others should do the same.  Paul lays out his argument that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (v. 17), addressing both sides.  He says it is not good to do anything that causes your brother to stumble in front of them (i.e. what someone in their weakness considers sin for themselves) while commanding that we not pass judgment on anyone (i.e. those who do eat and drink while not walking in sin).  The big idea is unity and considering your brothers and sisters who struggle with that idol or addiction.

So how do I as the pastor do this on stage?  Practically, I must seek to redeem it while understanding there are those present who struggle with it.  This looks like me making a statement that drinking does happen in the life of most believers (myself included) in moderation while acknowledging some will struggle.  Alcohol is a good gift from God that man has a propensity to abuse.  To say anything else (or nothing at all) would be sinful, as silence in the church has traditionally been interpreted as taboo.  At the same time, to not give caveat of struggle is just as sinful and inconsiderate.

So, where do we go from here?  I think if we’re to move forward as a church we have to have greater conviction than our license to drink or decision to abstain; we need the gospel.  The gospel is the great uniter, the great glue that holds the diverse church together.  And the reason we have had this issue is actually a great sign, as our diversity is increasing as people from all backgrounds come together to meet one another at the cross of our beautiful Savior and to partake in the body and blood of communion.

At the end of time, in Revelation 7, John gives us the beautiful picture of all types of people gathering around the Lamb to proclaim that “salvation belongs to our God”, acknowledging their broken pasts and new futures because of the man Jesus dying for them in an incredible act of love.  Let’s let that love and sacrifice season our conduct and speech as a church when it comes to this issue as we seek to make disciples in the city we love so dearly, until the day we go home or he comes back.