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Alcohol: the Case for Total Abstinence

 

  

    Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.    Proverbs 20:1(NKJ)

    Alcohol is one of the most addictive drugs known to man, and, in sheer numbers of people involved, by far the most devastating. It is the number one substance abuse problem in the world today, yet is perfectly legal in most countries. While our politicians declare war against drugs and spend millions of dollars to stop the flow of cocaine from South America and opium from Asia, the most widespread drug problem in our country remains unaddressed; Americans of all shapes and sizes swill down some 65 billion dollars' worth of beer, wine, and strong liquor each year under the full protection of the law. Over 90% of high school and college students will drink alcoholic beverages this year. By comparison, less than 50% will try marijuana, and some 12% cocaine. In 1990 Americans spent six and a half times more money on alcohol than they did in 1960, and four times more than in 1970--drinking is very much on the rise in our nation. Glamorous television commercials have no doubt contributed greatly to this--it seems that whenever someone on TV opens up a can of beer he not only has more "gusto" in his life, but the "Swedish bikini team" even shows up.

    We've come a long way, baby. Just sixty years ago alcoholic beverages were, like other drugs, illegal in the United States. Americans around the turn of the Century, led by preachers like D.L. Moody and Billy Sunday, rose up against this demon that was taking away the dignity of the working class, and demanded Prohibition. Today the evangelical church has begun to advocate moderate drinking, and in certain old-line denominations alcoholism is a major problem even among the clergy.

 

THE HIGH COST OF ALCOHOL

    One out of ten drinkers in America regularly indulge to excess, and can be considered to have a drinking problem, and although the line is a little hazy as to just when someone is a confirmed alcoholic, the danger signals are quite clear: habitual drunkenness, personality change when drinking, not remembering what was said or done while under the influence, sickness, and problems at home and work relating to drinking. If you, or someone you love, has these symptoms, don't go into the denial routine, but start thinking seriously about how to get out of this trap before it clamps down even tighter.

    Alcohol can cause severe problems to the brain and nervous system, and take up to ten years off of your normal life span (not counting accidents, blackouts, or even death by respiratory failure while drunk). Alcoholism increases the risk of heart disease and cancer. Liver failure is a serious risk, as alcohol is metabolized mostly in the liver. Because of the alcohol, fats are not broken down properly in the liver; nodules form, enlarge and rupture; grow into cysts; and dangerous scar tissue, or cirrhosis, forms. Stomach and intestinal inflammation, malnutrition, anxiety, insomnia, and throat cancers are also direct results of heavy drinking. Pregnant mothers risk "fetal alcohol syndrome," underweight and retarded babies, and that can happen even if you're not an alcoholic, especially if you drink during the time before you even know you're pregnant.

    Over 65,000 Americans die as a result of alcohol abuse in a typical year--22,000 of them in highway accidents--many being innocent victims of another's drinking problem. Even if you do not drink, or you did not lose a loved one, you pay for it--to the tune of 136 billion dollars annually. Our prisons are filled with people who committed crimes while under the influence (the great majority of crimes are), and your tax dollars pay for that, as well as the various government-subsidized hospitalization programs for alcoholics and their victims.

    That dollar figure cannot possibly reflect your rising insurance premiums (50% of highway fatalities are the result of drunken driving), alarm systems, extra police protection and other crime prevention measures made necessary by drinking, and money spent by victims of alcoholics on psychiatrist's couches. The actual cost to us as a society is immeasurable.

    The cost is great in other areas, too. Alcohol costs employers billions of dollars annually in absenteeism and poor performance on the job. It can cost the alcoholic his job, for no matter how talented you may be (or may have been at one time), your unreliability because of your habit is a liability that most employers cannot tolerate. Your social life will also suffer for the same reason. How often have you heard the statement made, "So-and So's a nice guy except when he drinks." The problem drinker often turns on his friends and makes hanging around with him just too big of a bother. People have problems of their own, and they don't want their lives further complicated by a problem drinker.

    The greatest cost is in human lives, though--of the alcoholic himself, and more especially his or her family, for they are the true innocent victims. Co-dependents, they're called, people who have to share a chemical dependency with someone because they happen to be in the same family. They are daily victimized in a thousand ways. Drunken fathers abuse their wife and children, physically, sexually, or verbally--any of which can scar them, sometimes irreparably, for life. Over fifty percent of American women have experienced some kind of unwanted sexual advances before the age of eighteen--a little thought will tell you that alcohol was involved in a great percentage of those invasions. Millions of women and children, and some men, are held emotional and physical hostage to alcoholism every day. "Is he in a good mood today," is a common question whispered around such families. If you've ever seen a child cowering under a table while dad stormed around the house in a drunken rage, it might make a "Tee-totaler" out of you in short order.

    The long term damage is impossible to estimate, because people learn to hide the effects of their co-dependency, to pretend that their life has been as normal as the next person's. But much psychological damage has been done: they find it difficult to trust others, especially authorities; they have myriads of relationship problems; and they pass on the problems to their own children, too--treating them in the same abusive manner, and as often as not, becoming alcoholics themselves.

    Yet, alcohol is so firmly established in our culture that almost no one dares raise a voice against it, especially after the failure of Prohibition earlier this century. Dr. C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General during the Reagan years, is an exception. On May 31, 1989, shortly before stepping down from office he called for a major effort to curb alcoholism and drunk driving. He urged the alcoholic beverage industry to stop sponsoring entertainment events and using celebrities in their advertising campaigns, asked bars and restaurants to end the "happy hour," and proposed higher liquor taxes and tougher penalties for drunk drivers. His pleas fell largely upon deaf ears, and though many states are getting tougher on drunken driving, the constitutionality of the laws passed are now being tried in the courts! The devil and his alcohol advocates will not yield an inch without a fight--even if the issue is the right to kill other people with your vehicle!

 

THE CHURCH & ALCOHOL

    Incredibly, a certain element in the evangelical church has become one of the most recent defenders of the right to drink. They emphasize moderation, of course, and still hold that actual drunkenness is wrong, but nevertheless have done great damage in further confusing the issue, and placing a stumbling-block in the path of many a struggling young believer. One acquaintance of mine shared with me that he and his wife had celebrated their anniversary with a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, and how free and relaxed he felt that he could now partake moderately with thankfulness to the Lord. Six months later he was going on weekend binges. It was an easy step to take once the initial barriers were broken down. What better way to get the nice relaxed feeling back, especially in view of all the stress he was now facing at work?

    Not everybody will give in to that sort of weakness, someone may argue, and after all, the Bible does not explicitly forbid drinking. No, it doesn't. In both Old and New Testaments the faithful sometimes partook in a glass of wine. Jesus Himself turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and established the cup as part of the Communion ritual. Wine was looked upon as a blessing from the Lord, part of the bounty of a good harvest. Paul urged Timothy to take a little wine, in view of the bad water at Ephesus.

    But were there two kinds of wine in biblical days, as some scholars and preachers have affirmed?  Is it possible that Jesus and the apostles did not drink fermented wine, but a boiled and thickened grape juice that was popular at that time (and even today) in the Mid-east?  I'm not convinced, but neither can I totally dismiss this explanation.

    Those Christians who defend drinking, on the other hand, seem to willfully ignore the bulk of the scriptural record on the subject. The consumption of alcohol is presented again and again in the Bible as a foolish, degrading, and destructive pastime. Noah lay naked in his tent, passed out from drinking, just months after being delivered from the destruction of the Flood. Lot committed incest with his daughters while under the influence of drink. Godless pagans are often pictured as drunken partiers; Belshazzar partied with the nobles of Babylon while the Medes and Persians took away their empire.

    "He who loves wine and oil will not become rich," warned Solomon, (Prov 21:17). "Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink," said Isaiah, who also hurled an indictment at the leaders of his day: "The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink; they reel while having visions, they totter when rendering judgment...all the tables are full of vomit..." (Isa 5:22, 28:7,8). Where's the sophistication and romance in that?! "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink," declared Habakkuk, "that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also," (Hab 2:15). Perhaps the Bible isn't as sympathetic to drinking as some have pretended! How about this masterful observation?...

    Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it [goes down smoothly]. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things... They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not; when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.  (Proverbs 23:29-35)

    The real issue in the New Testament is loving one's brother, and the Apostle Paul brings that law of love in to bear on the subject of alcohol and other so-called borderline activities in Romans 14:14-21... "I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself," he said, referring to food and drink, "but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died...do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food... It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles."

    There may indeed be those Christians who can drink in moderation with no apparent ill effects, but what kind of example is being set? Can their children exercise the same restraint? Do their neighbors understand the fine distinctions in the Word of God that allow them this liberty to indulge in the downfall of so many a good man or woman? And be not mistaken, though your neighbor may defend his drinking, he knows that real Christians don't drink--your testimony and ability to reach others with the gospel will suffer seriously. How about the converted alcoholic who sees the elders and deacons and other prominent members of the church sipping wine at their meals? Will his resolve to stay on the wagon be shaken? Do you want to be responsible if it is?

    Do you really want any part of something that has destroyed so many lives down through the years, and is the biggest drug problem in our country today? Can you indulge, with a clean conscience, something that could alter your perception enough, with just one more glass, to commit adultery, or worse? Knowing what we know about the effects of alcohol--physically and socially--can we really justify taking even an occasional drink? Do we as Christians want to be associated even in the slightest with it? Perhaps the scripture that applies most to this situation is "Abstain from all appearance of evil," (1 Thess 5:22). We don't want anything to do with something that appears so evil, even if our own involvement is relatively harmless.

    And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)

    I don't feel the need to drink anything that has the potential of altering my consciousness--I like the way I am right now. I don't feel any need to conform to those around me--I'm trying to conform to the will of God. I am not trying to see how much I can get away with and still be a Christian--I am trying to do my best. I did drink before I knew Jesus. Every day to excess. It was one thing that made me feel happy, at least for awhile.

    But as a believer in Jesus Christ I no longer need an emotional crutch. I have the Holy Spirit within, and He satisfies in a way that no drugs, alcoholic or otherwise, can. I have dealt with my problems in Christ, and can now face life head on. I know who I am and where I'm going. Furthermore, I have all the excitement I can handle--I drink the "new wine" of the Spirit, and often get almost drunk, as it were. I have traveled across the globe; I've seen demons cast out and blind eyes opened; I've seen people's faces light up as the truth of the gospel dawned in their hearts. Alcohol? Who needs it? It would be a real downer, even just a sip. I'll wait until Jesus comes again and ask Him face to face if it ever really passed His lips, and if He drinks a toast at that time I'll join Him. But until then I'm on the wagon.

 

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Copyright 2000 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.

 

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