Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Christians & Drugs - Wisdom for Today

This is the final installment in a six-part series about God’s opinion on addictive drugs through studying scriptures concerning the drug, alcohol. If you have not read the prior posts, you will likely miss significant context. We have been studying what God has explicitly said (and not said) regarding recreational consumption of addictive drugs through the language that He used (Hebrew). Now that we have examined more fully what God has and has not said in ancient Hebrew culture, we need to more directly translate that into today’s culture. But first, a story that will provide some context:

Several days ago on Oak Island, North Carolina, two teenagers were attacked off the beach by a shark within 90 minutes of each other. As you can imagine, varying degrees of paranoia ensued. Prior to this incident, the fear of sharks ranked pretty high for land-loving humans. Ironically, however, sharks rank pretty low on the list of animals that are deadly threats to humans – below horses, cows, deer, and even ants. In fact, worldwide, the number of deadly shark attacks per year averages less than 20. What is most ironic is that most of the same people self-restricted by high shark paranoia are more than willing to not restrict themselves from other things that are much more deadly. Shouldn't we fear all deadly threats consistently?

Allow me to illustrate through a simple hypothetical. What if I offered you a pill and informed you that this pill is one of the most addictive drugs known to man. Then, I inform you that even though most people take it recreationally for fun, this pill is responsible for more deaths than all other drugs combined. Would you take the pill? Would your fear of sharks rank higher than your fear of this pill? What do these questions reveal about the inconsistencies within our culture today?

We are trying to discern God’s opinion on recreational consumption of drugs like alcohol. It is one thing to see this clearly from studying scripture in the context of the culture in which it was written. As we then seek to apply scripture to today, we need to properly survey today’s culture and add to the question: “Would God support recreational consumption of addictive drugs … today?” Before we answer that together, let’s characterize our culture by way of a few statistics:

  • In the world, approximately 3.3 million people die from alcohol-related causes every year (almost 6% of all deaths, and more than all other drugs combined). Alcohol is far more deadly than cocaine, heroin and, yes even sharks.
  • Alcohol contributes to over 200 diseases including significantly increasing the risk of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, and breast, among others.
  • Alcohol is involved in 48% of cirrhosis deaths and over 46% of liver disease deaths (primary cause for one-third of liver transplants).
  • Among people ages 15-49, alcohol is the top risk factor for premature death and disability.
  • One in every six teenagers binge drinks.
  • Students who have “taken a sip” by sixth grade are 4 times more likely to binge drink in high school.
  • Young people who drink alcohol are 3 times more likely than non-drinkers to test positive for HPV (Human papillomavirus).
  • In the USA, the number of alcohol users exceeds 136 million (almost 7 times more than all other drugs combined - by the way, this is similar to countries where all drugs are legal).
  • In the USA, the number alcohol addicts is almost 8 million (almost 5 times more than all other drugs combined - this too is similar to countries where all drugs are legal).
  • In the USA, almost 17 million adults suffer from alcohol drinking disorders (including 20% of college students).
  • In the USA alone, almost 90,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year (5,000 of which are teenagers). 
  • In the USA, in 2006, alcohol-related problems cost the country over $220 billion.
  • Alcohol is a significant factor in 40% of violent crimes, 37% of rapes, 15% of robberies, 27% of aggravated assaults, and 25% of assaults.

And, those statistics don't reflect the millions of families that have been devastated by this drug. In fact, during the last 24 hours before you started reading this, alcohol played a significant role in half of all homicides, highway deaths, hospital admissions, incarcerations, domestic violence arrests and defective births, in addition to one-fourth of all suicides. By far, alcohol is responsible for more destruction of lives than all other drugs combined. If we were to determine what thing is an agent of the most mortal evil on our planet aside from abortion, alcohol would be a major contender – which was not the case during Biblical cultures. Given the facts, can you name one good reason why any God-fearing Christian would align with this in any way today?

I have asked many Christians that question over the years. The vast majority are stumped when asked. The remainder usually boldly declare that "wine is good for the heart". By the way, that does not provide cover (albeit false) for beer and liquor. Now, let’s address the “wine is good for the heart” assertion head on. It is not the alcohol in wine that is alleged to provide heart benefits. If that were so, beer and liquor would also be viable candidates (and they are not). Rather, it is the chemical substance resveratrol that is alleged to benefit the human heart. What most people don’t know is that resveratrol is found in the skin of the red grape. And, therefore, you receive virtually the same benefit from drinking red grape juice (or eating red grapes) which you can buy rather affordably in ever supermarket, and avoid all the horrendous side effects of alcohol (like addiction). Regardless, in 2012 a study was conducted by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine that concluded, “dietary resveratrol from Western diets in community-dwelling older adults does not have a substantial influence on inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or longevity.” So, for wine, the silver lining or redeeming quality is very much in question and/or achieved by other means. But, there is ample death and destruction in its storm clouds which are not in question. You be the judge: Does this one questionable benefit of wine outweigh the numerous unquestionable negative consequences outlined in the above statistics? To this point, I used to work closely with a cardiologist, who also espoused the benefits of wine. When he learned that I had never consumed alcohol, he revised his advice in a very revealing way. He said, “Well, if you don’t drink alcohol, I would never prescribe that you start. The medical disadvantages far outweigh its advantages.” As true as that is, isn’t that also common sense? Why would any Christian ignore so much toxicity and destruction in favor of blindly embracing a non-compelling and questionable benefit?

Then again, are Christians truly drinking alcohol because it improves their health, or is there generally a more carnal motivation driving their decisions? Romans 13:14 says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” 

In conclusion, using the Hebrew language, God has explicitly revealed his opinion of recreational use of addictive drugs – that opinion is unfavorable. And, alcohol is by far the deadliest of all addictive drugs – more so than all other drugs combined. If you have a moral conviction regarding cocaine or marijuana, you should have a much stronger conviction regarding alcohol. Therefore, in light of all that we have learned, the wisdom of God urges us to abstain both in Biblical cultures and even more so today. Can you or anyone else poke a hole in such wisdom? To date, nobody can, which is the typical hallmark of God’s wisdom. But, every other position is like proverbial Swiss cheese in comparison. Doesn’t that tell us everything we need to know? Shouldn’t the wisdom we aspire to be that of God’s (whose name is Wisdom)? Shouldn't our wisdom be proverbially bullet-proof? Do we really believe that God’s spiritual wisdom is not extreme or comfortable to our flesh?

In contrast, unfortunately, for this subject, too many Christians ask and answer the wrong questions. They either ask “Is it sin?” or “Can I?” Instead, the wise Christian asks, “Is it wise?” and “Therefore, should I?” God has answered both questions with a resounding “No!” Do you have a wiser conclusion?

You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Christians & Drugs – “Don’t Get Drunk,” And

This is Part 5 in a series about God’s opinion on drugs through studying scriptures concerning the drug, alcohol. If you have not read the prior four posts, you will likely miss significant context. We have been studying what God has explicitly said (and not said) regarding recreational consumption of addictive drugs through the language that He used (Hebrew). In that regard, we have been exhaustively studying scriptures that directly communicate God’s disapproval of consuming addictive drugs recreationally. But, verses that directly apply to the topic are only a part of what reveals God’s opinion. There are many verses that are less direct, but also weigh in.

“Don’t Get Drunk”

Probably all Christians agree that getting drunk is sin. And, one of the more famous passages on this point is Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” This verse not only specifically forbids drunkenness, but reveals an inverse correlation between the filling of “wine” and the filling of the "Holy Spirit" (God). But, while those points are clear, we are left with a question that most Christians never ask: “What is God’s definition of ‘drunk’?” We are all well-versed in man’s definition, but we shouldn’t superimpose man’s definition upon God. We should, however, superimpose God's definition on us. To illustrate, in all 50 states it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08%. In other words, whether or not you consider yourself "drunk," the law considers you to be if your BAC is .08% or above. But, is that God’s definition? While we lack a specific answer to this question, 1 Corinthians 6:12 gives us a general rule that we should not be “dominated” or mastered by anything other than the Holy Spirit. Other than the inverse correlation above, how does that relate to alcohol? Alcohol, even in the smallest amounts, for most people begins to weaken our self-control and stand in the way of Spirit control. For recreational use, losing any amount of control of our body (God’s temple) to a drug violates God's principle. And addiction, even absent of drunkenness, also violates God's principle.

That leads us to another question: “Does God approve of getting a ‘buzz’?” By definition, a buzz is a state of lessened control. But, don’t take my word for it. The latest advertisements about drunk driving boldly declare, “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.” Why is it that the ungodly world can boldly declare what many in the Church won't? Truth is that God’s definition of drunk is not as mysterious as our flesh wants to believe. I assure you that God’s definition is more strict than this advertisement. Does God approve of getting a buzz? Does He really need to say more for us to clearly see that the answer to that question is “No”?

Jesus Drank?

Many Christians (even pastors) boldly declare that Jesus drank alcohol. In other words, they declare that Jesus was a recreational drug user. But, does the Bible actually say that or is that an invention of our carnal bias? There are only two passages that are cited in assuming Jesus used recreational drugs - the Last Supper and Matthew 11:18-19. In the prior post we undeniably proved that the contents of the “cup” at the Last Supper were unfermented. Here we will focus on the latter passage. In Matthew 11:18-19 Jesus says, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” That passage does not prove or imply that Jesus was a recreational drug user. First, this passage records the wildly false accusations regarding Him and John the Baptist. We know from Revelation 12:10 that Satan is "the accuser", and from John 8:44 that he is "the father of lies". So, why would any God-fearing Christian give any credibility to any accusations of immorality made towards Jesus? Second, regarding alcohol, the accusation was not that Jesus drank. The accusation was that Jesus was a “drunkard”. Knowing that to be a sin, does any God-fearing Christian believe this is even remotely true? Third, this passage implies that Jesus confessed to “eating and drinking” as compared to John. But, the Greek word for “drinking” is pino, which means to drink as to refresh or strengthen the soul. Pino is the generic word for drinking all beverages, not a word specifically referring to drinking alcohol. In our modern culture "drinking" typically refers to alcohol, but not in their culture. That is why "pino" is coupled with "eating." This passage should not be interpreted from our culture. Further, the "eating" and "drinking" of Jesus is compared to John in that John lived a life of minimalistic consumption - primarily locusts and water (and, “eating” locusts and “drinking” water is “eating and drinking”). So, clearly this was a reference comparing John’s minimalism with Jesus’ non-minimalism. The accusation of John is also related to his whole diet by reference to both “eating” and “drinking.” Therefore, this is not a reference to John's God-given prohibition from drinking alcohol. In every respect, to declare "drinking" in this passage is about alcohol is a distortion. If "drinking" were referring to alcohol, Jesus would not have coupled "drinking" with “eating”. Most importantly, the point Jesus was making was to show how wildly disconnected the accusations were from the actual behaviors of both of these spiritual giants. In fact, John is accused of having “a demon” because he "came neither eating nor drinking"? That accusation is absurdly disconnected on its face. Likewise, the accusation that Jesus was a "drunkard" is totally disconnected from what he actually consumed. Lastly, and most importantly, even if this were a passage about actual consumption of alcohol by Jesus, if you are going to give credibility to the accusers of Jesus, what about the accusations that He was demon-possessed (John 10:19-33) and channeling the power of Satan (Mark 3:22)? The use of these disconnected and wild accusations to appeal to a carnal conclusion about Jesus is truly not reasonable. There is no evidence that supports the notion that Jesus was a recreational drug user. And, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Modernized quotes coupled with modernized assumptions should never overrule explicit and direct passages to the contrary that require no assumptions (as provided in prior posts).

Stumbling Block

Again, like getting drunk, most Christians agree that being a stumbling block, or in any way causing a weaker or younger person to fall into sin, is in itself a sin. In fact in Matthew 18:6, Jesus had some pretty harsh words for those who do so (by the way, if Jesus drank alcohol, and, therefore, causes others to stumble into drunkenness, isn’t He violating His own principle?). There are many verses that specifically instruct us how to not be a stumbling block. The verse that most relates to our topic is Romans 14:21, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” While that verse is pretty clear it is amazing to what great lengths some Christians will go to make this unclear. Aside from this being yet another passage supporting God’s unfavorable view of “drugs in moderation,” what does this verse also teach? Well, (1) Wine will make others stumble, as will “meat” sacrificed to idols. (2) It is therefore good to abstain from wine. (3) Stumbling is determined by the one who stumbles, not by the one who is the stumbling block. On that last point, I am always stunned to hear a Christian say to others that they drink alcohol but would never do so in front of children. Being seen is not required in order to cause others to stumble. If someone drinks in private, and others know or find out, that is their testimony and influence on the subject. Integrity demands that our private life be consistent with our whole life (Luke 8:17). The entirety of our influence is what can cause others to stumble not just what people see.

“All things are lawful for me”

Many Christians quote as their license 1 Corinthians 6:12, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” First, Paul and the Bible did not say or teach, “All things are lawful for me.”  Notice that this phrase is in quotation marks in the Bible. That is because this phrase was being said by others (not Paul) who were following this sound bite towards unwise behavior. Paul quotes them followed by his disapproving rebuttal. And, Paul opposes (not supports) the sound bite entirely. In fact, Paul offers a more Biblical guide for behavior that indirectly instructs us on the subject of “drugs in moderation.” Paul submits a two-part minimum test by way of asking two questions: Is it "helpful" to others? Will it "dominate" me? Does the recreational consumption of addictive drugs pass either of these tests? In fact, if we are honest about all of the evidence, it passes neither. Second, isn’t it curious that most people who pull this sound bite out of context mostly do so to defend drinking alcohol? But, if they truly believe that “all things are lawful for me,” is polygamy "lawful for me"? Is sin "lawful for me"? Aren’t polygamy and sin included in “all things”? This verse does not support drugs in moderation  - it opposes it.

For the sake of brevity, let’s mention a few more indirect verses using the same question: “Will recreational consumption of addictive drugs:
  • bring glory to God (I Corinthians 10:31)?”
  • cause damage to my witness (I Corinthians 10:33)?”
  • wrongly involve me with bad company (I Corinthians 15:33)?”
  • be done in the name of Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17)?”
  • be done as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23)?”
  • avoid the appearance of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22)?”
  • leave me content with the consequences (Galatians 6:7)?”
  • aid me in fleeing temptation and/or not giving the enemy a foothold (Ephesians 4:27)?”

The answer in every case should be obvious.

In conclusion, as a final indirect test, have you ever heard from anyone who drinks alcohol how it blesses anyone? The famous Christian author, Max Lucado said, “One thing for sure, I have never heard anyone say, ‘A beer makes me feel more Christlike’ . . . Fact of the matter is this: People don’t associate beer with Christian behavior.” Instead, what they do generally associate with Christian behavior is a pursuit of Holiness in keeping with the righteousness of God that we proclaim. To proclaim the righteousness of God and not pursue it is the height of hypocrisy. In all of our consumption choices, including the choices we defend, are we moving towards God’s Spirit and Holiness, or in the opposite direction towards an enemy, our flesh?

You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.