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?

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