>The Sin of the Sober
>Recently, I have set myself upon the first five books of the Bible for my personal devotions. I have read these books (also known as the Torah, the Pentateuch, or the Law) before, but feel that it is time to read them again. Beginning in Genesis, my study has been interesting (especially with the accompaniment of the incredible Africa Bible Commentary), but up until now had not been particularly moving. Sometimes, it seems, simple familiarity with passages can cramp their impact upon me.
This changed, however, in reading Genesis 9:18-27. These verses contain a story of Noah, but not that story of Noah. This story takes place after the flood and after God’s new covenant with His creation. Somehow (through the Holy Spirit, most likely) this passage jumped off the page to me. In it, Noah plants a vineyard, makes wine from his produce, drinks it until drunk, and passes out naked. His son, Ham, sees his father in his debauched and shameful state and goes off to tell his brothers about it. Shem and Japheth, Noah’s other sons, walk in to Noah’s tent backwards, so as not to see him in his shame, and cover him with a garment. Upon waking the next morning, and probably while hung over, Noah discovers what had gone on in the night and curses Ham’s firstborn son. Clearly, this is the stuff of flannel-graphs.
While this story was familiar to me, it stood out as never before in my most recent reading. It abounds with important themes and lessons (e.g. honoring of parents, the dire consequences of family feuds, the bitter effects of drunkenness, etc.). One lesson in particular stands out among the rest, though. It is a lesson regarding the sin of the sober.
Although Noah’s drunkenness stands out in our reading of the story, the sinfulness of his inebriated state does not appear to be the central theme of the passage. Instead, it is the wickedness of Ham’s treatment of his drunken father that is most pronounced. This struck me as I realized that the vast majority of Christian literature regarding drunkenness focuses upon the sin involved in intoxication and the need for Christians to abstain from becoming drunk. This is, of course, an incredibly important principle for anyone who follows Christ (though I do not support a ban on drunkenness as a ban on all alcohol consumption). Still, this is not the only principle a Christian should have with regard to intoxication. A sober saint must learn to treat those who are drunk with respect.
Most know through experience or through story that there is a temptation for those who are sober around those who are inebriated to treat them worse than they generally would. This generally involves failing to discourage and sometimes encouraging the drunk person to do foolish things as their inhibitions have been lowered. The mental justification is something along the lines of, “It is their fault if they do what I am telling them to do. It is their decision and it was their decision to become drunk that allowed for it.” The thought can be summed up with the words of Cain a few chapters before, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Such an excuse did not go well with God for Cain and will not serve the disciple of Jesus any better, for the answer to Cain’s question stands out brilliantly against our ingrained individualism with a resounding “Yes!”
Although it was sinful for the drunk person to place themselves in a state of drunkenness, that in no way diminishes the responsibility of the saint. The drunk person is your brother or sister and you must love them as such. They are more easily taken advantage of, and so you must protect them. They are easily degraded but remain human made in God’s image, and so you must respect them and preserve their integrity. They are often sick (or will be soon), and so must be cared for. There is almost no earthly reward for caring for a drunk or hungover person, but perhaps that should drive us to excel in caring for such a person all the more (see here, here, here, and here).
Following Christ entails the avoidance of intoxication, but what a shame it would be if it was defined by such avoidance. Would it not be an even higher example of true faith if Christians were known for their committed care for the drunk? I will end this post with the words of 1 Peter 4:8-10,
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”