Is a Little Wine Good for the Soul?
Author: Dr. Rick Westermeyer, M.D.
Publish date:
Summary: The spiritual implications of alcohol consumption outweigh even the physical ones.

As Christians, our decision to drink alcoholic beverages should not be based solely on scientific data, but also on the moral and spiritual implications.

As a Christian, I do not consider my life to be merely a series of chemical reactions which can be tested in lab experiments and reported in medical literature. Beyond the physiology of my body, I believe my existence has spiritual and mental dimensions that are intricately linked together. Medical science increasingly recognizes that patients should be treated as complex beings with intricately connected bodies, minds, and spirits. Recently, I attended a Harvard Medical School conference entitled Spirituality and Healing, which dramatically documented this holistic view of humans. It becomes clear that decisions I make about my body have a major influence on my mental and spiritual dimensions. Here we will discuss the moral and spiritual implications of alcohol consumption.

CC Frank Kovalchek on Flickr

In the previous article, we reviewed in detail the medical research surrounding the medicinal value of alcohol consumption in preventing heart disease. We explored numerous recently published findings on the harmful effects of alcohol on many other body systems and compared them to the cardiac protective effects.

Some would argue that alcohol's adverse effects come from drinking excessive amounts and that moderate use is relatively harmless. So let's discuss the consequences of moderate or recreational drinking. First, the carcinogenic and osteoporotic effects as well as the increased incidence of traumatic death are seen even in light drinkers. While it is true that liver cirrhosis and severe brain damage such as dementia are primarily associated with heavy drinking, I have enough concern about the damage that the aging process is doing to my brain without adding the effects of a known neurotoxin!

This is a listing of the general effects on the individual based on blood alcohol levels:

0.05% Euphoria and minor motor disturbance

0.08% Impaired driving ability

0.1% Gross lack of motor coordination

0.2% Amnesia of the experience

0.3% Coma

0.5% Deathi

Fortunately, most people pass out before they can drink a lethal dose, but alcohol is still a drug that can lead to death and one that has significant physiological impairment at even the lowest measurable blood levels.

What about the effects of alcohol on human relationships and behaviour? What about domestic violence or spousal and child abuse? What about rape, murder, suicide, or other areas of violence?

I'm going to write plainly. There is hardly a man on this planet who does not know that when trying to seduce a woman, his chances will vastly improve if he can get her to drink first because her reasoning will be clouded and her willpower reduced. A gynecologist recently said that he frequently has women come in with a similar story. "Well, I went out and had a few drinks and wasn't thinking too clearly and ended up in bed with a stranger. Now I'm scared about AIDS and I want to be tested for HIV."

Once I heard a prominent Christian leader publicly state, "alcohol is not a moral issue. It is not an issue of weak character...It is not a moral right or wrong. It is not a 'yes' or 'no' issue. It is not a moral negative to drink." Now you may say that alcohol use is not a moral issue, but when a substance reduces my inhibitions, impairs my judgment, and facilitates my decision to engage in immoral behaviour, then it gets dangerously close to being a moral issue. Even a female secular political science professor writing on the growing phenomenon of date rape on college campuses stated, "we can talk all we like of consent, but as long as we are applying that concept to situations in which human beings have reduced themselves to states of drunkenness in which they can barely form words, I don't know how consent can have any meaning."ii

There are those who would say these illustrations are extreme examples of abuse of alcohol and do not fairly represent the responsible social drinker. What about a glass of wine to celebrate my anniversary? My best friend in medical school tried to persuade me that a glass of wine would enhance my dining experience. I told him the story of my grandfather's tragic death after a "social" drink, and he never mentioned it again. Too many times, a "harmless" social or recreational drink has led to a disaster.

The United States alone has an estimated 6 to 10 million alcoholics or problem drinkers, and not one of them ever started thinking they were walking down a path to destruction. As Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (NKJV). We can't take that kind of chance with our lives.

In all this discussion, has anyone really explained why the born-again Christian needs to introduce a mind-altering drug to experience pleasure?

Does the Christian need chemically-induced amnesia to forget the past or do "all things become new" in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17)?

Does the Christian need the euphoria from a bottle of spirits to experience peace, joy, and love, or are these lasting gifts from the Spirit of God?

The evidence in medicine and sociology alone would be enough to convince me personally that alcohol may damage both my body and my relationships with others. It would be a reasonably intelligent decision to avoid alcohol even on this basis alone, but as a Christian, I base my life on the Word of God, and when I read the Bible, the overwhelming evidence points to abstinence as the best way of life.

Let me be quick to point out that the majority of Christians and Christian scholars believe total abstinence to be an extreme position. But we should not base our positions on what the majority says, because the history of humankind has taught us that much of the time, the majority is wrong. Jesus taught that His followers would often be in the minority. I don't mind being called narrow-minded, because Jesus said that His followers would be on the narrow way and the broad, popular road would lead to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).

Look at the Bible record. In Genesis, Noah is publicly humiliated by exposing his nakedness when drunk. Lot enters an incestuous relationship with his daughters while drunk. Babylon falls while soldiers revel in a drunken orgy. Isaiah describes a scene in which "the priests and prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean" (Isaiah 28:7-8). 

What did Jesus say? In one of his last public sermons recorded in Luke 21:34, He said, “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly." Perhaps the most compelling statements are from the apostles of Christ who worked and spoke to those living in anticipation of the Second Advent. Paul says in Ephesians 5:17-18, "Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit" (NKJV). Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:7, "But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." And then that well-known warning in 1 Peter 5:8: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."

If you believe as I do that we are privileged to live in the closing scenes of Earth's history, then you know that we are being subjected to the last desperate and most beguiling deceptions of the Devil who knows his time is short. Never has there been a time when clear thinking, sound judgment, and unimpaired perception were more crucial to God's people. Friends, we cannot remain vigilant when allowing a substance into the body that clouds our minds and impairs our judgments.

How does God communicate with us? Through the mind.

How do we communicate with God? Through the mind.

The question is this: do we want to keep the channel through which God speaks to us clearly open at all times?

CC Sharealike Rob Sinclair on Flickr

What about Paul's advice to Timothy to use wine for his stomach? Some theologians will tell you that the Greek is definitely referring to alcohol. The scholars will tell you this reflected the Palestinian conditions of no refrigeration and that all grape beverages very quickly became alcoholic to some extent. Now, you would have a hard time finding many medical doctors to support the idea of alcohol being beneficial to the stomach. The heart? Yes. The stomach? No.

Alcohol has been clearly linked to gastritis, peptic ulcers, and stomach cancer. Some have suggested that alcohol's bactericidal properties may have been useful in preventing dysentery caused by contaminated water. But even if you could convince me that Paul was suggesting to Timothy that alcohol had medicinal value for Timothy's stomach ailment, you still cannot use this text to support the routine recreational use of alcohol in the Christian lifestyle. It is beyond my understanding why men would advance scholarly, linguistic, and intellectual argument to interpret Biblical text in a way that is out of harmony with other unmistakably clear passages in the Word of God. The simple, plain spoken Word of God in Proverbs 20:1 says: "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise."

We do not need an advanced degree to understand this text. My 9-year-old daughter, Allanna, could explain it. Notice that the words "mock" and "deceived" appear again in the Bible in Paul's warning to the Galatians:

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting (Galatians 6:7-8).

Friends, if the devil is engaged in his last desperate efforts to deceive the world, then there has never been a time when it is more imperative that the Christian remain alert and vigilant, and keep every channel of communication with God remain open. We have no choice but to stand up like Daniel and his friends, even when the majority of other Christian believers say this is an extreme position. If we stand for truth, God will reward us like Daniel, with wisdom and power from on high.


i. Lange, Medical Pharmacology.

ii. Diana J. Schaub, Loyola College.

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