Saturday, 9 June 2012

Mea Maxima Culpa

My wife and I had four friends from our old church in Diss over last night to enjoy homegrown pizza together.  It was - if I say so myself - a hoot.  In good company I drank a lot of wine and, as Luther might put it, right freely!  Luther, of course makes an excellent point here, but despite which there is still no getting round the biblical injunction against getting drunk.  Why do the biblical authors make this point (see here)?  The obvious, and most boring answer, is that drunkenness is a stepping stone to other forms of debauchery; e.g. get drunk and you might find yourself flirting, fighting or otherwise disgracing yourself, etc.  That's fine, but of course that wouldn't really have been much of a temptation last night; it was just a group of friends enjoying each other's company over wine and pizza.  Why not drink to excess?

The answer I would suggest is not to do with the effects of alcohol on inhibitions after having drank too much, but rather the state of disordered desires that precedes the excess, and of which the drinking is a physical manifestation.  That is, excessive alcohol consumption is symptomatic of a kind of incontinent appetite, a grasping, greedy reaching over and over again for something that in itself is a social good.  In this sense, to drink too much is no different from eating too much or buying too much, or any other manifestation of an 'I must have' mentality.  To be sure, alcohol also incorporates lowered inhibitions that can be unhelpful, but essentially the problem with all of these manifestations of an incontinent appetite rests not so much in the behaviour itself but in its opposition to who God is as pure self-giving generosity, as the opposite of an 'I must have' appetite.  It is because God is the opposite of the open, desiring mouth that just wants more, more, more, that drinking too much is wrong.  As such, the solution to the problem of drinking too much is not necessarily cutting back, but rather in drawing closer to Him who is pure self-giving love and becoming like Him in his total (violent, even) generosity.  This is not to give licence to excessive drinking, but rather to acknowledge that drinking or not drinking are not the point, as neither represent a better, more godly position than the other.  

I hope I've explained myself clearly.  I'm not arguing for drunkenness, but neither am I arguing for sobriety as being good or bad in themselves; I'm arguing for being transformed (intoxicated) by the Spirit, and drawn into the circle of God's expanding love in Christ, and allowing that love to rightly organise one's appetites.  Only transformed and reordered desire towards Christ can solve the problem of drunkenness and sobriety.  



  1. That is amazing, especially that unbelievable bit about you having four friends!

    Serious observations aside, this is a really good article on a subject that, if Luther had his way, would make church meetings much more interesting!!

  2. And yet.... I can't help but wonder... does the reordering of desire towards Christ become a work in the person or a work of grace by the Spirit? Does one have to desire the right desire, a desire which the Spirit can do business with, which sounds like it comes close to works( because the person starts the process), or does the grace of Christ over-rule all and get the job done (which suggests an over-riding of a persons desire)?
    Do you get me?

  3. Yes, I get you. Basically, how active are we in the reordering of our desire, and does this activity count as a kind of 'work' on our behalf?

    A couple of points that i would raise; firstly, it is helpful to recognise that our desire is not something that comes from our will. Our will and our desire are alienated from one another. This comes across (for what it's worth) in both theology and psychoanalysis. In this sense, we never get to choose our desire, it - in a sense - chooses us. Our will does operate in relation to our desire, but it is a horribly damaged will, more or less incapable of withstanding our desire.

    Secondly, I believe that the work of reordering our desire is the Spirit's role. That is, even if we were capable of turning our affections and desire towards Christ it would be a mere fleshly affection or desire. Such desire would be good on it's level as a purely natural phenomenon, but it would not be Spirit-led love. And that goes to the heart of the merry-tidings of Christianity, that we are NOT called to volunteer our natural love for Christ and join it to the love within the Trinity. We are instead invited to participate in the divine love that already exists between Father, Son, and Spirit. As such, all our fleshly affections, even when it is directed rightly, needs to die and be replaced with His perfect love.

    Finally, then, I would say that what we DO, what we bring to our salvation is throw our self upon the mercy of God in Christ, and even this is not a doing in the normal sense of the word. Throwing oneself onto the mercy of God in Christ in fact is the end of any self-grounded efficacy of the will the intellect or the affections, being something that one does at the very point at which doing anything in one’s own power no longer has any meaning. It is the opposite of a work of the flesh. (See my post on sin and temptation here: