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Vats of Good Cheer

Celtic poem from 10th century Ireland:

laughingjesus.jpgI would like to have the men of Heaven
In my own house:
With vats of good cheer
laid out for them.

I would like to have the three Marys,
Their fame is so great.
I would like people
From every corner of Heaven.

I would like them to be cheerful
In their drinking.
I would like to have Jesus too
Here amongst them.

I would like a great lake of beer
For the King of Kings,
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family
Drinking it through all eternity.

* * *

Quite the festivity, wouldn’t you say? Yet what else would “a great lake of beer” produce but a rollicking good time.

Sad we don’t think of heaven in these terms anymore.

In fact, some would say that beer and Jesus just don’t mix. Don’t tell that to the Irish Celts. The most supreme celebration they could imagine was “a great lake of beer, for the King of Kings” and to watch “Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.”

That’s one long party.

I grew up in an alcoholic home, so I understand the damage that drinking can do. Nevertheless, I think it’s pretty clear that God has not instituted a Divine Prohibition. There’s many passages that illustrate this, but one of my favorites is from the Psalms:

[God] makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate — bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart. (Ps. 104:14-15 NIV)

Not only does God not act as enforcer on some Kingdom-wide alcohol embargo, He serves up the drinks Himself.

The reason for this seems simple: “wine… gladdens the heart of man.”

If I’m not mistaken, good cheer is a big issue with God.

Perhaps that’s why when Scripture speaks of alcohol, it often connects it with gladness and celebration. For instance, Zechariah. 10:7 says that when God saves His people, their hearts shall be glad as with wine. Ecclesiastes 9:7 says “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do” (NIV). And of No smiling day.jpgcourse, Jesus turned water to wine at a party (Jn. 2). In the simplest sense, God gave us wine so we could laugh.

This appears to be a problem for not a few Christians. Not only are some believers still stuck in an era of Divine Prohibition, they’re quite sour in the process.

I’ve come to believe that Christians have as much problem with laughter as they do with drinking, so it’s no wonder the two are connected.

During the Holy Laughter phase of the charismatic movement in the early 90’s, I visited several services where the phenomenon was supposedly occurring. Holy laughter was believed to be a spontaneous outbreak of unbridled joy, usually accompanied by. . . laughter. Riotous laughter. Unfettered laughter. Side splitting, tears-streaming-down-your-face laughter. The services were often quite chaotic. Whatever you happen to believe about this stuff (and there’s many good reasons to be skeptical of it), I feel like most Christians need a good laugh, so I was a tad less critical.

Down through the centuries, the saints have frowned on laughter. By the 4th century, church leader John Chrysostom declared that Jesus never laughed. This is why many medieval paintings portray Jesus as serene and always sober. Christendom’s sense of humor didn’t improve much over the next millennium. In the 1400s, the Council of Constance decreed that any minister or monk who spoke “jocular words such as to provoke laughter” would be damned to hell. Wow! This laughter thing is serious business.

Seems laughter has always carried a stiff sentence in the Church. Charles Spurgeon was often criticized for his use of humor. On one occasion, he answered one of his critics by saying, “Ma’am, if you knew how much I held back, you’d commend me.” But the Church is still full of gloom-inducing Pharisees. H. L. Mencken once defined a Puritan as someone with the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. It’s sad, but many people still view Christians as sour-pusses — stern, cheerless guardians of the stiff upper lip.

A Gallup poll once found that half of all Americans thought that Jesus was not fun-loving. There is considerable debate, as to whether or not Jesus really laughed. I mean, the Bible never says He did. But then the laughter_1926_03_a0.jpgBible never specified a lot of actions Jesus did. We know Jesus liked to party — and parties are usually about… laughter. And drinking. His first miracle not only involved alcohol, but it occurred at a party. I cannot imagine the Son of God sitting there stone-faced as this batch of miracle brew was uncorked, can you? He frolicked with little children (Matt. 19:13-15), something which is hard to do without, at least, a giggle.

In his 1964 classic The Humor of Christ, Elton Trueblood suggests that we cannot begin to understand Christ’s life and teaching, without acknowledging the joy, wit and whimsy He brought to this world. So great was His mirth and celebration, Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunk (Luke 7:33-34).

In fact, one of the greatest days in Church history, was the day God’s people were accused of being drunk. The Holy Spirit descended and a party ensued (Acts 2); eventually thousands of new Christians “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (2:46-47). Amidst the tongue-speaking, Spirit-induced inebriation, the only possible explanation was…

“They have had too much wine” (Acts 2:13).

The Apostle Peter’s response is equally telling, “These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” (vs. 19), essentially saying Happy Hour didn’t start till later.

Perhaps the Church’s biggest problem is that Christians are no longer accused of being drunk. We are accused of being priggish, dreary, stuffed shirts. Our spokespeople are less like barkeeps serving up good cheer and more like funeral directors arranging flowers for corpses. We’ve cornered the market on scowling and left laughter for the late night comedians.

No wonder half of Americans believe Jesus isn’t fun loving, when half of His people are sticks in the mud.

Oh, that Christians were accused of being drunk more often — so full of the Spirit that mirth and gaiety flowed from our homes and churches into a broken world, making people scratch their heads and yearn to join in. As the band Delirious puts it in their song, Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble:

Open up the doors and let the music play,
Let the streets resound with singing;
Songs that bring Your hope
Songs that bring Your joy,
Dancers who dance upon injustice.

Note: Opening up the church doors would also let some fresh air in. And provided we have a hopeful, joyous song, cranking up the tunes might be just what the neighborhood needs. Who cares about curfew when the entire street is rocking.

Sorry, but I’m with the Celts on this one: I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings, and I would like to be watching Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.

So my fellow believers, let us raise a toast, and pour out “vats of good cheer.”

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • T. W. Johnson November 7, 2013, 7:08 AM

    Mike, before I was born, my parents drank. My father became a Christian first. On the day of his conversion, however, he prayed to God to deliver him from drinking and cursing—it happened instantly. When he accepted Christ, the desire to drink (be it socially or otherwise) along with his swearing habit immediately left him. My mother changed not too long afterward. In all my years, I’ve never once seen them deviate. That’s a good testimony, I’d say. Anyway, they’ve always taught me that drinking, whether socially or not, does nothing beneficial. I’m saying this not because of some strict, religious upbringing, but rather from their life experiences.

    Here’s something else to consider.

    (4) It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:

    (5) Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.

    (6) Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.

    (7) Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

    Proverbs 31:4-7 (KJV)

    Okay, so wine and strong drink is not for kings or princes, right? Which means that doesn’t apply to us average Joes. I don’t know about that.

    (9) But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

    1 Peter 2:9 (KJV)

    Okay, so Christians are considered as royalty according to scripture.

    Apparently, beer and such is for those that are about to die, and wine is for people with heartaches. Their only refuge from the trials and tribulations of life is oblivion in a bottle. Why, though? God’s word teaches that Christ is our refuge and strength. With Him, there’s no need for oblivion.

  • Gray Rinehart November 7, 2013, 10:28 AM

    Do you have a source for that poem, and is there any more to it? If I have a chance, I’m going to either set it to music as-is or write an adaptation into a song.

    Keep up the fine work!

  • Jessica E. Thomas November 7, 2013, 10:36 AM

    The Bible obviously doesn’t prohibit wine. However, foods eaten in Biblical times were different than modern foods. They didn’t have food processing plants. They couldn’t mass-refine or mass-produce (or mass ferment).

    Also, I don’t need wine to laugh. I go to a church where laughter is the norm, and no one is under the influence (that I’m aware of!), so I’m not resonating with your post. In fact, I laugh *more* when I’m not partaking of any foods within the refined carbohydrate spectrum.

    I think it’s important to remember, to, that Paul tells us to be sober. I don’t translate that to meaning never cracking a smile. The fruit of the spirit seem very conducive to smiling (and laughing). But being sober in the way Paul is using the term (to me) means being ready to stand at attention and be ready to act the moment God calls. (Which one cannot do when they are drunk.)

    As one who has struggled with sugar addiction, I know I’m in bad shape when I start fantasizing about diving into a vat of ice cream. Remember that commercial of the guy struggling to tread water in a glass of beer? (It might have only been local.) I’ve never been an alcoholic, but I still very much know that feeling. And when my thoughts are on *sugar sugar sugar* they are not on God. So, when I read the poem you referenced, I hear someone who is too fond of their beer to the point of distraction. Sure, throw the name Jesus in there, to make is sound more permissible, but the true test is this: If there was no wine or beer in heaven (or in my case, chocolate or ice cream), would you still want to go? If a person can’t answer “yes” to this question, there’s a problem.

    • J.S. Clark November 10, 2013, 8:47 AM

      I don’t know about that. Firstly, I’d go back to Deuteronomy 14:26, where God tells his people to turn their tithe offerings into money, go to Jerusalem, and there buy and enjoy whatever their heart strongly desires and specifically mentions wine and strong drink. This would be an odd thing for God to command if it was inherently bad.

      That leaves it at being good, if used in a godly context of rejoicing and thanksgiving. I would throw in an easy definition of drunkenness being the amount at which you can no longer obey God. In other words you’ve chosen to have it over God’s righteousness. That doesn’t mean the moment at which you feel it’s effect anymore than gluttony starts when your hunger isn’t ringing the doorbell.

      If so, then would I want to go to Heaven if something good was not there, whether wine, sugar, or friends? No. Not because God is not enough, but because God has not promised us a place where we have to choose to do without goodness. If Heaven had God, but not goodness, I argue it’s not Heaven. So I see it as a false dilemma. I don’t have to choose between x-good and God (at least not there). I’m sure even there one would not drink all the time because a life that close to communion with God will be a balanced one. I don’t drink too much now, not because I deny myself, but because if I take it with gladness and rejoicing, literally worship to God, then eventually I am satisfied. I stop drinking because I’m satisfied. And that’s just the way God designed it. People living in worship to him, enjoying him through his creation. It’s like asking someone to choose to love their mother or enjoy the dinner she cooked, but not both.

  • ginaburgess November 7, 2013, 10:52 AM

    Amen. Preach it, brother 🙂

    Laughter doeth the heart good like medicine!

  • Katherine Coble November 7, 2013, 1:12 PM

    I put that picture on my blog (the one of Jesus laughing) many years ago. There was a three week argument about how heretical it was.

    I was really weirded out.

  • RJB November 7, 2013, 1:51 PM

    I read a study a few years back that said that Southern Baptists had the highest incidence of alcoholism of the religions they surveyed. The one with the least was the Jewish faith. They surmised that the reason was when you have a zero tolerance doctrine then once a person has drunk one beer, the sin is done, why not finish the case. Whereas religions that taught use with limits, or even included alcohol in their religious ceremonies had much less incidence of alcoholism.
    I understand why Christians would choose not to drink; it has destroyed many members of my family. But to make it doctrine is legalism.

  • D.M. Dutcher November 7, 2013, 2:01 PM

    I hate to be the stick in the mud, but:

    “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

    “‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.’

    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, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

    Jesus in Matt 11 was pretty cynical about this. G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy talks about how Christianity would get attacked for being too gloomy and too optimistic at the same time. I don’t think that what we do is the only thing that affects how the world sees us. A libertine age will see Christianity as Puritan, and a repressed age as libertine, and sometimes people are both at the same time.

    I think you’re right though, but more that we need to loosen up. Not that in doing so we’ll make Christianity more attractive, but we need to drink wine (to use an expression) so that we can have joy in living and not just be adversaries to the world. I think that many times we realize we are so different that it makes us mildy neurotic when we should relax and enjoy God and life. For how well the Christian story ends, I think Christians worry an awful lot about it.

  • Jill November 7, 2013, 2:19 PM

    When I was immature, I was serious and focused. Pleasure seeking was vanity to me. As I’ve matured, I’ve slowly realized the importance of fun. I’m still learning. I still have to fight with myself to force myself to do fun things because I really don’t enjoy doing fun things. I’m trying to lighten up and not be such a Scrooge. Wine is part of it; relationships are part of it. It’s a matter of refocusing. I suppose if I’d been a hedonist when I was younger, my path of development would look different. So, although your post resonates with me, I can see it not resonating with others. I can imagine that there are those who need to become sober and begin taking life a little more seriously.

    • Teddi Deppner November 7, 2013, 6:29 PM

      Great point, Jill, about seasons of life. There’s a time for being more serious than we were. There’s a time for being more glad than we were.

      Not everyone is in a season of celebration, and sometimes it’s hard to hear this message when it’s not “where you’re at”. Love your balanced approach.

  • Teddi Deppner November 7, 2013, 6:28 PM

    Ah, Mike, I can’t “like” this enough!

    God has me on a part of my journey where I am seeking out the joy I once had, the laughter and humor and delight. I suspect there’s even more than I ever had before, actually.

    With a nod towards the destructive power of addiction and the obvious ills of the wrong use of mind-altering substances, I agree that many Christians could really use a good dose of “heart-gladdening”.

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