|A Theology of Beer
Saw a sign this week outside a restaurant where I had lunch with a couple of friends. It caught my eye as I walked in, I kept thinking about it through the meal, and I looked at it again as I left to try and make sure to remember it. It was a quote attributed to Ben Franklin:
Beer – Proof that God loves you and wants you to be happy.
The reason the sign caught my attention, I suppose, is that I grew up in the Bible Belt. Down there God doesn’t approve of beer. The “best” Christians in the church in which I grew up didn’t drink beer or wine or anything alcoholic. Sometimes one of us rebellious teenagers would ask why it was wrong to drink and someone would trot out the Bible verses (and there are many) that warn against drunkenness. The message was clear: alcoholic beverages were bad.
And then I noticed some other verses. Drink offerings -- sacrifices to God -- consisting of wine poured out by the altar. Part of the covenant God made with Israel was that, if they would be faithful, he would send rain so that they may “gather in” their “grain, new wine, and olive oil.” (Deuteronomy 11:14) The psalmist praises God because “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.” (Psalm 104:14-15) The writer of Proverbs promises that if you “honor God with your wealth…your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10) The prophet Isaiah pictures God’s banquet in the time of the Messiah as “a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines.” (Isaiah 25:6)
So it turns out that the Bible shares, at least in part, the perspective on McNamara’s sign. “Beer – Proof that God loves you and wants you to be happy.” If that sentiment bothers you, then replace beer with something else. Chocolate? Music? Poetry? Football? How about sex – would that be more shocking than beer, or less? Surf pounding on a beach on a sunny day? The view from a mountain as the sun sets over a snowy valley? My point is not that you should drink beer or wine; there are good reasons not to drink alcohol. The point is that the creation around us is good. It is evidence, positive proof, that the Creator loves us and wants us to be happy.
He could have made the world colorless and tasteless, but he chose not to. He made it possible for human beings to experience joy and pleasure, and we need not be ashamed of that. Instead of building fences around part of God’s creation and putting up signs that say “keep off,” wouldn’t it be better if we were led by our experience of God’s creation to praise him as the source of all our blessings, a good, loving, generous Creator who keeps the wine flowing and the chocolate coming?
Oh, I’m quite aware that wine and beer, or sex, or chocolate for that matter, can be abused and twisted and cause a lot of damage. But that doesn’t mean that the creation itself is evil, and in fact we have a big problem if we imagine that it is. We’re stuck with a God who couldn’t get creation right.
Remember Jesus’ first miracle in the gospel of John? It’s not a healing. It’s not raising someone from the dead. It’s not a huge catch of fish nor the stilling of a storm. No, with all the miracles that Jesus performed at his fingertips, John decides to tell us about Jesus turning water into wine when the cellars run dry at a wedding.
That miracle used to bother me, if you want to know the truth. Forgive me, but it always seemed a bit trivial. And then there was the whole angle of the wine: Jesus makes more wine, when the guests had already probably had enough? Apparently I wasn’t the only one bothered by it; I remember hearing preachers strain to convince us that the wine Jesus made was non-alcoholic (even though it was the “best”?).
But don’t you think it would be all right for us to just acknowledge that yes, Jesus made wine, and he made good wine, and he made lots of it, and that he did it because, frankly, Jesus liked a good party too. That in itself doesn’t call Jesus’ morality into question, and the fact that Christians sometimes understand it that way might betray how deeply we’ve bought into the proposition that there’s something wrong with parts of God’s creation. Jesus, God incarnate himself, chooses to make wine at a wedding celebration because he’s the Creator and he wants to impart his creation to the human beings who he inexplicably loves so much.
But it’s more than that, too. In Jesus’ time the people were waiting for a Messiah, the king who would bring to a culmination all the promises that God had ever made to his people. This Messiah would usher in a time of peace and joy and prosperity like God’s people had never seen. “Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.” (Joel 2:23-34) John begins his story of Jesus with Jesus making water jars for ceremonial washing into overflowing wine vats, and in doing so he claims that in Jesus the age-old promises of prosperity and abundance are fulfilled. He makes wine, the best wine, to point to the kindness and grace and love that his Father is pouring out through his life and death and resurrection.
I didn’t have a beer at McNamara’s. I still don’t drink. But I had a cheeseburger, and as I thanked God for it and ate it I remembered that sign, and that burger reminded me that God does indeed love me and that he wants me to be happy. I know, it was just a burger. But it was also tangible proof of God’s generosity, his kindness and grace and love. It reminded me of the blessings he has poured out on me – especially at the cross.
I hope that you can look at God’s creation in that way, as tangible proof that he loves you and wants you to be happy. I hope that you will celebrate that and praise God for it. And I hope that your eyes will be raised past the creation and to the cross, God’s ultimate proof that he loves you and wants you to be happy.
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