In the UK, we probably live in a time when it’s more possible than ever to eat and drink without thought or control – and we see the consequence in city centres on Saturday nights and in diabetes clinics. So chapter 23 of Proverbs seems very relevant.
Mostly, the advice is about behaviour when eating and drinking with others – about being careful whose table we share, because it’s around food and drink that wisdom is easily forgotten, and that envy and ambition for the fine things in life can take hold.
There’s a call to be careful generally whose company we keep – it’s often said that ‘bad friends ruin good character’, but there’s surely a positive side! People who lift our vision and aspiration can shape our character for good just as much as the lazy, the glutton and the drunkard can drag us downward.
Then there’s the particular advice to avoid drunkenness – not just because it leads us into unwise decisions (sleeping on top of a mast?) but because it becomes a habit, a means to avoid pain and then an addiction (v.35). If we deaden the pain of the struggles of life, we learn nothing from them, benefit no-one else and slide down a path of denial and spiritual shrinking.
The Ancient Greeks taught that part of education was to learn to be moderately drunk, and still to speak coherently and decide wisely. ‘In vino veritas’, ‘in wine, truth’ was the idea that when our inhibitions are lowered by alcohol, our true self emerges. Hebrew wisdom seems to have a more straightforward approach. Don’t get drunk. The ‘you’ that emerges with wine may be part of you, but it is not the part that has potential for wisdom, for growth and for relationship with God.
Perhaps it’s not so much ‘moderation in all things’ as ‘awareness of the consequences in all things’. Not so catchy a slogan, but a bit more useful.