Proverbs 31: 6, 7
“Give strong drink unto him who is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.”
Matthew Henry was no help to me here, so I’m just going to walk through what we’ve learned so far, and what this passage might be talking about.
(For those just joining us, we’re running on the assumption that King Lemuel is King Solomon, and that therefore, the woman giving this instruction to her son is Bathsheba. Obviously, if King Lemuel is not King Solomon, then one would have to look at this passage differently.)
Bathsheba has just told Solomon to stay away from fornication, because it will destroy him, and from strong drink, because it will dull the edge of his prodigious wisdom, and as a king, he needs to keep his wits about him.
Now, she tells him what to do with all the strong drink that’s been amassed. She doesn’t say to throw it out or to tell the ambassadors who brought it what sinners they are to even think of such a thing as bringing alcohol into the courts of Israel.
She says, “Save it for the person who is in great pain,” and she defines that person as one who is going through the agonies of end-of-life physical pain (ready to perish) as well as the person who is in great mental or emotional suffering (of heavy heart).
Trimillennial leap to 2011—anesthetics/anesthesia and Prozac fit here. But note, these pain relievers are not to be used to dull our reason or to keep us from our lives, but to deal with intense pain. To make it go away.
You’d think that this wouldn’t have to be said, but face it, Christians can be really extreme about some issues, and medicine is one of those issues. There are Christians who won’t have anything to do with medicine at all. They believe, I guess, in blasting through intense pain on their own.
I have actually heard people say that, for example, a woman should suffer through the pains of childbirth sans epidural because God decreed that “in pain shall you bear children.” This is a great example, by the way, of the need to determine whether a certain account in Scripture is descriptive or prescriptive. Here, God is simply describing what Eve is going to encounter in childbirth. He is not telling her she must endure that pain in order to maintain her holiness.
Certainly if Adam could find some root that would dull the pain, that would be a good thing. (The corollary to the idea that women shouldn’t take pain meds in childbirth is that Round-Up is of the devil.) (Teeny side thought–if Eve is like any woman I know, she’s not really going to care about the amount of pain; she’s going to say, “What? I’m going to have a baby?!?!!!! Thank you, Jesus!)
While I have no trouble with women who want to go all Amazon Power Ninja and endure twelve hours of ripping contractions and two hours of pushing without “help,” I have a lot of trouble the instant this sort of pain marathon is codified into a holiness statute others feel they must meet.
Why, when we should be constantly, lavishly dealing in grace, grace, grace, do we feel a need to lay burdens on others neither we nor our mothers were able to bear? Why make it harder than it already is?
This present Proverbs passage is at the very least telling us that pain relief (whether for physical or mental/emotional suffering) is to be administered, and it’s a disaster that such a thing even has to be said.
Let’s go ahead and make the 2011 leap again, because the passage clearly deals with emotional suffering: “unto those that be of heavy hearts.” I have heard it said that there is “no such thing” as mental illness, because the mind is not physical and therefore can’t hurt. Call it something else, then, because when a person is suffering intensely so that there are serious manifestations of emotional need, something is wrong. Just because we can’t find it on a CT scan doesn’t mean it isn’t there, my goodness!
When these issues manifest in constant hand-washing, in day-long crying jags, in suicidal or homicidal thoughts, in the inability of the sufferer to understand his own environment, drugs are indicated, at least until such time that the person can organize his thoughts enough to have the proper therapy, whether life counsel, medical, or pastoral intervention.
Here, I’m going to come out and say that not every problem is a sin problem. Okay, maybe it’s a sin problem, but it might not be the sin of the person needing the care. A young woman who was raped, say, in her teens, who is now 29 and is just now manifesting a serious reaction to that event, has not sinned. But she may still need a ton of counseling and she may even need a little “strong drink” of the medical variety to help her through the process. The untrained, inexperienced-with-real-life pastor who keeps on and on and on at her to “confess all known sin” and “trust God” is missing the boat. This girl needs intense help, probably from a woman, probably a woman with at least an MD, at least a prescription pad. Yeah, yeah, sure, a woman with an MD and a Nouthetic Counseling certificate on her wall (Jay Adams signature required).
(Pause for long diatribe in readers’ minds about rampant Freudian mumbo-jumbo, psychobabble, soft-on-sin slippery-slopers.)
Back to Thought:
We are harder on ourselves and our fellow humans than God is. We make people power through without help. Bathsheba says, “Give the girl a Xanax.”
Give the poor soul some anti-depressants to calm him down so he can take a more settled look at what the situation is. There are vitamin deficiencies, sleep deprivations, stress overloads and so forth that can cause the manifestations of serious mental disturbance. There are backstories of such magnitude that it is a wonder the person can walk around in a functional way.
If it’s manifesting in a physical way, there may be a physical (medical) help for it. Lightbulb: crying is physical. Inability to sleep is physical. Heart pounding anxiety is physical. Just sayin’.
(Pause for “worry is a sin!” comments to settle.)
Bathsheba is telling us that when someone is in pain, it is okay for them to have a bit of help in the medication department.
The next part is fascinating: “Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.”
We know that the word poverty can’t mean lack of economic means, because we’re talking about someone who is ready to perish or is suffering a great emotional distress. However, a peek at Strong’s Concordance tells that every other time this word is used, it does indicate actual economic poverty.
I’m going to go out on a limb and just say that it can’t mean lack of dollars here, because it doesn’t make sense to tell poor people to drink to forget their poverty. (Dr. Barrett says “It can’t mean what it can’t mean.”) That’s how alcoholics are made.
Perhaps Bathsheba is saying, “Look, the poor man is dying, and he can’t even afford strong drink to help him forget. You give it to him.” This meaning is far too shocking for us, though, because it would seem to indicate a governmental health care situation, than which nothing would be more shocking to my readers. Unless, perhaps, Solomon is to take this to mean that he personally should go around finding poor people to assist, rather than to do this in his governmental office as King.
(Pause. Deep breath. Laugh a little bit at people choking on Obamacare in Proverbs. Except that Obamacare would require the poor man to purchase the policy that would allow the King to bring him the bottle in his distress.) (Castigate self for referring to the President’s Health Care law as “Obamacare,” especially when it has done so much good for our particular family.)
Note also that the purpose of the strong drink for the poor sufferer is so that he will “forget” what is going on. The Old Testament version of Versed, that lovely medicine that allows you to go through horrible procedures, but then not remember it afterwards. The strong drink is not given so that the poor guy will be able to bear up under it, or power through, or cope with. It’s so that he can forget about it.
I bring this up because we are often extremely interested in being all Pilgrim-tough. I mean, they bore up through a winter in New England when half of them died! We, their spiritual children should be able to endure a colonoscopy without suffering PTSD. We should be able to have a man beat us, leave us, and never send a dollar without crying about it day and night! Wassamattayou? Can’t you cope??? Don’t you know anti-depressants are an expression of unbelief? (Side note: during all the time I took post-partum-depression help, I continued to believe in the inspiration of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, the Creation of man by the direct act of God, the incarnation and virgin birth…)
We are wired to tough things out, to heroically navigate the riptides of life, to bravely cope with physical and emotional disaster, when God, at least here, is kinder than that, and says, in effect: “You know what? Go ahead and escape for a while so you can forget your distress.”
This really has to mean strong drink or medical sedation, because, as anyone knows who has suffered great and intense pain (of either variety, physical or emotional), you can’t forget about it for one nanosecond. When people tell you to go out on the town to “get your mind off it,” it’s still all you’re thinking about. Intense pain can’t be forgotten without deep, peaceful sleep or without the pain actually being removed, whether by time, by healing, or by medical intervention in the form of drugs.
(Pause to consider writing a long paragraph about medical marijuana to relieve the intense pain of say, Stage 4 cancer, but then realize that while Morphine is certainly a righteous choice in such a situation, medical emjay is definitely beyond The Pale, so just stop it, Sharon, and I mean, right now!)
The poor man who is dying is going to die, so there is no after for us to consider, except that his family will be comforted that he died in peace, not in agonies of intense suffering.
The person who suffers from emotional anguish does come out on the other side. That is, as they say, after you can’t cry one more tear, you have to do something. True, and there will be a lot of work involved, a lot of prayer, a lot of counsel, a lot of reconciliation, a lot of plain ol’ moving on, going ahead. But what is allowed here is that in the moment of anguish, you can take a little wine for your heart’s sake. Call it wine. Call it ibuprofen with codeine, Imitrex, Xanax, whatever. All these things come out of God’s dirt, are manipulated into help by brilliant scientists, gifted by God to heal, to help, to give relief.
Now, obviously, I’m not condoning drugs-for-all any more than Bathsheba is. She’s saying, “Don’t you have any, but if someone is in great need, you give him some.”
That’s all she’s saying. That’s all I’m saying.