Chapter 4: So What is Wrong with Eating, Drinking, and Getting Married?
Some things in life should be obviously wrong. Or are they? I can recall an incident that happened one night when, as a young adult, I was still living at home. About midnight, I heard a commotion outside my bedroom window. From what I could hear, someone was evidently having fun. As I got up and looked out my window, I couldn’t believe the sight that met my eyes. Two guys were in the process of ripping our white picket fence right out of the ground. They were laughing loudly, enjoying themselves immensely. They were also obviously under the influence of alcohol.
It took them only a couple of minutes to dislodge our fence and walk away with it triumphantly perched on their shoulders. I watched intently as they took our fence into a house on the other side of the street! When morning came, I called the police to tell them some guys had stolen our fence. In only a matter of minutes, no less than one paddy wagon and three police cars pulled up beside the perpetrators’ house. I thought that we must have busted a drug ring!
What really had happened was this: the guys who lived in the house were throwing a party for their girlfriends and had apparently run out of wood for their fireplace. Not wanting to ruin their romantic setting, they, of course, set out to find some wood to keep the fire going. In other words, “Need firewood - find white picket fence.” Because they were inebriated at the time, they did not even realize their actions were wrong. The end simply justified the means. Getting firewood was the goal, and how they got it did not matter.
We can look at them and criticize them for their lack of ethical discernment. But what about us? We think we’re okay because we don’t commit such blatantly obvious sins. God thinks differently, however. God is the only reason we exist. This is the most fundamental principle of life on this planet. Yet it is the one axiom we most often forget. Most of our conscious moments are spent believing we are the only reason we exist. Life is all about us - our plans, our abilities, our desires, our hopes, and our accomplishments. We view ourselves as being at the center of the universe.
What we must remember, however, is that all of life is contingent on the truth and reality of Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Indeed, nothing else makes sense in the realm of human life unless Genesis 1:1 is absolutely true. We breathe, we think, we live, and we prosper only because God exists. Now I know you might be thinking: “Tell me something I don’t know already. That is so simple. Quit stating the obvious!” Yet I can’t think of a more profound and more significant truth than this one: “God is the only reason you and I exist.”
The sad fact is that the majority of humans live out their lives unaware that Somebody Else is the sole reason they’re here. I have observed far too many people whose lives have been consumed by nothing else but horizontal, temporal realities such as eating, sleeping, working, and playing. Such individuals never seem to give any serious thought to the fact that they are but an insignificant speck on an insignificant planet, in the midst of an immense galaxy that is hurling through space in an infinitely vast universe.
Jesus said this: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26). What’s the clear inference behind this profound statement? It’s this: there is something intrinsic within us that goes far beyond the temporal realm of our human existence. A person could gain everything this world has to offer yet lose the one thing that is of incalculable value - his eternal soul.
Indeed, if we were just the products of a naturalistic, evolutionary process, then it would not be necessary to go vertical. Life could be lived without any thought of the eternal, because everyone’s life would unequivocally terminate at death - forever.
But, praise God! Genesis 1:1 precludes us from living out just as mindless and ultimately meaningless existence on earth. There is a rational reason why we are here and that is to love and bring honour to the One who has made us. Yet throughout most of our lives, we can easily live in ignorance of and contradiction to the very reason for our existence. What we must understand is that God doesn’t take this kind of oversight lightly.
Jesus gave a striking illustration of this in Matthew 24. He stated that at the end of the age, before God opens up the floodgates of his divine wrath upon the world, life on this planet will be a reflection of the days of Noah. So what was going on in the days of Noah, Lord? Jesus’ response: the people of that time were eating, drinking, and getting married. “Hey, wait a minute!” we say. “What’s so terrible about that to cause God to want to wipe out everybody out with a flood? Isn’t that way too harsh? There’s nothing wrong with eating, drinking, and tying the knot - is there?” God’s response: “Yes, there is if you leave Me out of the picture!”
There is no more fundamental or grievous sin against God than this: living out our lives believing and acting like we’re the only reason why we’re here and He is not the only reason why we’re here. When we categorize sins, we tend to put the usual “big ones” at the top of the list: adultery, genocide, etc. As heinous as these sins may be, they are not what invoke God’s most scathing judgement against humanity.
Remember the parable of the rich fool, in Luke 12:16-21? God stepped abruptly into this man’s life one night and terminated it. And for what – only for wanting to build bigger barns because he had an unexpected bumper crop? We understandably ask, “Was this just? Was this really fair? Sure, the guy may have had more than a slight ego problem but was that sufficient cause to bump him off?” God’s response: “Yes, it was!”
What had this rich fool done to deserve such swift and severe judgment from God? Simply this: he had ignored the most fundamental principle of life: God is the only reason anyone exists. Because that is true, it is never right to take personal credit for anything we accomplish in this life. We wouldn’t be able to succeed at doing anything if God did not grant us life and breath. The rich fool didn’t go vertical and acknowledge this reality. Therefore, in this instance, it cost him his life. So here is the bottom line point Christ was communicating from this parable. Being constantly cognizant of the reason we exist is very serious business with God.
Yet isn’t this the one thing we struggle with most, even as Christians? We know intellectually that God exists and that He has given us life. But these fundamental truths seldom impact our consciousness in the course of daily life. We have a propensity to live as practical atheists. What we know about God often does not translate into how we live before God.
Going vertical is therefore not a simple matter. It is truly something that deserves serious consideration in every believer’s life. We, as a Christian community, must return to the most basic axioms of our earthly existence. Going vertical is where we must begin. Going vertical is the perspective we must maintain if we are going to live effectively and victoriously for God.
We have wandered far away from living God-conscious lives. We have become consumed instead with living out the realities of an earth-side, temporal existence. We must recapture the belief that living vertically is more important than satisfying our earthly desires or even the need to eat and drink. Now don’t get me wrong! I’m certainly not saying that we must starve ourselves, if we’re going to maintain a vertical perspective. What I am saying is that connecting with God must always come first, even taking precedence over giving attention to the basic necessities of life. Let’s explore how this principle was fleshed out in the lives of several key characters in the Bible.
The book of Esther in the Old Testament records one of the most fascinating stories in Scripture. A very interesting anomaly is the fact that the name of God is not once mentioned throughout the entire book. Here is a brief summary of what Esther’s story is all about. The Jewish nation, (living as captive slaves in the lands of Media and Persia), was in jeopardy of being wiped out. Haman, the king’s right-hand man who wanted greater power at any cost, had put a sinister plot into motion to make this become a reality. However, Esther, who was just a common Jewish woman, had at the same time through the sovereign providence of God, become queen. Her strategic position made her the one person who was in the best position to try to initiate something to nullify Haman’s evil plot.
Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, told her she needed to go before the king and “make supplication to him and plead before him for her people” (Esther 4:8). Esther reported back to Mordecai that she had not seen the king for thirty days, and she would be risking her life to enter into his throne room without a formal invitation. He then sent back word to her, reinforcing the fact that God had divinely placed her within the kingdom for such a crucial time as this.
So what did Esther do next as she faced such an excruciating decision? She went vertical, but even more pertinent to our topic at hand is how Esther proposed that she and her people get in touch with heaven: 'Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!" (Esther 4:16, emphasis added).
Now here’s what we must keep in mind about Esther’s response. She could have very easily gone horizontal on this one. Esther was a very beautiful woman. That’s the reason why, at least from King Xerxes’ perspective, she became queen. Therefore, she could have simply reasoned in her mind that to gain the king’s favor she would only need to put on her most glamorous garments and knock the eyes of her husband-king right out of their sockets when she made her grand entrance into his presence.
Instead, she did something quite unglamorous and astonishing. She called for a fast. By so doing, I believe it was Esther’s intention to communicate this: “People, we have got to lay aside the most basic necessities of life. We have got to get in touch with God and plead with Him to intercede in this situation so that my life and, potentially, the life of every Jew in this and the surrounding nations will be spared.”
Esther recognized life’s most vital truth: “God is the only reason we exist and He is sovereign over the entire known universe. Therefore in present overwhelming and despairing scenario, He is the only hope we, as a people, have for survival.” Esther and the rest of her people could have continued to live out a normal routine of human existence, eating and drinking and ultimately relying on their own strength and human ingenuity to save the day. However, she realized that going vertical collectively and crying out to God for His divine intervention was their only hope of salvation.
God honored Esther’s vertical response. He granted Esther a favorable reception in the king’s presence, and the Jewish nation would eventually escape annihilation all because Esther understood that getting in touch with God was even more important than eating or drinking.
There’s another great example, recorded for us in the Old Testament book of Daniel, of several young men who made going vertical their number one priority when facing unfavorable circumstances. However, their story comes with an added twist. The names of these young men were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. They too, like Esther, were slaves in the same foreign land. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had given an order to Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to search out the best looking and most intelligent of the male Hebrew slaves. That is where our four young men same into the picture. Now being chosen by a king’s official because your appearance is striking and your intelligence is superior would seem to be a very fortunate break, especially when you’re living as a slave in a foreign environment.
Furthermore, Daniel and his three friends were going to be able to enjoy the privilege of eating a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and drinking the very same wine as their monarch. “Wow! Let’s dig in,” would have been the immediate response of most guys to this kind of proposition. You’ve got to remember too that it was very likely Daniel and his three friends were teenagers at this time. And if you’re a parent and have teenage sons, you know how quickly they can clean out your fridge. The king’s proposal was therefore truly a temptation to those young men!
However, Daniel did something completely unexpected. He said flat out “No” to both the food and the wine. Why on earth would he do such a thing? There’s an old saying that you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Daniel didn’t even want to look at the horse! Daniel 1:8 substantiates this: "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself."
Daniel went vertical. He resolutely refused to satisfy his own taste buds. Why did he make this choice? I believe that it goes right back to this principle; Daniel was convinced God was the only reason he existed. Thus, he must take God into account before participating in any earthly activity – even eating! The king’s food and the king’s wine were not, in and of themselves, innately sinful substances. But Daniel recognized that even essential things such as eating and drinking could become wrong if participating in such activities could potentially violate his relationship with God.
The primary reason Daniel refused the king’s menu was because the food and drink that came from the king’s court was first offered to the pagan gods of that culture. Daniel was not going to partake of anything that had a direct connection with a false religion. God has explicitly instructed His chosen people that they were to not have or acknowledge any other gods before Him (Exod. 20:3).
The bottom line for Daniel was this: his God was far more important than his stomach. Daniel could have easily adopted a horizontal, humanistic approach to the scenario. He did not. He made the intentional choice to go vertical and instructed the king’s official to bring him and his friends veggies and H2O instead!
What was the end result? At the end of ten days, the text tells us that the countenances of Daniel and his three friends “appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies” (Dan. 1:15). Now here’s the really cool thing about all of this. Because Daniel chose to go vertical in the events of chapter 1, we have Daniel chapters 2 to 12 today. Because Daniel had concluded in his mind, “Yes, God exists and He does matter,” God blessed this young man’s resolve and opened up an amazing pathway of blessings and privilege in his life that he could never have dreamed would have been remotely possible. You will have to read the rest of the story for yourself!
There’s one more Old Testament account that warrants our present attention. Let’s take a look at the small but famous book of Jonah. The prophet Jonah had been commissioned by God to go and preach to the people of Nineveh and proclaim that their wickedness was about to invoke His divine judgment. Well, you know the story. He ran away, got on a ship, was thrown overboard and was immediately swallowed by a great fish. Three days and nights later, after crying out to God in humble repentance (Jonah 2), the fish burped him up on shore, and he finally started trekking toward Nineveh. Upon arriving there, Jonah did not even have a prepared sermon text. Only after entering the city did God tell him what to preach: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). A very short and straight-to-the-point message indeed!
Now let’s stop here and make a very pertinent observation. The people of Nineveh were not your average kind of friendly neighbourhood folk. They were exactly the opposite. The Ninevites were notorious for their rampant immorality, their witchcraft, and their callous cruelty in war. It doesn’t sound like the best location to plant a church! But something truly incredible happened. The one place on earth you would least think a revival could occur experiences exactly that. “So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.” (Jonah 3:5). If that wasn’t amazing enough, something even more remarkable followed:
"Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published thought Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish'?” (Jonah 3:6-9, emphasis added).
There’s something here so vital that we can’t afford to miss it. Up to that point in their lives the Ninevites were completely horizontal in their worldview. They were humanistic to the core. They existed solely for fleshly pursuits of indulgence and power. Eating, drinking, plundering, and partying were their only way of life.
However, God’s message spoken through the lips of a reluctant prophet penetrated to the very core of their souls and brought about the most radical transformation and greatest three-day revival history has ever known. It’s fascinating to note what the Ninevites did once they went vertical. The very first thing they did was to declare a fast. And the very first thing the king did was to put that same response into royal law, forbidding his subjects to even taste one morsel of food or drink one drop of water.
What happened to the people of Nineveh and their king? For the first time in their lives, they became acutely aware of life’s most fundamental principle: God is the only reason we exist. They realized that, in light of their record of heinous acts of wickedness, they had better set aside even the basic necessities of life and do serious business with God, or this awesome, infinitely powerful God would do some serious business with them.
Obviously there’s nothing essentially wrong with eating, drinking, or getting married, unless we’re engaging in those activities oblivious to the fact that God is the only reason we exist. The reality is that the majority of the people living today have relegated God to almost total irrelevance and obscurity. And let’s hasten to remind ourselves that the Christian community is not exempt either. Far too many of us, especially in the North American evangelical context, have become much too horizontal in our world view. Yes, we unreseverably proclaim we believe in the Bible and its essential core doctrines. But have these beliefs really translated into us living our practical lives by vertical, eternal realities?
I come from the Baptist tradition. It seems within the context of our church life we can’t get by without “fun, food, and fellowship.” Now I love to eat and interact with other Christians. But how often do we set food aside to earnestly seek God and confess the sins in our lives that are an affront to His holy character? How often do we proclaim a fast to plead with God for the souls of men, women, and children who are headed straight to a Christ-less, heaven-less eternity?
Are we really living as if we’re absolutely convinced God is the only reason we have earthly existence and that eternity matters more than fleeting temporal pursuits? The time has come for some honest self-reflection among God’s people. Perhaps it is truly time to solemnly consider putting away the chips and dip, the veggie tray, and the punch bowl and cry out instead to God.
Let’s continue to explore how we can go vertical. It’s possible, even in the face of intense temptation to live to honor God rather than satisfy worldly lusts. But before we go any further, let’s take the time to reflect and consider the following “bottom-line truths” for our lives.
What’s the BLT? The easiest way to live our lives is to be consumed with earthly, horizontal realities. Instead, let’s live our lives believing God is the only reason we have earthly existence.