Suffering and Strong Drink

by | Sep 10, 2021 | Devotional | 1 comment

After twenty years of American military presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban took over the country in a week. Analysts point to corruption as a leading cause for the former government’s lightning-quick demise. The watching world now fully expects human rights abuses to increase under the new regime. There was injustice before and new injustices will continue. But injustice is not a unique phenomenon to Afghanistan. You don’t have to look hard to find it almost everywhere, under every government.

The end of the Book of Proverbs includes some of God’s guidance for a king—a government leader. The beginning of Prov. 31 says a good king shouldn’t allow the pursuit of pleasure with the ladies to consume him. Neither should a good king consume so much alcohol he can’t rule with a clear head. A good king also helps the powerless. But there’s also some guidance on how to help those suffering and struggling:

Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more (Prov. 31:6–7).

A colorful scene from a unique story illuminates how we might approach these verses. In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, one leg of the little prince’s journey takes him to a series of small planets. One of these is populated solely by a drunkard.

This visit was a very brief one, but it plunged the little prince into a deep depression. 

“What are you doing there?” he asked the drunkard, whom he found sunk in silence before a collection of empty bottles and a collection of full ones. 

“Drinking,” replied the drinkard, with a gloomy expression.

“Why are you drinking?” the little prince asked.

“To forget,” replied the drunkard.

“To forget what?” inquired the little prince, who was already feeling sorry for him.

“To forget that I’m ashamed,” confessed the drunkard, hanging his head. 

“What are you ashamed of?” inquired the little prince, who wanted to help. 

“Of drinking!” concluded the drunkard, withdrawing into silence for good. And the little prince went on his way, puzzled (34–35).  

The Little Prince meets a drunkard—a drunkard drinking to forget he’s ashamed of drinking. 

That sounds exactly what the king’s mother appears to prescribe in Proverbs 31. In these wise words intended to guide the king, there are instructions to medicate the miserable with alcohol. But it seems more likely that her point is a sarcastic one. Giving suffering people alcohol to dull their pain is one hypothetical course of action the king could take. But enabling them to drown their sorrows won’t really solve anything apart from dulling their sense of pain (508–509).  

The drunkard in The Little Prince drinks to forget his pain. He doesn’t see any hope for his situation. The hypothetical miserable people in these verses of Proverbs also see no hope in sight. But the wise words from the king’s mother give the king this role—to give the people hope. 

Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy (Prov. 31:8–9). 

The implication for the king is that there’s a better course of action. He can actually act to help these people. The king’s role is to speak up for the down and out. He’s there to enact justice. He’s supposed to be the defender of the weak. 

No matter where you live, you don’t have a perfect government—not by a long stretch. And while Christians might enjoy debating the role of the church when it comes to doing justice, we know God is just, that He values justice, and that He commands us to love our neighbor (cf. Deut. 32:4; Heb. 11:33; Mark 12:31). We also know Christ will rule with perfect justice. Isaiah tells us how Jesus will one day rule as king. He will be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”—upholding His kingdom with justice and with righteousness (Isa. 9:6–7).

Widespread injustice might make you feel hopeless. People have no doubt become drunkards over less. Wanting to see justice is desirable. Working for the cause of justice is desirable. But we should recognize that we won’t see perfect justice until the Lord Jesus is on the throne. Until then, injustice should pressure our hearts to long for perfect justice. People have been wronged and oppressed since the introduction of sin. But this will not always be so. 

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.

1 Comment

  1. Mike Aubrey

    This piece in the New Yorker was a deeply sobering read for me about the many, many decades of violence and pain in that country. It was a long read and it wasn’t an easy read, but I think it is an important one.

    The Other Afghan Women

Brent Niedergall