Wednesday, 1 May 2019

In praise of a sweet tooth

Eat honey... for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. Proverbs 24:13

I once dropped a slice of toast and honey (yum yum) on the floor - and you’ll never guess what happened. It landed honey side up. Wahay! I thought, this really is my lucky day.

Well, I don’t know if you like honey. But I hope you do, because the Bible says you should eat it. (Mind you, I can’t quite believe that on the Day of Judgment God is going to look disapprovingly at anyone and say, “Well, I’m sorry, but as I scrutinise your earthly life I can’t help noticing that you didn’t eat honey regularly. Would you care to explain this disobedience on your part?” No. I suspect that he may be more interested in such little matters as pride, greed, anger, honesty, moral purity, don’t you?)

I find the Book of Proverbs intriguing. It’s great for dipping into: there are some profound and thought-provoking verses - and some others which, if I am to be completely honest, seem odd, even a bit wacky. And this is one: why would God tell us to “eat honey”, of all things?

One thing is certain: this isn’t a text which should be taken literally - though I have a nasty feeling that somewhere in the world there is a church called “The Church of the Faithful Honey-Eaters”, or some such thing. (A bit like those crazy churches which release venomous snakes into their services, on the basis of Mark 16:18, a verse which probably isn’t part of the original Bible anyway. Yes, such churches really do exist.)

No, this is a verse intended to spark off a train of thought. Let me share one or two of mine. The first is, I must admit, a bit of a stretch; the second is at least plausible; and the third gets us to the heart of it.

First, is it meant to get us thinking about our diet? Honey is a health-giving food, so this command can prompt the question, Am I a healthy eater?

Many of us live in parts of the world where junk food is everywhere available - and very tempting. Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions. How many of us are risking damage to our health through bad eating habits? The New Testament tells us that if we are Christians our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). So shouldn’t we take care to look after them well?

Many Christians are very strict when it comes to drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Which is good. But there are plenty of other health-damaging habits we can get into, aren’t there?

Second, perhaps this verse speaks to us about enjoying the good things of life. Honey, after all, is sweet and energising.

In 1 Samuel 14 Jonathan and his troops are fainting for lack of food in the midst of battle. But they find honey in the woods, so Jonathan “dipped his staff” into the honeycomb and “raised it to his mouth”, whereupon “his eyes brightened”.

So could God be suggesting to us that there is nothing wrong with an occasional treat? Life is pretty grey if we never have special things to look forward to.

Jesus wasn’t ashamed to go to dinner-parties. Indeed, according to Matthew 11:19 he was accused of over-indulging in alcohol. Of course we mustn’t take anything to excess (see Proverbs 25:16 for an important companion verse to this one), but God doesn’t expect his people to be sour and stone-faced. He wants us to enjoy the good things he has provided.

Third, and this is surely the main point, this verse speaks about wisdom.

We have focussed on Proverbs 24:13 - but what about the next verse? “Know also that wisdom is like honey for you; if you find it there is a future hope for you...”

Ah! - it seems that the writer is using honey as a metaphor for wisdom. Just as honey is good for your body and your spirits, so wisdom is good for your soul. Convincing? I think so.

But... how do we get wisdom? In essence, by giving God time in our lives - time to pray, to think, to talk with wise fellow-Christians, to read his word and to reflect on it.

Wise people are desperately needed in our troubled and restless world, which is so awash with shallowness, lies, fake news, sensationalism, celebrity-worship, coarseness and vulgarity, you name it. But such people are in short supply. Where are they ultimately to be found if not among the people of God? And that means - yes - you and me.

Perhaps you can come up with some other applications for this funny little verse. Please let me know if you do. But if we resolve to become men and women soaked with God-given wisdom, I think we will have got a vital truth from it.

Lord God, thank you for filling this beautiful world with good and enjoyable things. Help me to make use of them in a Christ-like way. And, most of all, may I grow in wisdom day by day.

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