Cheers

Michael Metzger

God gives us wine to make us happy (Psalm 104:15). Not happy as in getting drunk or tipsy, but happy in a way that depicts the spousal view of salvation.

With Covid-19, surveys indicate we’re buying more wine. And drinking it more. And more of the wine drinking is happening at home (obviously). Some of this is due to covid raising our collective anxiety. Drinking wine makes us happy. But is there more to it than that?

I think so. The happiness described in Psalm 104 is evident in a distinction made by Nicola Perullois, a professor of aesthetics at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. He says we’ve shifted the meaning of wine from knowing with wine to knowing about wine.

Knowing about wine is relying on a wine ratings system, the product of professionals tasting wine by airing it, examining it, sniffing it, sipping it – and then spitting it all out. This method is now widely considered to be the ‘correct’ approach to know about wine and its value.

It’s a scientific approach completely devoid of context, the whole experience of wine. Small wonder it began in academia (the University of California at Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology). The goal of this ‘science’ was to provide unbiased, ‘objective’ evaluations.

The result is an arbitrary system of classifying and rating wines. This yields preposterous descriptions of wines. Deep purple colour. Aromas of rich dark currants, nectarine skins, gushing blackberry, but lots of fragrant tobacco, rich soil, white flowers, smashed minerals and metal.

That’s an actual professional review. Think the average wine drinker tastes all this? Unlikely. It’s the occupational hazard of knowing about wine – exaggerated expertise. Professional reviewers have to keep concocting over-the-top metaphors to describe wines. Nice work if you can get it.

There’s a better way, an older model, Perullois writes. Knowing with wine, recognizing “wine can never be torn out of the world in which it’s drunk.” In this model, “wine as an exemplar of another worldview.” It is not an object to be measured but an encounter to be experienced.

I think he’s right. Wine is a door into another world. Think about it – God doesn’t give us actual wine. He creates raw materials – grapes, soil, sunlight, rainfall, seasons. We work with him as sub-creators, making wine. This is knowing with wine, knowing God with wine, making us very happy.

This happiness reflects a spousal view of salvation. In the Bible, knowing is nuptial union (Gen.4:1), which makes happily married couples very happy. We know God – the Father, Son, and Spirit – because they sought to “wed” their joy with us. Nuptial union depicts this, being with God, making us very happy.

We see the spousal view of salvation in older church traditions. They tend to be sacramental (meaning God is present in the entirety of creation), so they see the inherent goodness of wine. They see to see the real presence of Jesus in wine – he is with us. We know with wine that Jesus betrothed us with his blood of the New Covenant, a marital covenant.

It’s no coincidence that the transition from wine to grape juice is recent in the 2000-year history of the church, happening in the 1800s almost entirely in American evangelical traditions. They tend to see no real presence of Jesus in the bread and wine (merely symbolic). So grape juice is served based on the fact that drinking alcohol can be abused. There are however ways to work around alcoholism in communion. You can read about them here.

Knowing with wine is why the psalmist writes, “Taste and see the Lord is good” (Ps.34:8). The Hebrew “taste” is more than merely tasting. It is perceiving, which includes an element of contemplation, or as Heraclitus says, of “listening to the essence of things.”[1] In knowing with wine – tasting that the Lord is good – we see the essence of the gospel. God is our husband (Isa.54:5). We are his betrothed (Hos.2:19). Marriage depicts this mystery (Eph.5:32).

It seems to even explain the origin of “cheers,” which originated from the old French word chiere meaning “face.” By the 18th century, it meant being with friends, facing them and wishing them happiness. Jesus’ bride, with unveiled faces, beholds her Lord (II Cor.3:18). God gives us wine to depict this, for he wishes us happiness.

Cheers!

[1] Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture (Ignatius, 1952), 28.

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3 thoughts on “Cheers”

  1. I have heard the reason for substituting grape juice for wine (besides the temperance angle) is because the grape juice represents the “New Wine” and the New Covenant as opposed to the “Old Wine” of the Old Covenant.

    Thanks for the link on alternatives. As a teetotaler, I have never developed a taste for wine and think it is a waste of good grape juice…:-)

  2. Knowing with wine makes me think of “in vino veritas “. It’s more than just that wine can loosen your tongue, but that you can discover truth somehow. I imagine the wedding party at Cana was happy Jesus didn’t turn the water into grape juice. So I say “zum wohl” and “za vash zdoroviya”!

  3. “…airing it, examining it, sniffing it, sipping it – and then spitting it all out.” Sounds like dating! “God doesn’t give us actual wine. He creates raw materials – grapes, soil, sunlight, rainfall, seasons. We work with him as sub-creators, making wine.” Leon Kass remarks in The Hungry Soul that bread too is “biblical” especially because we co-make it with our Maker as sub-creators. I don’t remember what I’m about to say being said: wine & bread both reach a certain maturity – a peak in their brief lives – and then they turn sour. Best consumed at their peak. That they even HAVE a peak is indicative of marital expression. Jesus was consumed at His peak? Maybe so?

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