A Time to Sober
The apostle Peter wrote words that ring so true for the times in which we live: “The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray” (1 Peter 4:7, New International Version). More than 1,900 years have elapsed since this Bible text was written and has therefore gained urgency and relevance for us who live so much closer to the end. The apostle directly links sobriety and alertness to the capacity to maintain and promote spiritual life. But what is sobriety? Collins English Dictionary defines sobriety as “the state of being sober rather than drunk.”
Drunkenness paralyzes our moral sensibilities and our ability to pray. It leads to violence and loss of appreciation for the sanctity of life, for the moral responsibility we have toward each other, and for the claims God has on our life.
SATAN ASSAULTS OUR FACULTIES
The brain area responsible for making us human and separate from the rest of the animal species is the prefrontal cortex. In cats, it represents only 3 percent of the total brain mass; in humans, it’s more than 33 percent! That explains why cats can play with a mouse before having it for dinner without the least trace of guilt.
The prefrontal cortex is the seat of spiritual perception, of morality, and of the will. Destroy this cortex, and you destroy the ability of a man to discern spiritual truths, exercise moral judgment, and exert his will. Through the prefrontal cortex, we can communicate with God in prayer and He can influence us through His Spirit and the reading of His Word. Is it any wonder then that the devil has attacked with increasing audacity what enables us to hear and respond to the voice of God? Is it any wonder that his assault on our faculties has increased exponentially since our prophetic message started? Lucifer is a student of prophecy, too! As the end of the 2300 prophetic days approached (1844), he started scaling up his attacks in order to destroy the minds of those who were going to hear the message of the second coming of Jesus.
HE BEGAN WITH ALCOHOL
Alcohol has been with us forever, but in the first half of the nineteenth century, hard liquor consumption increased dramatically. This happened because the price of liquor dropped significantly as the price of sugar necessary in the manufacture of alcohol came down. By the 1820s, whiskey sold for twenty-five cents a gallon, making it cheaper than beer, wine, coffee, tea, or milk. Americans drank seven gallons of pure ethanol per person per year. Drinking became a consuming lifestyle and the latter half of the nineteenth century became known as the golden age of the saloon. Thanks to the Christian temperance movement that engaged in a vigorous campaign against drinking, consumption fortunately leveled off and declined toward the end of the nineteenth century. But then came the twentieth century, and with it, the devil launched his second attack on the prefrontal cortex.
HE USHERED IN CIGARETTES
In 1881 the invention of the automated cigarette-making machine ushered in the mass production of cigarettes. Between 1900 and 1930 cigarette sales increased more than 25-fold. Around 1915, technology made it possible to inhale smoke directly into the airways, and this changed smoking from a
custom to an addiction. Hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world became addicted to nicotine, which reduces the flow of blood to the prefrontal cortex significantly. Nicotine dulls the mind and weakens the will to the point where it is difficult for the habitual smoker to grasp Bible truths and their significance. But thanks to a growing awareness of the heavy burden smoking inflicts on health, as well as cessation programs such as the 5-Day Plan to Stop Smoking introduced by the Church in the 60s, the tide of smoking turned in the 80s to the point where today, only about 14 percent of people smoke in North America.
But the devil was ready with another attack.
HE INTRODUCED OVEREATING
Like at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the cost of sugar (fructose) in the 80s dropped precipitously. The question was what to do with all that sugar. The answer was found in scaling up the size of soda bottles so people would consume more. Where the classic Coca-Cola glass bottle used to be 0.2 liters, it grew to 0.6 liters, and in the case of a large serving of Coke at MacDonald’s, it is now 0.95 liters, containing the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of sugar! This, combined with the fat and the carbohydrates of a burger makes for a lethal assault on our minds and bodies.
In the brain, excess sugar impairs both the cognitive skills and self-control. For many people, having a little sugar stimulates a craving for more. Sugar has drug-like effects in the reward center of the brain. Scientists have proposed that sweet foods—along with salty and fatty foods—can produce addiction-like effects in the human brain, causing the loss of self-control, overeating, and subsequent weight gain. This unleashed the obesity epidemics we observe around us today. In the U.S., 70 percent of the population is either overweight or obese and worldwide, obesity rates have tripled in the past 50 years.
There is also a causal link between what you eat and your risk for depression. Regular eating of fast foods creates brain fog, mood swings, anxiety, violence, and aggression. The more burgers, pizza, and fries people eat, the greater their risk. What we eat matters for every part of our body, but crucially our mental health.
One hundred years before, the servant of the Lord had already written: “Under the influence of unhealthful food, the conscience becomes stupefied, the mind is darkened, and its susceptibility to impressions is impaired” (Counsels on Education, p. 180). How true it is today!
THEN CAME YET ANOTHER ASSAULT: DRUGS
While marijuana is being legalized in various U.S. states and countries around the world, a devastating epidemic is tearing at the fabric of society: painkillers in the form of opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, causing an addiction with deadly consequences. In the U.S. in 2016 alone, 11 billion tablets were distributed causing 77,000 deaths by overdose in 2017. But what strengthens the brain and the prefrontal cortex?
The consumption of fruits, nuts, vegetables, and grains! A diet full of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, and whole grains is associated with a decreased risk for depression and a sharper mind. In contrast, a diet characterized by refined grains, sugary foods, high fat dairy products, high consumption of red and processed meat, as well as minimal amounts of fruits and vegetables, is now associated with an increased chance of developing depression and a reduced ability to make good decisions.
We started with the quote of 1 Peter 4:7: “The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober
mind so that you may pray.” As if that admonition was not enough, Peter repeated it in 5:14 but with a warning: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (New International Version).
In a railway museum in Nairobi, Kenya, a carriage is displayed in which a man was attacked and eaten by a lion. On the 6th of June 1900, Police Superintendent C. H. Ryall had settled for the night with his rifle in the hope of spotting and killing a lion that was terrorizing the small town. Unfortunately, despite the danger, he fell asleep. The lion attacked him and dragged his body through a window and off into the bush.
The devil may not kill us physically like a lion, but certainly, spiritually. He plays with us like the cat with the mouse, dulls our senses, and suppresses our spiritual strength through multiple assaults on our brain until we no longer understand or care about God’s plan for our lives. The closer we come to the end, the more relentless his attempts.
“Satan’s influence is constantly exerted upon men to distract the senses, control the mind for evil, and incite to violence and crime. He weakens the body, darkens the intellect, and debases the soul” (The Desire of Ages, p. 341). Do we have a timely message for our time? Do we have a moral imperative to stay sober? We certainly do: the closer the end, the greater our need to stay alert and sober.
Seventh-day Adventist beliefs are meant to permeate your whole life. Growing out of scriptures that paint a compelling portrait of God, you are invited to explore, experience and know the One who desires to make us whole.