By David Brickner
Jews for Jesus
There is a lot of partying going on this month in some Jewish and Christian circles and most of it will not honor the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. I am referring to the celebrations of Mardi Gras and Purim which occur on February 16 and 28 respectively. These two festivals have a lot in common and many who celebrate them with reckless abandon1 are proof that a "party life" without God at the center is no real fun at all.
Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday" and takes place exactly 46 days before Easter. It is supposed to be a festive meal signaling the beginning of Lent, a time when many Christians commemorate the passion and suffering of Jesus.
Purim is Hebrew for "Lots" and takes place one month prior to Passover. It is supposed to be a festive meal celebrating the deliverance of the Jewish people from destruction at the hand of Haman as recorded in the book of Esther.
Along with the festive meals, both celebrations have been used as an excuse for a great deal of frivolity, costuming, parties and, sadly, drunkenness and debauchery.
Anyone who has seen the news coverage of Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will know that drunkenness and public nudity are commonplace. This year sixteen members of the "Lady Godiva Riding Club" will reportedly be parading naked through the streets of New Orleans in salute of the pop music star, Lady Gaga. And that is just one of the more tame elements on display this year.
Not quite so obvious or extreme are many Purim celebrations, particularly among the Orthodox Jewish community. The Talmud (Megillah 7b)2 states that one should drink on Purim until he can no longer tell the difference between cursing the villain, Haman, and cheering the hero, Mordechai. And that is exactly what will be happening later this month, even in many synagogues.
I'm not saying that God doesn't enjoy a good party, or that He is some kind of celestial killjoy. He created the world and everything in it. And when He was finished with His creation, He called everything He had made good. Even nudity was a good thing... in the beginning. What is more, God intended for human beings to enjoy His creation, to celebrate and worship His greatness and power, and even to have some fun and maybe a measure of frivolity as we do so.
In fact, the Lord instructed the people of Israel regarding a portion of their tithe to God: "You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires; for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household" (Deuteronomy 14:26). That sure sounds like a party to me. Buy whatever your heart desires. Rejoice with your whole household. Have wine or strong drink. In other words, God tells us to throw the best party we can afford or imagine.
Likewise, in Proverbs 5:19 Solomon instructs a young man concerning marital love. God created the human body and He was very happy for humans to enjoy — even to be enraptured by — the bodies of our mates. But there is one important guiding factor in all of this, and that is the matter of showing godly restraint. When what God has created is misused or abused, what is good can become very ugly and unhealthy. That is how two festivals that were originally supposed to direct our attention to God become occasions for such bad behavior.
Sin entered the world and with it alienation and separation from God. Through the absence of godly restraint, sin really does take the joy out of all the good things God created. Sin is the true killjoy in a life that God intends for us to take pleasure in. Sex is to be enjoyed, but within the confines of marriage. We see biblical examples of how wine and strong drink can be enjoyed, but there is to be no drunkenness.
Proverbs 29:18 tells us that "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint," and it is the lack of this godly restraint that is painfully obvious on the streets of New Orleans and in many Purim celebrations.
People who choose to ignore the Word of God may try to enjoy the gifts of God — but they miss out on the real joy of celebrating the presence of God in their lives. Everything becomes distorted when people want to enjoy the things that God created without inviting Him to the party. True joy is found when God is at the center of the party and we celebrate His truth with the gifts He has given us.
Unfortunately, many believers overreact to the unrighteous abuses of God's gifts. They make parties that most people would never want to attend. Their restraint isn't godly; it is downright stultifying. If they are having any fun at all, they haven't notified their faces or the aesthetics of their celebrations. When believers are dour and dull they don't give anyone the impression that inviting God to a party is a good idea.
It seems to me that those of us who really know God ought to throw the best kinds of parties. When He truly is the Guest of honor at our celebrations, we will go the extra mile to welcome Him and celebrate His presence. We ought to excel in fun-loving, joy–filled celebrations and the kind of exuberance that makes God smile.
No doubt, as Ecclesiastes tells us, there are times for sadness and refraining from embracing and celebration. But there are also times for laughing and embracing and dancing (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). We who know and love the Lord ought to be the best at celebrating His goodness. The Bible tells us that the heaven that awaits us is full of festive meals and celebration — a party that God himself will throw for those who have responded to His invitation.
I believe that we who have already responded should get the party started sooner rather than later. Perhaps those who have been trying to "party hard" outside of God's presence will get a taste of His goodness as they see us celebrate Him... and maybe they will want to come along to the real party in the now and in the forever.
1. There are also numerous wonderful ways to honor God in Purim, and my family and friends have enjoyed many of them.
2. Talmud is a compilation of rabbinic commentary and tradition.