A (brief) word for these times?

I was reading the 5th chapter of the First Letter to the Thessalonians recently, in my trusty RSV version, and I came across the following injunctions: “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober…” (vv 6-8a)

I was struck by the word “sober”.  (The NIV uses “self-controlled” both times.)

The word “sober” is not a fashionable one. We seem to use it only in the sense of “not drunk”. But traditionally it means a lot more than that. The various definitions of “sober” in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary include “temperate…not addicted to strong drink… free from the influence of intoxicating liquor… grave, serious, solemn: indicating a serious mind or purpose…not readily excited or carried away… (of clothes) subdued in tone… dull…guided by sound reason…” Interestingly, “self-controlled” is not mentioned although perhaps implied.

Obviously Paul does not want the Thessalonians to get drunk, but he presumably does expect them to sleep, so his advice must be partly metaphorical. And it’s good advice.

I think “sober” has an unfairly bad reputation (C. S. Lewis in “The Screwtape Letters” says the same thing about “Puritanical”, of course…) Surely by at least some of these definitions it’s possible to be sober and cheerful, or sober and happy.

But not sober and panicky.

I note a tendency in myself to feel a bit panicky about various things in the world, one of which is going to happen on November 8th.  But the world has always contained scary things.

It may be appropriate at times to be angry, to be distressed, to be exhilarated, and even occasionally to be terrified.

But not panicky.

Perhaps it’s just another way of saying “Trust in God”, but I think I’ll try to stay sober on Tuesday.

Love from the PPI Blogger


  • Tanya Marlow

    6th November 2016 at 7:38 pm Reply

    I really like your angle on this- thanks for sharing with me! Sober is a word we don’t often think about in its wider sense

  • Clint Redwood

    7th November 2016 at 8:06 pm Reply

    Interestingly, the bit of the Thessalonians verse that struck me when reading this article, was the bit about being awake. While it’s easy to understand why perhaps drunkenness is bad, this verse treats being asleep in the same way, as a feature of the night.

    Much of what I take in from people like Rob Bell is about “waking up” – similar in some ways to mindfulness – not letting your life pass you by, but intentionally living – making informed and conscious choices rather than just “going along with it” – thinking for oneself rather than simply accepting what the press/government/church etc. tell you is true.

    It may be that after Tuesday I will have to intentional abjure sobriety for some time. Four years perhaps?

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