How Did the Phrase, ‘Eat, Drink, and Be Merry’ Become a Positive Thing?

When we assert 'Eat, drink, and be merry,' or 'YOLO', we forget about the promise of eternal life. We need to rest in the fact that God has a wonderful plan for our lives. If we live recklessly, we run the risk of not reaching people with the gospel.

Group of people eating and drinking at a dinner party

If anyone knows anything about me, they know that I love food.

And if I didn’t grow up with a biblical background, I would probably assume the phrase, “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry” had positive connotations. And originally it did (see below). Probably because the phrase, in our culture, isn’t paired with the final part of the verses such as Isaiah 22:13, Ecclesiastes 8:15, 1 Corinthians 15:32, and Luke 12:19) “for tomorrow we die.”

But then again, even if we do include that latter half, our YOLO (you only live once) culture seems to have turned a positive spin on this phrase. Now our culture takes this to mean, “Live it up, because this life is the only one we have.”

Some have gone as far as to say, Solomon promotes a hedonistic lifestyle in Ecclesiastes 8. Why does this phrase have a positive connotation now? How do we respond to the concept of YOLO? And why does this matter?

Let’s dive into these questions!

The Historical Background of 'Eat, Drink, and Be Merry': The Beginnings of YOLO

This concept has been around for millenia. According to GotQuestions.org, of the history and variations on the phrase 'eat, drink, and be merry.' As discussed in the article, it generally promotes a hedonistic lifestyle of living for now since we don't know if we have tomorrow promised.

But, Crosswalk.com suggests that the phrase may have been used or originated during the time of Solomon. Through the depressed lens of the meaningless nature of folly and dizziness of our world, that the speaker encourages us to eat, drink, and be merry. Wait a moment, that seems backwards. Doesn't the Bible tell us to be heaven-minded? Why would the speaker insist we go party it up?

At first glance, that may seem to be what Solomon is insisting we do. But instead, a few verses prior, he condemns wickedness. So he doesn't advocate for meaningless hedonism here. But he also doesn't negate the fact we should enjoy the gifts God has given us, including food and drink. We should celebrate them and God's goodness for giving them.

Nevertheless, history does pollute this phrase and perverts it into something else. One look at a Grecian Bacchanal (or the Roman variation, a Bacchanalia) confirms this. Although God has given to us so many wonderful things, we can abuse them. That's where YOLO and other variations of 'Eat, Drink, and Be Merry," twist the words of Scripture to become a very bad thing.

Why Are YOLO and 'Eat, Drink, and Be Merry," Positive Mantras in Our Culture?

Although “eat, drink, and be merry” has been around for thousands of years, the concept of YOLO came about in the late 20th, early 21stcentury. We’ve only seen the acronym for about 25 years.

The phrase essentially allows for its user to make reckless decisions because “Why not? We’re only on this earth once!”

In a “treat yo’ self” and “do it if it makes you feel good and happy” culture, of course, this mantra would be well-received. Why not put Nutella on your toast instead of jam? Why not buy that pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing? Because #YOLO

But we don’t have to backtrack to 1995 to see this lifestyle in motion.

For instance, let’s take a look at Solomon, who some scholars are claiming is promoting a YOLO of sorts in Ecclesiastes. Solomon liked a lot of women. Unlike the TV series The Bachelor, Solomon decided he didn’t have to choose just one wife and ended up having 700 wives and 300 concubines.

That’s right, 1,000 women in which he had sexual relations (1 Kings 11). He took YOLO to the extreme. Accumulated massive amounts of wealth, in turn, having a lavish lifestyle. And at the end of his life, did he pump his fist into the air and says, “Yeah! YOLO, no regrets!”

No. He realized the meaninglessness of the riches, the wives, the pleasures. Just before we get to the verse in chapter eight, he speaks on wickedness. Most of the time, when a YOLO sort of concept gets introduced into the Bible (see the verses above) the speaker is often carrying a rebuke along with that mantra.

If we only live for now, and only live for ourselves, we’ve lost the meaning of life.

How Should Christians Approach the Concept of YOLO and 'Eat, Drink, and Be Merry'?

With caution.

But wait, God has indeed given us one life on earth to bring others to Him. Shouldn’t we live like we’re going to die, and tell people that they only have one life to get right with God?

Although yes, we should spread the gospel and do so with zeal, we do need to recognize what YOLO in secular culture stands for.

There’s a sort of despair wrapped around the phrase. If only I checked off that last item on my bucket list. If only I got to visit this one country, etc. YOLO is full of regret, impulsivity, and recklessness.

When we assert YOLO, we forget about the promise of eternal life. Also, that God has a plan for our lives and wants us to exercise good stewardship and self-control. If we live reckless lives, we run the risk of not reaching people with the gospel because our dangerous choices lead to mortal peril.

Why Does 'Eat, Drink, and Be Merry' Matter?

Why should we care about phrases like “YOLO” or “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry”?

No Christian grows up in a vacuum. Even though we regularly engage with Scripture, it’s easy for cultural ideals and assertions to find their way into our Christianity. We need to be careful to identify what promotions of a secular lifestyle have sneaked into our core beliefs.

Furthermore, we need to rest in the fact that God has a wonderful plan for our lives. We may not check every box off of our bucket list, but that doesn’t mean we need to act on impulse or always treat ourselves because we only get one life here on earth.

We have no idea about the splendor of heaven or the eternal life that awaits us. But I have a strong feeling that when we get there, those items on our bucket list will pale in comparison.

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headshot of author Hope BolingerHope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,100 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy is out with IlluminateYA. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.