They say the Messiah of the world understands all our human sins. God became man, subjected himself to every fleshly temptation, felt the darkness that tugs in our moments of shame, knew what it meant to be born into waywardness. But he alone fought sin and won. He was perfect. He was holy. He was God in human form, divine mystery as that is, and He never stumbled or fell.
So he probably didn’t count calories, I think to myself. Certainly he wouldn’t obsess over his weight. Or eat his emotions. Or let body image control him. He wouldn’t hide in his room at 2 a.m., clutching a jar of Nutella in one hand and glancing at the door in trepidation, terrified of his roommates catching him on a binge.
Jesus wouldn’t have done this, I murmur to myself. But He’s the only One who can make me stop.
Gluttony goes unmentioned in most of the Christian circles I’ve frequented. There’s a taboo about the word, perhaps because we are afraid of being politically incorrect. We don’t want to offend anyone. We don’t want to get too personal. You know what they say about never commenting on a girl’s weight. Body image is complex enough as it is. God forbid that we mix religion into our dieting issues.
The word itself seems archaic. It conjures medieval illustrations of the seven deadly sins, brings to mind images of some carnal demon sunken in globs of its own deadly fat. Surely no one struggles with that today, we think. If they did, we’d know. Obesity would reveal itself, squishing a pudgy “SINNER” label brighter than any scarlet letter on the bulging cheeks of whatever glutton might be waddling around. Surely this sin is outdated. Not here. Not in our church. Not us, the millennial Christians, all young and fit and bright.
Food triggers a knee-jerk reaction in us. We can’t even stand Michael Bloomberg telling us to put our sodas away, let alone consider that God might have something to say about what we eat. What if God wants to put us on a diet? The Christian is aghast. Might He judge me based on something so mundane as my bodily habits? It’s just food, OK? It’s what I eat. It’s my comfort. It’s my guilty little pleasure.
Christianity is spiritual, not physical, some say. It’s about fulfillment of heart. My stomach has nothing to do with it.
Part of me agrees. But it’s the same part of me that doesn’t know how to be full. It’s the part that swerves out of control in moments of stress, that loses track of the difference between enjoying and being enslaved to food, that can’t stop even at the moment when I know I’ve had too much. It’s going to hurt. But no matter, it thinks, just one bite more, one more taste and maybe then I will be satisfied.
It’s the part of me that I hate.
The danger of gluttony is that it is so easily dismissed. Dualistic worldviews separate the mind and body, spirit and stomach. So gluttony is glazed over, deemed a fleshly struggle, an insignificant physical proclivity that does not bear on the real matters of deeper spiritual satisfaction.
Yet Scripture is clear that Christ transforms not just our minds and spirits but our entire bodies – stomachs included.1 Health journals tell us that weight isn’t everything. Fitness is different from slimness, and there are plenty of skinny-fat people walking around. I posit that there are skinny-sinful people as well. Gluttony reaches beyond body mass index, weight or nutrition or tone: it is a condition of heart, a state of dissatisfaction, incapacity to trust in God, a sin.
Gluttony is a sin and it rips one apart, Christian or non-Christian, male or female, skinny or fat. It’s a sin that glides and gloats unnoticed, lurking in the corners of our own unthinking excess. It is toxic, all the more because we so rarely acknowledge it.
Some gluttons give in to fleshliness. We know no temperance. We sneak too much food and eat it in hiding. If we stop and consider why we’re ashamed, it’s because we know that we are not being filled. Our fullness is not coming from where it should be. We cannot trust God to fill us, so we are seized with a desperate need to provide for ourselves. Stuff our stomachs until they hurt. Make things okay, right now, in the moment, binge.
Other gluttons just live in fear. We cannot taste or enjoy what we eat. Instead, we pick at things, scared that we might gain weight, lose tone, spin wildly out of control at any moment. We clutch for power over our own bodies, yelling, “If I cannot control anything else I will chisel my body, whip myself into adequacy, prove that if I have no other worth at least I will look good enough for something.” We grunt and trudge along and sweat to prove our worth. Yet however little we weigh, however much muscle we gain, however gingerly we refrain from veering even a single calorie over our quotas, it is never enough.
Barbara Cawthorne Crafton writes in a Lenten meditation that we have forgotten what moderation means, and that this is poison to our spirits.2 We find ourselves flinging into extremes, unable to live in calm, veering into unmeasured binges of food or emotion or work – why? Because we are afraid.
At its heart, gluttony comes from distrust. More than an issue of self-control, gluttony is rooted in fear. My gluttony comes from the dangerous lie of thinking that I can be satisfied in something other than God. I’m afraid to trust God, so I grasp at control through bodily means. Ironically and sadly, I become constantly and insatiably hungry. I forget that satisfaction is spiritual. The heart and stomach are closely linked, and when the former is empty, the latter cannot feel full.
Gluttons act like orphans. We don’t believe in grace, the idea that God spreads a banqueting table before us and invites us to abundant fellowship with Him. We’d rather deny that grace, either because it’s too good to be true or because it forces us to admit that we don’t deserve it. We crawl on the floor and stuff ourselves with scraps because we don’t trust that He’ll let us sit at the table.
If gluttony stems not from carbohydrates but from distrust, then its solution lies not in a diet but in a relationship.
The Christian glutton needs to remember who his father is. He needs this story in Deuteronomy, which tells of how God treated His children: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”3
In this sin battle, as in so many others, the Christian God wins by outweighing and out-loving His competitors. He operates by passion rather than restraint. His message is not one of dieting and holding back. It’s one of finding a love that makes you so full you could not possibly lust after another bite.
“Taste and see that the LORD is good,” the Bible says.4 In other words, He loves us! He loves us infinitely. He loves us with ferocity. His love won’t run dry. He is good, kind, and He will provide.
This call comes from a God who hates gluttony, not because he doesn’t want us to eat, but because He died to give His children the only fullness that can truly satisfy. His call is not about denying our desires but about changing our appetites entirely. It is to be in love with a God who makes all else pale in comparison. It is to know that He is my Father, He will feed me, and that is enough. He fills me so I don’t even want to sin anymore, don’t need that brownie to fill my gaping void, so I can look my idols in the face and say, I see no appeal in you. I’m full. I’m so full. I’m overflowing. I couldn’t even think of taking in anything else.
- 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 (NIV). [↩]
- See the reflection at http://www.plough.com/en/articles/2010/february/living-lent [↩]
- Deuteronomy 8:3. [↩]
- Psalm 34:8. [↩]