Monday, September 3, 2012

Thinking Through the Sin of Gluttony

I did something perhaps somewhat out of character for me this week.  I started Weight Watchers for Men online.  It's definitely not something I'd normally do, nor am I super excited about doing it.  In a round about way, which I hope to explain in this post, it's gotten me thinking about the sin of gluttony.  And any time I can think about sin and its potential for me to be a part of my life, it's a good thing.  So if nothing else, joining Weight Watchers has been a good excuse for me to think about some things I haven't thought about in too much depth before, such as gluttony.

One of the members of our summer Bible study group has brought up a few times how she believes that one of the prevailing sins in the U.S. is the sin of gluttony.  This is significant, if for no other reason, than that it seems to be a more "acceptable" sin in America, as opposed to infidelity, homosexuality, or abortion, or whatever sin you want to fill in the blank with.  Put simply, we Americans are for the most part, OK with gluttony, even though it is clearly sinful behavior.

While I think this is accurate, I also don't think that the sin of gluttony applies only to food, nor do I think that anyone that is overweight is automatically guilty of gluttony.  I've been overweight literally since the day I was born (just a half-ounce shy of ten pounds at birth).  I've always been big for my age, and this continued on into adulthood.  I've never been particularly obsessed with food, nor have I ever felt as though I had to eat, or that I eat for emotional reasons.  Some people are just bigger - that's just the way it is.  There are ton of factors that can come in to play when it comes to a person's weight.  So to simply label someone as a glutton because he or she is overweight is neither wise nor accurate.

Furthermore, I don't think the Bible is always speaking about about food when it refers to the sin of gluttony.  So then what is gluttony, biblically speaking?  The Bible never directly defines gluttony, but it gives several pictures of what it looks like, which is basically overindulgence in something, commonly described in the Bible as an over-indulgence in food or drink.  Why is it bad to overindulge in food and drink?  It's certainly not wise, for one thing.  If someone spends all his or her time and effort on eating and drinking, there won't be much else to life.  Moreover, a person could spend all his livelihood on food and drink and have nothing left over (Proverbs 23.20-21).  Being obsessed with eating and drinking is certainly not a way to eat and drink to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10.31).

But there's something else going on with gluttony, as there is with all sin.  A certain action is not only sinful, but the action reveals the condition of the heart, and this is where the main problem with gluttony lies.  Gluttony has a feeling of idolatry to it.  In other words, gluttony is also described in scripture as the practice of being obsessed with food.  Not so much in eating it necessarily, but worrying about it; thinking about it; being consumed by it.  I think this probably applies to wanting food all the time, overeating, or worrying about food (such as not having enough, and worrying where the next meal is coming from, or even obsessing over not eating food so as to meet the requirements of a diet plan or to attain a certain body image, etc.; see Philippians 3.19 and Matthew 6.25 and 31-33).  The sin of gluttony manifests itself in the action of eating, but what's going on in the heart is either a worship of self (wanting to have all my physical needs filled), or a disbelief in God's provision, leading to overeating and constant worry about food.

Strangely enough, perhaps, I think joining Weight Watchers has shown me how gluttony can also take place by way of becoming obsessed with avoiding food.  This is, I think, a type of gluttony.  Being on a diet plan can cause one to think about food all the time - what I'm eating, how much I'm eating, how much I'd really like to eat something else, or making sure I save enough "points" so that I have enough leftover at the end of the day to indulge in something I really want.  For example, now that I'm watching what I eat, I realize how much I want pizza.  Not that there's anything wrong with wanting and enjoying pizza, but there is something wrong with constantly thinking about how much I want pizza, and finding my satisfaction in enjoying pizza rather than in enjoying God (again, this concept applies to more than just food, but that's the stream I'm on right now, so I'll stick with that).

This is not to say that there's anything inherently sinful about Weight Watchers, but it can be sinful to obsess over food, even if it's obsessing over avoiding food.  What's interesting is that I'm not sure I had this much of a problem with gluttony until I joined Weight Watchers.  Or maybe it's just being exposed in me as I see what I'm eating and not eating, as some of my true attitudes toward food are coming to the surface.  Either way, it's a good reason to examine my heart, motivations, and attitude about food.  If nothing else, it's helpful to ponder how one actually does eat and drink to the glory of God.

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