These days, even the White House is worried about how big Americans are getting. In the west, we weigh significantly more per person than any other generation anywhere in the history of the world. Healthcare professionals, educators and parents are all concerned. There are heaps of initiatives to address the problem before “we are all physically touching each other all the time,” as Jerry Seinfeld quipped.
Thing is, almost nobody is seeing the fat issue as an expression of a heart issue: an idolatry of food. That’s what gluttony is, whether or not our BMI is over 30. Because gluttony is a heart issue, it’s not just overweight people who are sinning here. There are all sorts of ways to be gluttonous while maintaining a socially acceptable figure. Here are a few:
1. Obsess about the origins of your food. Is it local? Organic? Fresh? There are eating disorders growing out of a right concern with the modern food industry: people who won’t eat something unless they are sure that it was picked by hand less than two hours ago from an organic farm by a caring person who was well paid. Were the chickens happy, were the cows relaxed, were the plants flourishing in virgin soil? It is right to care for creation—plants, animals, and other people—by working to prevent careless dominion, cruelty, and unfair employment. But we are not God and cannot fully control or know all our food sources. If we are being wise and thoughtful about the sources of our food, we can rest and enjoy it. Being consumed by a passion for ultimate food purity is one form of gluttony.
2. Obsess about the quality of your meal. This can come in two forms. First, the foodie’s weaknesses. Is it perfectly cooked, beautifully arranged and absolutely delicious? God has given us food that looks and smells and tastes wonderful. We should enjoy how our food looks, smells, and tastes. But when our meal is ruined or just tolerable because the meat isn’t as tender as we hoped or the bread didn’t dome properly, then it’s changed from thankful enjoyment to idolatry. Then there’s the other form: is it exactly the right balance of nutrient dense calories? Maximum antioxidants? Omega 3’s? We should be concerned with taking care of our bodies by eating a balanced, nutritious diet. That’s basic Christian stewardship (I Cor. 6:19-20). But when that stewardship becomes idolatry of healthy food so that we cannot ever eat something that contains trans fats, white flour or sugar, gluttony has crept in.
3. Obsess about covering up our food obsession. If we are eating more than we should, we can cover it up by burning more calories than we consume. How do we make overeating socially acceptable? Exercise. The more you exercise, the more you can eat and drink without being ostracized. Culturally, it doesn’t matter how much you consume as long as it doesn’t show. But for the Christian gluttony is still sin, whether we’re in a 4 or 24. Working off the huge lunch in order to fit your jeans is being dishonest about your struggles with idolizing food. The sin was still committed even if the evidence has been wiped away. Working out in order to eat more is as much gluttony as packing on the pounds is.
Our culture doesn’t have a problem with people loving their food above everything else, as long as it doesn’t affect their waistline. But Christians should be concerned with the sin of gluttony in all its expressions because it offends God. It also hampers our fruitfulness: our money is taken up with the high quality and quantity; our time is taken up with elaborate preparation, enjoyment, and workouts; and our health suffers from indulgence. Our culture looks at the outside: God looks at the heart. When it comes to gluttony, obesity is simply one exaggerated expression of many forms that have gripped the western church. It’s simpler than we think to identify gluttony: are we eating to God’s glory in a way that enables further, better service or not (I Cor. 10:31)? When our food consumption is about us or when it looks like the world’s, we need to stop and evaluate what’s on our plate and why. God takes gluttony as seriously as He takes stealing and adultery (I Cor. 6:10). Do we?