Summary: We can live in moderation or overindulge...which isn't about the stomache, but a matter of the heart.
Here are two headlines found on the front cover of a Family Circle magazine: “Ten Ways to Curb Your Cravings,” followed by “Irresistible Chocolate Desserts”…definitely mixed messages! A foreign visitor described America as a land where people are as big as houses, thanks to our super-size mentality…and a scandal when you consider world hunger. Our fascination with food makes food magazines and the food channel on TV appear almost like a kind of pornography.
When talking about gluttony, two misperceptions are prevalent--one is that this vice pertains only to people who are overweight, and second that it involves only food. Gluttony isn’t just overeating; it is overindulgence to the extreme, taking excessive pleasure in any substance or activity. We can over-do a lot of things…and so the sin of gluttony is not about how much we weigh, but why we over-indulge.
Some people eat to live, while others live to eat…thus the term “comfort food.” When we’re stressed, we want relief, and we find it in various ways. An occasional escape is healthy, but when a substance or activity begins to take over, we binge and become slaves. We need nutrition, but when food takes on an inordinate importance we may be gluttons even if we’re not overweight. Our attitude is what’s behind gluttony; in fact it’s most of the problem. I wonder if our desire for comfort food reveals a lack of peace? Gluttony isn’t about our stomachs (we need to go a little higher)-it’s a matter of the heart.
Proverbs 23:1-2 warns, “When dining with a ruler, observe carefully what is set before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite.” In other words, don’t give in to a pleasure-fix; curb your urges. Pleasures are goods, not gods. As I’ve stated earlier in this series, these seven sins are about taking good things and abusing them. God made food good; eating and drinking are meant to give us pleasure. God doesn’t want us to regard food with joyless asceticism. Food isn’t the enemy. God wants us to enjoy eating, but we need to distinguish between a positive enjoyment and desires that rage out of control. Kevin DeYoung notes that, “The gluttonous eat with greed, not gratitude, and remain spiritually empty.”
Gluttony can take many forms…I knew an Army NCO who was a running addict; I saw him jogging on post with a cast on his leg from a stress fracture. He needed that “runner’s high”. Even something we regard as healthy can be abused. Morning PT (physical training) is part of Army life, but this Sergeant was a PT glutton. He’d be shocked if anyone told him he was mistreating his body.
Gluttony is about making demands, expecting our way. C.S. Lewis in his book The Screwtape Letters gets to the heart of gluttony. He describes a woman who is invited to a nice dinner and, rejecting the food and drink presented she says “with a sigh and a smile, ‘Oh please, please--all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest bit of really crisp toast.’ What she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, but she never recognizes as gluttony her self-centered determination to get what she wants, however much trouble it may be to others. She believes she is practicing temperance, but she is enslaved to a kind of sensuality.” When we make demands of others and are fussy about having everything just-so, when we want special consideration--we may be gluttons, regardless of our waistline. A skinny person can be a glutton. Gourmets, health food nuts, obsessive dieters, and so-called “foodies” can be gluttons as much as junk-food junkies.