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.
Gluttony is also about the role anything plays in our lives, the hold it has on us…take for example, beer (a dangerous subject to bring up right before the 4th of July). I find alarming the importance beer seems to have in people’s lives. People are so overly attached to this product. Watch carefully beer commercials and look at the keen, nearly obsessive interest people have. Now I realize to sell a product people need to look interested, but in beer commercials it seems so extreme. Beer becomes far more than a beverage. I remember having lunch at the Fort Benning Officer’s Club with a chaplain who grabbed a Bud and said to me, “I couldn’t get through the day without this.” I was too stunned to ask, “Have you tried Jesus?” (something I thought of much later).
Another area of gluttony enslaving Americans is our addiction to technology. We can’t imagine being without our smart phones, iPads, laptops, and MP3 players, yet it would do us well to take an occasional break from technology and be quiet and unplugged for awhile. Scripture urges us to be still and hear the voice of God. How can we hear God’s voice when we’re so distracted by outside noise? This is one of the things I love about the solitude of kayaking. Paddling on a river I’m free from the clutter of technology (though I fully expect to soon find iPad attachments for kayaks at LL Bean). Technology can become idolatrous--we put our trust in an artificial sovereignty. Tools should be our servants, not our masters.