Posted in pastoral care, reflections

Overeating in Christian perspective

forkIt’s the beginning of the new year and lots of people are making promises to lose weight. As Christians, how can we overcome the sin of gluttony (overeating)?

Disclaimer: This essay does not look at the medical side of obesity, only gluttony as a spiritual issue. It is always appropriate to consult with medical professionals and to learn to choose healthy foods.

Bear with me as we take what may seem like an unrelated detour. I promise to bring the plane in for a smooth landing.

Addressing the question of why we eat too much requires us as followers of Christ to ask another preliminary question:

Who am I?

As human beings, we are not accidents, a random conglomeration of atoms and cells. Rather, we are purposefully and lovingly molded by God, the One who creates and sustains all that is.

The Psalmist affirmed:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14, NIV).

Who am I? I am the exquisite creation of God, so I have great value.

A second answer to the “Who am I?” question emerges from the story we find in Scripture. Not only did God fashion us as part of a wonderful creation. Importantly, we are created for relationship with God and others. This is beautifully symbolized in the first two chapters of Genesis. God placed Adam and Eve together in the garden and they had fellowship with each other and with God.

Third – and this one ties most directly with our topic of overeating – God created me as an embodied being. God fashioned Adam out of the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7). The “dust” symbolizes substance or matter. At the end of each creation day, God stepped back and beheld various parts of creation, pronouncing them “good” (Gen. 1:3, 9, 24, to cite a few). Only when God at last had created Adam did he call creation “very good” (1:31).

Our bodies are excellent!

This has implications for how we view ourselves. For all of his merits, more than any other theologian, Augustine of Hippo (b. 354 AD) did much to make Christians feel guilty about sex. While Paul had advised that self-control must characterize all our behavior, including our sexuality (Galatians 5:23, 1 Cor. 6:18-20), Augustine posited that it was the sex act itself – even between spouses – that was sinful, the way that original sin was transmitted. Augustine’s influence has led in the West to a preoccupation with sins of a sexual nature, making them first order sins even as we ignore what a neutral observer might conclude we judge to be lesser sins (if sins at all), including eating too much.

To say we are embodied is not to imply that we are immortal souls living inside mortal bodies. That’s dualism, a Greek philosophical weed that (unfortunately) has blown into Christianity’s garden and taken root. The soil in which Christianity grew up is Hebrew soil, Old Testament teaching. Genesis 2:7 explains that human beings are matter (“dust”) into which God has breathed the breath of life. This is called holism; we are unities. I don’t have a body; I am a body animated by God.

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