February is my least favorite month of the year. It's when I'm reminded of the resolutions I failed to achieve. Over the years, I resolved to quit many of life’s nastiest habits. I’ve kicked addictions to pornography, cigarettes, blowing up my credit cards, and more. But there’s still one habit I have yet to break: binge eating.
Forty-five percent of America’s resolution-makers vow to shape up and cut back on eating every New Year. I’m always one of them. My first thirty-one days of 2018 consisted of meal planning, counting calories, and lusting over the cake I swore off.
But before Valentine’s Day, my eating habits were as out of control as ever.
I’m not sure if my dependence on pizza and frosting is proportional to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, but it sure feels that way to me. It seems like I’ve spent my entire adult life harassed by intense cravings for food, with little hope for victory. While Paul asked for God to remove his own affliction three times, this is my tenth year of pleading. A decade of defeat would make the most determined among us feel hopeless.
Will I ever be free from this compulsion to overeat?
CALL IT WHAT IT IS
Binge eating is more than the simple overeating everyone engages in from time to time.
For me, a typical binge session looks like a very large meal, followed by an even larger dessert. Then when I begin to feel nauseated, I eat a few more desserts and sneak back to the fridge to consume more unclaimed leftovers. Multiply this ritual by five, add a secret drive-through visit, and you’ve got the standard daily recipe for a binge eater.
Doctors categorize my behavior as a type of eating disorder. The Bible calls it gluttony.
"Gluttony" sounds harsh when spoken out loud, so most of us don’t say it at all. Of all the sins churches discuss on Sunday, gluttony is rarely expanded upon. It seems odd given that American obesity is such a hot topic, but unsurprising when you consider the amount of shame most gluttons carry around with them.
Gluttons are bruised reeds. Nobody wants to break us with an unkind word or an accusatory glance over supper. So Christians tend to stay silent when they see a brother or sister overeating.
To complicate matters more, not every person with an above-average weight is a glutton, and not every glutton is overweight. You likely know several thin gluttons, and I’ve met many thick folks with rational eating patterns.
But how does the Bible define gluttony?
GETTING TO THE HEART OF GLUTTONY
The Biblical definition of gluttony doesn’t appear to be as simple as enjoying food, eating rich food, or even consuming a lot of food. We see countless depictions of elaborate feasts in both the Old and New Testaments.
The Levites in Nehemiah 8 received instructions to eat and drink with joy as an act of worship. The book of Acts describes the early church breaking bread together in grateful community and service to one another. Meals have the power to build community, celebrate great victories and worship the God who provides it all.
When our worship is directed towards food rather than God, none of these things apply, indicating that the problem with gluttony is not our waistline or even the exact amount of calories we eat—but hearts bent towards idolatry. The idol of the stomach leads us to eat meals in secret shame and celebrate created things rather than the Creator.
Solomon spoke about gluttony leading to both practical and spiritual poverty in the book of Proverbs, something I’ve experienced firsthand. Not only has my wallet suffered at the altar of McDonald’s, but I feel spiritually impoverished when I overeat.
While there’s nothing wrong with tangible diet plans and exercise to improve upon the physical effects of sin, addressing the impoverished heart is the only plan that truly releases us from the shame of gluttony.
HOPE IN A BETTER FEAST
How should Christians fight the urge to overeat and find hope when their resolutions don’t stick? By hoping for a better feast.
There is a better feast that awaits every man and woman who struggles with overeating. There is great forgiveness and hope for people like me in the Bible.
Revelation is not where a glutton would think to look for a diet plan, but among depictions of burning lakes and apocalyptic beasts in chapter 19 is a deep well of hope for someone like me:
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
'Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure'— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” – Rev. 19:6-9
I don’t know if all the food imagery found in Revelation is literal or figurative. I don’t know if there will be an actual table with physical food piled upon it. But I hope more than anything that this feast is real in a tangible sense. Not because I’m excited about heavenly catering, but because at the consummation of all things, Jesus Christ himself will celebrate eternal union with his bride and welcome her to his wedding feast—me included.
TAKE YOUR SEAT AT THE WEDDING SUPPER
Despite years of sinning with my stomach, the King of Kings will offer me a seat at his table just as if I never binged a day in my life. On that day and for the rest of eternity, I will eat food in exactly the manner God intended, filled with worship for the Creator instead of worshipping created things. I’ll share a meal in perfect community with my brothers and sisters and my Lord rather than inhaling food in disgraced secrecy.
If you must make yet another resolution centered around food, resolve to believe in this wedding feast, living every day as if it were real.
When you experience great loss and hope to deaden the sorrow with take-out, remember the greater joy that awaits you when the groom clothes his bride in white.
When you think excess food will give you peace of mind, imagine the perfect peace you’ll have on the day of the marriage supper of the Lamb—and remember that if you follow the Lamb you will have a seat reserved just for you.
Rachelle Cox converted from Mormonism six years ago and is now passionate about helping women understand God’s good word and good theology. She is a women’s ministry intern at Karis Church and is beginning her theological education at Boyce College. She loves serving her husband and two children, and writes at eachpassingphase.com.