Away from God, Toward the Buffet Line

Next month, by God’s grace and inexhaustible mercy, I look forward to celebrating 20 years of sobriety from alcohol and illicit drugs. As that date draws near, it would probably be wise for me to recall that my first day on this 20-year journey was preceded by approximately three years of halting attempts and failures.

July 2017 also marks a one-year anniversary of sorts. Since last summer, I’ve lost more than 35 pounds, and I feel great…for an old man. Again, this relatively-recent victory showed up only after many years of failed attempts to walk away from sugar, deep-fried foods and third (sometimes even fourth) helpings.

The Land of Cockaigne by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1567)

The Land of Cockaigne by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1567)

I’m not ready to celebrate conquering my weight issues, though, not just yet; maybe I’ll be okay cautiously celebrating in a few more years. (Our culture’s notion of what any “celebration” ought to look like is, in fact, part of my ongoing problem.) My reluctance to run out and invest in mylar balloons, air horns and confetti is rooted primarily in the certainty that many of the underlying heart issues which drove unhealthy eating on my part are as yet unresolved. Even though the physical benefits of self-control are stacking up, I can yet feel my inner man kicking at the goads.

Back in July of 1997, though I had stopped drinking alcohol, I went through a few very difficult years of outwardly living in a way that ran counter to the (unholy) desires of my heart. My inner man still wanted nothing more than to get hammered every night, so I had to set up “guardrails” to keep me sober. An one example, I would pay for gas at the pump whenever I could, to avoid going inside and confronting the refrigerated cases of beer and row after row of hard liquor. The only way for me to keep myself sober in those difficult first days was to avoid even the sight of alcohol.

After those first few painful years, though, Christ freed me from the sin of alcoholism such that nowadays I can walk into any establishment without undue fear of stumbling. But it took a long time for my heart to catch up with my stated desire to give up alcohol for good.

These days, I find I am again, at least outwardly, looking like I have successfully beaten another addiction. Having lost 35-plus pounds, I am in the best health I’ve been in decades. My clothes fit better, I feel more confident, my lifestyle has become more active and, when I sleep nowadays, I no longer snore so deeply that I suck the drapes off the curtain rods.

But my heart is still as rebellious, just like those first few years after I put down the bottle. The sin that fueled my overeating is still present, and the next few years are, I am finding, going to need guardrails put up once again if I am going to continue to walk the path of obedience in this particular area of my life.

Looking back at my battle with alcohol, the recovery process began in earnest when I was finally able to see that there were some darker portions of my soul that I had been previously unwilling to acknowledge. Just as one of the most powerful first steps toward conquering any sort of addictive behavior is to begin to openly confess our own selfishness and relentless self-focus, I am beginning to see that one of the most powerful first steps toward losing weight is a willingness to recognize, confess and repent of the sin of gluttony.

TIME: The Weight Loss Trap: Why Your Diet Isn't WorkingIn modern American culture, however, the thoroughly-biblical sin of gluttony largely gets a pass. We don’t talk about it, even though we are demonstrably killing ourselves by consuming far more food than our bodies actually need. According to a recent article in TIME magazine, a “staggering” 71% of American adults are overweight. That would be plenty of bad news in and of itself, but the article goes on:

The vast majority of American adults are overweight; nearly 40% are clinically obese. And doctors now know that excess body fat dramatically increases the risk of serious health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, respiratory problems, major cancers and even fertility problems. A 2017 study found that obesity now drives more early preventable deaths in the U.S. than smoking. This has fueled a weight-loss industry worth $66.3 billion, selling everything from diet pills to meal plans to fancy gym memberships.
The Weight Loss Trap: Why Your Diet Isn’t Working
Alexandra Sifferlin
May 25, 2017

Several paragraphs after this, Sifferlin makes the point that even though we Americans have never been in more danger from early death caused by obesity, the overall mood in our nation is more or less one of resigned complacency: “It’s telling, if a bit of a downer, that in 2017, when Americans have never been heavier, fewer people than ever say they’re trying to lose weight.”

For an excellent summary of the latest in scientific study (and guesswork), I strongly recommend Sifferlin’s article be read in its entirety. I was surprised to learn, for example, that researchers are looking at such diverse causes as “the bisphenol A (BPA) found in linings of canned-food containers and cash-register receipts, the flame retardants in sofas and mattresses, the pesticide residues on our food and the phthalates found in plastics and cosmetics” as contributing to the obesity epidemic.

In other words, scientists are still looking for evidence that our weight problems are outside of us, rather than any soul-sickness that causes us to soothe our anxious hearts by turning away from God and toward the buffet table, stuffing ourselves with our sugar-laden poison of choice.

As Christians, I think we would do well to look behind the behavior that keeps us going back to the buffet line, and to pinpoint the sin behind our restless hearts. This is certainly where I see I still have far to go, and why I won’t yet be celebrating the shed weight of this past year just yet.

Scripture actually has quite a lot to say about gluttony…but will we listen?

Proverbs 23:20-21 (ESV)
Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.

1 Corinthians 6:12
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.

Philippians 3:18-19
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

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