Gluttony is perhaps the strangest and least likely of the Seven Deadly Sins; if we had to cull the list to six, it would be the first to go. Food is something that is good and to be enjoyed -who wants to label the Christmas roast the most sinful activity of the year? Furthermore Jesus loved a good banquet; his very first miracle was to turn water into wine so that the party could continue! The idea of gluttony as a sin, we might conclude, is merely the by-product of a long-gone legalistic medieval past.
Yet if we take a closer look, I suspect that we will find that society considers gluttony to be one of the chief, if not the chief sin that we face! We live in an age of exercising and dieting where people pay huge amounts of money to run on the spot and are constantly managing their diets to approach the same tanned airbrushed look of the model. TV shows such as ‘The Biggest Loser’ receive huge ratings and you just need to pick up the closest magazine to find the newest dieting fad. And the unspoken message that is constantly being broadcast is that being overweight is immoral, it is wrong.
So what should we think about gluttony? In truth, the Bible has little to say on the issue specifically, although Jesus seems to offer us the key to the solution when he is being tempted by the Devil. After spending forty days fasting in the desert, the Devil comes to him and tells him to turn the nearby stone into bread. Jesus replies, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Notice here that Jesus is not discounting food, (which is consistent with the scriptures dealing of food elsewhere, cf Psalm 104:15) but rather he is pointing to what ultimately fulfils and saves. In John 6 Jesus goes a step further and declares that he is the bread of life, and, ‘whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’. Gluttony then is simply an inordinate obsession with food, or drink or just plain consumption. It occurs when we get food out of proportion and find our ultimate fulfilment in something other than Jesus.
This idea cuts both ways. It condemns obsessive overeating, where enjoyment and fulfilment can only be found in food, and for some of us this is a problem. We are not talking about the occasional second (or third) helping, we are talking about a repetitive habit where we can only find satisfaction in eating.
It is important to distinguish between obsessive overeating and obesity at this point – unlike the former, obesity is not necessarily tied to sin, but rather can be the effect of any number of psychological or physical problems. Perhaps more relevantly however, gluttony also condemns obsessive dieting by eating only the ‘right’ foods. While not always a bad thing, this lifestyle can easily become the focus of life, creating an unnatural fixation with healthy living. We must keep both extremes under control by realising food’s place in creation order – while necessary for our nourishment and provided for our enjoyment, we find fulfilment and satisfaction in the bread of life who sustains eternally, Jesus.