The Deadly Sin of Gluttony

The Deadly Sin of Gluttony

Food. The Bible begins and ends with it: from forbidden fruit in Eden to a sumptuous wedding banquet in the Revelation. What we do with food is a clear reflection of our relationship to God.

The provision of food is an expression of God’s creating activity. The interesting fact is that both the human and the food we humans eat comes from dirt. The difference is that God breathed into our dirt the breath of life and we became creatures capable of relationship with God, while the food-trees are not so blessed. When God breathed into our nostrils we became a living being – nephesh. The root of this Hebrew word is throat, a passageway from outside our body to the inside. It is this passageway through which all that sustains us passes – air, water, food. We are empty and need to be fed. We cannot retain our food or water or air, and need replenishing. We are open throats, walking thirsts, human breathings. Chutes. And God is the one who takes initiative to fill our emptiness. God is our provider, our feeder.

When Adam and Eve ate, they were participating in a sacred event. God was the provider. They were the creatures needing help from outside. Eating is a sacrament of dependence on God. It is as mysterious as sex. It involves taste buds, smells, flavors, and food preferences. Eating is sensual. Adam and Eve knew it.

But one day, they decided to rebel against the dependent act of opening their throat three times a day. They wanted to be like God – the feeder and not the fed. Independent. They raided God’s tree in hopes of shedding their dependent status. In that moment, the universe shifted.

This is not what God intended. To be fully human is to accept our neediness and hunger as a reminder that we are the creatures and not the Creator. We are meant to live in relationship with the one who feeds.

The church has been awkwardly silent on the sin of gluttony; in fact, the word is rarely spoken. Its first cousin, obesity, is getting honorable mention due to the plight of American school children and insurance risks. We’re in the opening phases of an all out societal attack on obesity.

Gluttony and Obesity

Are gluttony and obesity synonymous? Yes and no. Obesity can be caused by heredity, chemical imbalance, certain medications, the set point of your body, disease, metabolic rates, genetic factors, and psychological issues. Girth and gluttony do not necessarily go hand in hand. You can be skinny as a rail and be a glutton.

Gluttony is about our attitude toward food, the practice of eating it in certain ways, and the habits we associate with food.

Gluttony has three traits:

  1. Eating to fill an emptiness that cannot be satisfied with by food. We feel isolated, lonely, troubled, anxious. We eat until the brain releases mood-altering serotonin which numbs us like an emotional anesthetic.
  2. Eating as an exercise of power. The world is a tough place and we often find ourselves powerless to change our situation. So we eat—because we can. And no one can deny us or prevent us. It is one thing we can do when and how we want. We spoon mini-shovels of food from carton to mouth in a show of power.
  3. Eating as a signal of bad theology. We were taught wrong things about food and it shows up in our eating. We grew up as consumers whose highest goal in life is to consume all that we want. We’re bored with our meaningless lives and eating keeps us consuming and therefore, important.

Could it be that at the core of our relationship with God, food has assumed a role that it was never meant to have? And if gluttony is food gone wrong in one direction, compulsive dieting may be food gone just as wrong in the other direction.

Compulsive dieting is the god of thinness and it is our national obsession. Its Bible is the newest diet book. Its altar, the bathroom scales. Its prayer, counting calories. Its goal, to be noticed. Its motivation, shame. Its idol, the perfect body. Its temptation, carbs and calories and chocolate. Its sin, weight gain. Its virtue, self denial. Its miracle, liposuction. Its repentance, bulimia. Its reward, smaller sizes. Its temple, the spa. Its sacred vestments, petites.

Women are especially vulnerable to the gods of thinness because our society places recognizable value on being a stick. Isn’t it ironic that the same culture that demands of women tiny waists also demands larger breasts? The part of the body given to the feeding and nourishment of healthy babies becomes the focal point of the female body. We expect women to feed babies but be underfed.

Many women turn to other saviors from size – anorexia, bulimia, chemicals, diuretics, laxatives, and surgery. Anything to please the god of thinness.

It is time that the followers of Jesus declare that these gods are frauds. They come to steal, kill, and destroy. They take life, and give hollowness in return. The thin god will turn one into a self-centered, narcissistic, self-loathing, showcasing, lonely, empty shell of a human body. The thin god will keep one dissatisfied with appearance and chasing the fads of weight loss.

Gluttony and compulsive dieting are fatal attractions, deadly sins. But they do not have the final word on food. Jesus does. He came as a needy human, dependent on the food that came as a gift from the Father’s hand. He ate to sustain flesh and blood, skin and bones, fat and muscle.

Jesus knew that food was not the ultimate good. He had food to eat that could not be purchased at the grocery store. He knew that people did not live by bread alone. He knew that his food was to do the will of the Father who had sent him. He knew that fullness was more than a function of food.

It takes a life pleasing to God to make a human feel right in the pit of the stomach. Our deepest longings and hungers are satisfied in partnership with God.

This post is an excerpt from Seven Deadly Sins.

Click here to read all the posts in my blog series, “Seven Deadly Sins.”


  1. Well said as always.

  2. Wow, this is a great read! I had never really thought about the sin of gluttony in this way but it makes a lot of sense. Our food-obsessed culture definitely worships the rich, fatty, sticky foods that our flesh craves. The point about food being used to fill our empty souls is a staggering truth that needs to be explored.

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