To combat the problems and struggles of being overweight, our culture offers us a number of “solutions.” (Sadly, our culture doesn’t offer any real help for the struggles of being underweight.) You can take pills that will suppress your appetite. You can have the fat literally sucked out of your body, and even have your digestive system permanently altered so that you are physically unable to eat “too much.” You can buy into a “subscription” diet program where every bit of your diet is prescribed for you. All of these will cause you to lose weight-- and there is nothing inherently wrong about any of them.
But none of them address the real problems of overeating. With some relatively rare exceptions, every chronic overeater does so for the same sets of reasons: as a coping mechanism, because of lack of self-control, out of greed, or even because of boredom. How does a person overcome these?
A friend of a friend asked exactly this question. He had been a collegiate wrestler, and this had completely messed up his metabolism. When he found himself significantly overweight not long after college, he determined to deal with it in a manner that is a consistent outgrowth of his Christianity. He called it “felling the idol.”
Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. ~John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1, ch. 11, sec. 8
The real solution to the problem of overeating is to turn away from the idols in our hearts and find our hope in the Lord. What does that look like for an overeater? Maybe realizing that Christ alone will pacify the sadness and turbulence in her heart. Maybe owning that a biblical view of moderation will make us more satisfied in the long run, not less. Maybe in finding outlets for our boredom in a creative endeavor rather than only in food. Maybe relearning how to eat in moderation, enjoying the delights of food that God made (and that He made good). (As programs go, Weight Watchers does a good job helping with this.) Maybe starting an exercise program that improves your health and complements a healthy and moderate diet.
The bottom line here: Christians must learn to face the sin and fallenness that causes them to overeat and struggle against that-- not simply treat the fruits of that sin and fallenness with solutions that don’t get to the heart of it. What if eating in moderation was your natural inclination, the fruit of the Holy Spirit granting you self-control?
This can only happen if we think and live like disciples, not like food vessels that expand and contract mechanically.
So it goes...
The same is true for other perpetual struggles. For example, over the past 15 years there has been a substantial rise in use of pornography, even among Christians (and the struggle isn’t unique to men, either). One recent statistic suggests that as many as 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted to pornography (comprehensive statistics here.) The rampant availability of pornography on the internet accounts for much of the increase in this problem, while our over-sexualized culture easily accounts for the rest.
So, what is a Christian to do about that? Well, the “stomach-stapling” solution is to simply activate the filters and blockers that are built into many computers, or perhaps subscribe to a similar (but more effective) service that offers the same. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that. But this is treating the symptoms, not the root problem.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. ~Matthew 5:27-28
A service like Covenant Eyes is a step or two in the right direction: beyond mere filtering, Covenant Eyes offers internet accountability, where a report of your internet activity is regularly e-mailed to one or more accountability partners, who (one would presume) have agreed to exercise true accountability if they see something amiss. As I said, this IS better-- it puts in place a system and structure that allows real growth and healing through accountability.
Even better (perhaps in addition to using something like Covenant Eyes) is to get deeper. God has created sex (and sexuality), and He made it good and pleasurable. He also designed it for certain contexts and relationships. A biblical treatment of the problem behind pornography (and addiction to it) is to face the sin of addiction, the struggle of lust, the indignity of objectifying others, and the neglect of God’s beautiful and perfect design. We must fell these idols in order to truly deal with a struggle with pornography.
Christians can do this-- it isn’t impossible to overcome addiction or a struggle with pornography. Resources like New Man magazine and Mark Driscoll’s e-book Porn-Again Christian are good places to start. The church can help, too, by making it safe to discuss this struggle (and other “taboo” topics) honestly and without fear of judgment or ill-treatment. What if desire and lust were checked quickly, and dignity and God-honoring treatment of others instinctively came to mind, as the fruit of Christ at work in you to restore a righteous view of people and relationships?
This can only happen if we learn to live like disciples instead of amoral, sexually perverse creatures.
Broadening the application...
So, if we deal with overeating only by treating the symptom through stapling our stomachs or denying ourselves food, we’ve missed the point. Likewise, if we deal with a struggle with pornography only by cutting off our connection to it, we haven’t truly dealt with the sinful lust in our hearts.
I would argue that we would do the same by making the outlaw of abortion our sole approach to dealing with the sin of abortion.
Make no mistake: I believe that abortion is a sin. I am appalled by the statistics related to legal abortions in the United States, and long to see it eradicated as a practice. I believe that, as a nation and a culture, we all have blood on our hands and ought to be regularly on our knees in repentance.
But if our agenda for dealing with the sin of abortion is simply to make it illegal, we’ve ignored the sin behind abortion. In short, we’ve become Pharisees-- who were utterly concerned with the appearance of righteousness, but inwardly were indifferent.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. ~Matthew 23:23
What about the sin of immorality that led to many of the pregnancies that were aborted? What of the sins of selfishness and lazyness that drove some to abort because a pregnancy-- let alone a baby-- would be too much of an inconvenience? What about the sin of those around an aborting mother, who allowed or even drove her to believe that abortion was her best option? What about the sin of a culture that leaves so many children languishing in foster care and orphanages because we won’t step up to adopt? What about the sin of a world that tolerates a highly-sexualized culture-- even participates in and encourages it-- that persuades children to take sexual relations so casually?
There is great sin involved in abortion. Be assured of this: if we do not attend to the litany of sins wrapped up in abortion, we will not reduce abortion substantially simply by making it illegal. Abortion wasn’t invented in 1973, and it wouldn’t be eliminated by the passing of legislation.
But if we fell the idols of abortion, we create an environment where abortion is reduced or even eliminated because it isn’t necessary. Women and men alike take sexuality seriously enough to not engage in it lightly, and they take responsibility for their actions if she does get pregnant by not aborting (and by giving the child up for adoption if they cannot properly care for him or her). The culture around them supports this out of an inherent value of all life, and few children who need adopting aren’t adopted, few mothers who need spiritual, social, and financial support lack it. No one who faces the struggle of being pregnant at a young age or out of wedlock becomes a pariah, because all acknowledge that their sins are just as severe-- and yet neither do they go without loving accountability.
What if abortion was essentially eliminated from our culture because there was no need for it?
It can happen if we learn to think and act like disciples, rather than political activist culture warriors.