Spiritually Bloated?

by Calum Samuelson, 7th March 2018

ChipsOn Tuesday the call came for Britain to ‘go on a diet’. Roughly 63% of UK adults are overweight, and 27% are obese. Concerning as these statistics are, they pale in comparison to the global picture, which reveals not only that 1/3 of the world eats too much, but also that 1/3 sadly doesn’t eat enough. This worldwide situation raises important questions about hunger and satisfaction.

Quite frankly, we in the West are accustomed to being satisfied. My hunch is that most people reading this blog are not in the 1/3 of the global undernourished. [1] You probably either eat enough, too much, or way too much—regardless, daily satiation is the norm.

What is more, we are incessantly urged to satisfy ourselves with the nearly infinite options presented by our consumeristic society—one more app, a quick Youtube video, a cheap coffee. The claims that these things never ‘truly’ satisfy us does not negate the fact that our entire culture is still geared toward satisfaction. According to the Bible, this is quite dangerous.

This danger is especially clear in Luke, where it is frequently associated with ‘rich’ men. The rich man was satisfied with ‘good things’ in life, but ends up ‘in agony’ after death (16:19-31); the self-assured and ‘very rich’ ruler becomes very sad when he learns how hard it will be for him to enter the kingdom of God (18:18-30); the self-righteous Pharisee is left unjustified by God (18:9-14). Furthermore, it is no mistake when Luke considers financial prosperity in relation to food. The Pharisees, ‘who were lovers of money’ (16:14) are often portrayed at fancy dinner parties, and the rich man of Luke 16 ‘feasted sumptuously every day’. It’s easy for the wealthy to satiate themselves.

A great and sad irony is the way that many in the West fail to be convicted by these passages because of how we are accustomed to reading the Bible. We tend to picture ourselves as the suffering Lazarus or as disciples present at the conversation between Jesus and the Rich Ruler [2] when we are actually the ones who are ‘very rich’ and often literally ‘eating sumptuously every day’. If others of us defend ourselves with our charity giving or modest diet, we find ourselves slipping towards the same danger as the Pharisee in Luke 18:11: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people.’ Being spiritually bloated is far more pernicious than being physically bloated because it is so subtle and elusive.

So, what should be done?

It would not be correct to conclude that we should intentionally bring suffering or hunger upon ourselves. However, it is worth considering the ways we unnecessarily and excessively insolate ourselves from the real, tangible suffering and hunger of our world. We may find that our avoidance of certain family members or friends is in fact an armour to protect us from their needs, pains, and crises. We may find that our avoidance of certain spiritual or exegetical questions has helped us stay content rather than wrestling over uncomfortable teachings and instructions.

Jesus famously said, ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled’ (Luke 6:21). The use of the ‘divine passive’ in this beatitude communicates at least two profound truths about hunger: 1) God is the one who fills us; 2) we must be hungry in order for him to satiate us.

Walter Brueggeman considers hunger to be a key theme of the Old Testament, which often poses the question of whether satiated people can be successful in hungering for God. [3] The answer from that testament is not positive. The more self-satisfied Israel was, the more it tended to forget about God.

Ultimately, remaining hungry for God and simultaneously satisfied in him is a difficult tension to indwell, and the response of the onlookers in the story of the Rich Ruler is not inappropriate for our self-satiated culture: ‘Then who can be saved?’ (Luke 18:26). But as Christians we need not despair because we know that ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’ (Luke 18:27)

Give me neither poverty nor riches;

feed me with the food that I need,

or I shall be full, and deny you,

and say, “Who is the LORD?”

or I shall be poor, and steal,

and profane the name of my God. [4]

 

[1] Here I do not ignore per se those struggling with anorexia or bulimia. Their situation, though serious, is of a different nature because they usually have access to food as opposed to the global 1/3 which is malnourished precisely because they do not have access to food.

[2] Lazarus: Luke 16:19-31, Rich Ruler: Luke 18:18-30.

[3] Brueggemann, The Land, p. 53.

[4] Proverbs 30:8-9.

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Category: Blogs

March, 2018

Comments (1)

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  1. Paul Morrison says:

    Poor quality, high calorie unhealthy food is a good way of satisfying hunger cheaply. This is why in the developed world including the UK obesity is linked with poverty rather than wealth.
    So while you are right many will be satisfied reading this, and may even eating too many calories, they may also be very poor, and unable to meet their basic or social needs.
    I feel much Christian reflection on obesity, takes as it’s root the fact that obesity has in the past been a sign of wealth – modern industrial food production has changed that, and we need to add that to our reflections.

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