Food, the Body, and Idolatry

We are pretty good at making idols.  Have you noticed that?  Calvin once wrote that the human heart was a factory of idols.  Idolatry is part of the work of the flesh in Gal. 5:20.  One of the idolatrous areas for many is the whole matter of food and the body.  In fact, the ways in which we can make an idol out of food or the body are practically endless.  So we are going to do a series of videos and articles that begin to unpack this challenging issue in our culture.  By way of introduction I would like to outline a few of the topics that we will be addressing in the coming weeks.

Gluttony:  Finding joy or satisfaction in food

Gluttony is a real temptation in our culture.  The health industry reminds us of the fact that Americans, many of them children, weigh far more than they should primarily due to very poor eating habits.  It is easy to understand how gluttony can be so common.  In our society food is so readily available.  In fact, outside of the occasional threat of a snowstorm that sends panic through our town for milk and bread, one can find just about whatever they want whenever they want it.  For example, I got home last night about 9:30 in the evening.  I exercised for 30 minutes and then went to the fridge.  I was almost paralyzed by my choices.  I could eat a peanut butter bagel, a yogurt, fruit, ice cream, candy bars, leftover dinner, lunch meat, or if I wanted to cook my list of options tripled (FYI:  ultimately I compromised and ate an orange and a small bowl of ice cream).  We will talk a bit about gluttony, how people get into it, and how to deal with getting out of it.

Body Image:  Finding joy in having the right measurements

Another way food and the body becomes idolatrous is when we decide that being a good steward of our body equals fitting the ideal body type of our culture.  Women, of course, see all kinds of ads both in print and electronically that communicate “thin is attractive.”  Therefore, a girl may establish a set of measurements based on the culture that she must attain.  The same idea is true for men.  Men may not have a set of measurements, but they certainly have a “look” that drives them – go to any health club … it will become very obvious why they put full length mirrors near the weights (and no it is not to ensure they are doing the exercises properly!).  Some guys even love to cut the sleeves out of T-shirts the moment they buy them.  Why?  Because their arms are so huge the T-shirt won’t fit? LOL!  Some are tempted to worship their own body.

How this worship plays out is also quite varied.  For some, they will accomplish their idolatry in the fitness room.  For some, they will withhold food to ensure that their calorie intake will ensure continued weight loss.  For still others, they will eat normally but force themselves to throw up.  For still others, there is a combination of affects to produce the desired results.

Body Image:  Finding Joy in the praise of others

Another body image issue is its impact on the way others think about you.  Since society tends to value being thin and looks down upon being overweight for some the issue of body image is about who the person can date, hang out with, or be viewed by others.  The same mechanisms may be in place (not eating, exercising, binging and throwing up, etc), but the reasons for employing those mechanisms are very different.

Withholding Food:  Finding Joy in having control

The final issue that we will discuss is the desire to withhold food in order to demonstrate some measure of control.  In other words, the idolatry is actually over control and food just happens to be the object of control.  This person gains joy and satisfaction not from being hungry or from losing weight or by having friends per se; it is simply the means of exercising the amount of hunger and the amount that they weigh.

Every one of these issues requires intervention.  It requires intervention at multiple levels.  Depending on the depth of the idolatry and the length in which it has gone unchecked there may even be a need for crisis intervention.  The road out of this idolatry will not be easy.  Society, the availability of food, and the false promises made by the “idols” will be very tempting.  In the series to follow, we will explain some of the ways that you can help.

In the meantime, please respond with questions that you would like to see answered about this important subject in our culture.

Rob Green
Pastor Rob Green oversees Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. A seasoned counselor, Rob also teaches others how to counsel--through FBCM's training conferences and Faith Bible Seminary's MABC program.