“I just want to feel good.” This is the mantra I’ve heard from many people over the years who are trying to figure out their existence. Confusion, discomfort, boredom. They’re looking for something that makes life feel better—worth living, that takes away the discomfort or at least distracts from it.
Yes, I can somewhat relate. I put food into my body that isn’t healthy—even when I’m not hungry. I watch stupid movies that I forget (or wish I could) as soon as they’re over. I randomly scroll through the internet looking for articles or sites that merely pique my curiosity but have no real substance. I hungrily check my social media posts to see how many “likes” they got. I thirst for affirming interaction with those who will agree with my thoughts and views. And I yearn to discover a trendy cause that I can get passionate about. I even take ibuprofen more often than I should.
I too want to feel alive, happy, active, filled, pain-free and stimulated. That’s what the voices around me say is the essence of life, afterall.
What is it, really?
There’s this word we don’t use much anymore. Gluttony. It’s another one of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins.* I have simply understood it to mean overeating—which at times has confused me as to why stuffing my body with food is listed as one of the big seven. Overeating may contribute to obesity and heart disease, but calling it a cardinal sin with deep spiritual ramifications? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Yet like all sin, there’s usually more to it than what my cultural environment has allowed me to absorb.
A definition for gluttony that probes beyond merely “eating and drinking excessively” could be “an unrestrained pursuit of pleasurable sensations.” Or, “good feelings as my guide and reason for living.”
Another way of thinking about it is to ask myself what are the sensations I’m trying to avoid? Hunger? Thirst? An unstimulated body, mind or imagination? The feeling that there’s no meaning in what I’m doing or in my life at all for that matter. All these create an uncomfortable emptiness. Gluttony pushes me to overindulge, in almost anything, in pursuit of that elusive state of “feeling good”—filling myself with other feelings in order to overwhelm those I don’t like.
So, what is your preferred pill for the aches and hollowness of your body and soul?
Fear of Boredom
Recently I read a testimony about a man who claimed his struggle in life was that nothing held his interest anymore. Sports, hobbies, activities, relationships no longer brought happiness as they had at one point. He wasn’t necessarily depressed; he was bored. It wasn’t until a wise counselor began to ask probing questions that it dawned on him that his sense of being was centered on physical and emotional stimulation. Boredom had driven him to try everything. And once he could think of nothing else to try, he experienced panic and felt he was at the end of his life.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “If you live according to the flesh you will die” (Romans 8:13). What is “the flesh?” My answer: It’s the best you can create and do—with your mind, emotions and body—in a material world without God’s direct involvement. Gluttony is a sin of the flesh in which your focus for living is on physical, emotional, social or even spiritual-like feelings or stimulation. You’ve got to feel something good in order to know that you’re alive. And once that runs out, you run out of reasons for living and there’s a void. Emptiness is the only option left, and that feels intolerable—deathlike.
What’s the Danger?
If, as followers of Jesus, we get caught up in keeping our “flesh” stimulated, our focus and affections become more and more deeply planted in things that are not eternal but merely pleasurable sensations. Feeling good, happy or in control becomes our daily objective. The word “hedonism” describes a philosophical commitment to pursue pleasure as the means to happiness or the highest good. Are we hedonists at heart? Does it work to make pleasure or the pursuit of happiness our guide when following Jesus?
He calls us to give ourselves to His Kingdom that’s not of this world, not centered on ourselves. And frankly, it doesn’t always feel that great, involving some suffering (John 18:36). In contrast, the thrust of much of Christianity today focuses on an individual’s personal experiences and staying true to them. Thus, a commitment to feel good has become the compass that determines what’s right and wrong, good and bad. The soil of this generation’s self awareness has been tilled to provide very fertile ground for the sin of gluttony.
And it is a sin, a dangerous one because it’s an idol maker. It seduces us away from God, His kingdom and His plans for us and leaves us stuck in the worship of self-stimulation. Whether it’s food, alcohol, drug-use, shopping, movies, music, social media, relationships or even “worthy” causes, it all has the same taproot if it has become the center of what makes us feel alive. It’s deadly because it creates a false god for us and opens the door for many other self-absorbing sins. In the end it leaves us empty, far from God and ultimately lifeless.
What’s the Answer?
In Psalm 46:10 the Lord says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Choosing to cultivate stillness and seasons of limited physical stimulation is one way to make room for more of Him in our lives. To know God is to clear away all the other things that compete for our affection. Being still with no external stimulation (like books, music, games, video, social media or people interaction, not to mention food or drink) is one of the most uncomfortable places for many people. Yet if it’s regularly practiced, it has the potential to lead us into a deeper intimacy with Jesus. He loves us enough to want that first place in our affections.
Fasting is a discipline that has been used for thousands of years to remind the flesh that there’s more to life than merely feeling good. While fasting from food is a great challenge to “humble” our over-stimulated bodies, seasons of fasting from those other things that have captured our affections can also expose and challenge gluttony in our lives. Committing regular time to listen to and commune with Jesus is a discipline as well that strikes at our gluttonous tendencies.
What stimulating activity is screaming for your affection and robbing you of deeper intimacy with God? Might it be time to say, “NO” to it?
It’s all around us in this age. We are pushed to believe that unless we feel and express a certain level of “passion” for something, ANYTHING, we aren’t living. And in case we’re not sure what to be passionate about, there are a multitude of opportunities pushing to seduce and hook us. Our focus is continuously tempted to be on anything other than God. Ultimately gluttony is exactly that, a passionate overindulgence in the wrong thing.
The only passion that truly works for a Jesus follower is a sustained and active passion for Jesus Himself! That’s what I want.
*Also known as “cardinal sins” or “capital vices,” they include pride, greed, envy, anger, sloth, gluttony and lust. They are often thought to be abuses or excessive versions of one’s natural passions. For example, the sin of gluttony as a desire to feel alive (which is natural) but now turned to an obsession with physical, mental and emotional stimulation. My physical appetites end up consuming me and dulling me to the presence of God.