The Socially Acceptable Sin

ItÍs everywhere in our society and churches, yet almost never talked about.

BY JASONTODD GOD April 16, 2015

Most Christians today like to say that all sins are “equal” in the eyes of God, that there is no scale of less or worse sins, that a white lie or a homicide alike would have been enough to require Christ to die on the cross. We say this in theory, but in practice, we know that a white lie won’t get you kicked off the church leadership team. And a homicide likely will.

In practice, there are some sins that are socially acceptable, even in the Church. There’s one sin in particular that has pervaded our society and churches so silently we hardly give it a second thought, and that is the constant hunt for more over what is enough. Or, in an uglier terminology, what is known as gluttony.

When I think about gluttony, I think about my desire to shove a dozen donuts into my mouth and wash them down with chocolate milk. Or perhaps it’s my tendency to mindlessly feed chips to a stomach that’s no longer hungry. Many of us can look at the sin of gluttony and think, “That’s not really my struggle.” Or, we think, “What’s the big deal?” After all, most congregations have compulsive over-eaters among them, and they’re not considered “less spiritual” or “backslidden” for it.

But gluttony has never been merely an addiction to food. And if we look at it in its original definition and context, gluttony becomes far closer to home than we’d like to admit.

At its simplest, gluttony is the soul’s addiction to excess. It occurs when taste overrules hunger, when want outweighs need. And in America, where upsizing has always been part of the American dream, it’s often difficult to distinguish what is hard-earned achievement and what is indulgent excess. In this sense, even the most athletic and toned among us can be gluttons. Any of us can be.

All desire for excess stems from a lack of satisfaction. I’m not satisfied with my portion—be it the portion on my plate, in the marriage bed, or in my bank account. Because I’m not satisfied with my portion, I then seek a greater portion. But because every portion is a finite part of a finite whole, I am constantly chasing an excess that can never satisfy.

This is the story of Genesis 3. What was the sin in the Garden of Eden if not a desire for excess? Adam and Eve were given beautiful sights and beautiful tastes in the absence of shame, but what made the garden a paradise was not any of this. It was a paradise because God walked in the cool of the day with them. And yet, Adam and Eve’s downfall was because they deemed even this as not enough. They weren’t content with their portion of paradise, and they reached out—to disastrous consequence—for more.

Like them, we are ravenous beings. We embody bottomless cravings that constantly paw at the next attractive thing. Our appetites are as strong as death, Proverbs 27:20 tells us. We are always on the move for the next thing that can satisfy and slake our restless thirst. This endless pull is the engine of gluttony. It propels our souls ever toward excess.

And yet, the desire for “more” is not inherently bad, but it is often misdirected. What we need is a relentless appetite for the divine. We need a holy ravenousness. Our craving souls can turn and become enthralled by a goodness that is found in the presence of an all-glorious God. There is only one infinite source of satisfaction that can satisfy our bottomless cravings.

A taste of His supreme grace is enough to lure an appetite long held prisoner to lesser portions. If stolen water is sweet, lavished grace is sweeter.

And here’s a strange side effect: The more we drink deeply of the endless love of an infinite God, the more our tastes will be changed. The deep bright marrow of grace will drip down into the restless souls of the ever-hungry.

In pursuit of lesser portions, our tastes have dulled. We’ve become numb to our real hungers, filling them with lesser fare. But when we return to the source, we taste anew.

Psalm 34:8 challenges us to see the difference for ourselves: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” I think Paul understood this verse when he told the people at Lystra that God gives food and gladness so that our hearts would turn from vain things and turn to the ultimate satisfaction of who God is (Acts 14:15-17).

Consequently, if God has ordained that His goodness can be tasted and seen (and, I would submit, heard, smelled and touched), this has at least two direct implications. First, it means that every finite pleasure and satisfaction is meant to point us toward the infinite pleasure and satisfaction of God. My admiration for a sunset, then, need not stop at that horizon, rather it can curve upward into praise and gratitude. Second, it means that if our desire for “more” is misplaced, then certainly it can be redirected to something good as well.

Is the desire for excess sinful? It depends on whether the soul is addicted to a finite excess or an infinite excess. Do we ever think of gorging on God? Do we relish the chance to spend a few more minutes in prayer, hidden away from the world for just one more taste of the divine? When was the last time we lingered long over the pages of an open Bible because we just couldn’t stop admiring the honeyed flavor of an ancient truth? If the Bible is the story of the only infinite good, why do we spend so much of our lives at lesser tables?

We Christians have so tamed our enjoyment in God that we cannot fathom what such thrill-seeking would even look like. Feasting on God is as foreign to most Americans as an empty stomach. Why can’t we fix our souls on the only goodness who can handle our cravings? Why do we chase the more mild flavors of money, food and sex?

If only we would not stifle our gluttonous cravings, but turn them in the right direction. If only we would feast on an infinite God who offers fullness of life, rather than these lesser tables with the far milder flavors of money, sex, food and power.

As George MacDonald put it, “Sometimes I wake and, lo, I have forgot.” Sleep is like a reset button and my hunger is misdirected often. I think I’m hungry for the finite, but I’m really hungry for God. To remember, we need to taste daily, deeply and constantly of the goodness of God. So let us turn together, and feast rightly.


9 thoughts on “The Socially Acceptable Sin

  1. Bill, I think you’re missing the point of the article. Further, while innovation is tied to the needs of consumers, over-consumption is simply that, consuming more than is needed. That’s the “sin”.

  2. Good morning, Savvy! I very appreciated your thoughtful comment. I have been so encouraged by the honest and respectful tone from everyone who has joined in on conversation and I’m glad I get the chance to interact with you here.

    As I’m sure you’ve probably guessed, I actually wasn’t starting from the so-called Seven Deadly Sins as my reference point. You are quite right to insist on a biblical premise. So I approached gluttony from the understanding that it was a sin condemned in canonical Scripture (Deut.21:20-21; Prov.23:20-21; Prov.28:7; and Titus 1:12). But as I read through the Scriptures, I find that sin is very interchangeable when we begin to define its various expressions (especially when we get into the New Testament). Disobedience to parents, homosexuality, envy, gossip, and a host of others are said to be direct results of idolatry (Rom.1:18-31). Covetousness (which you suggested was what I really meant) is actually defined by Paul as idolatry (Col.3:5). Are we then to assume that covetousness no longer means “don’t want that which belongs to others”? Or is sin more complex because we are complex creatures? If gluttony is covetousness and covetousness is idolatry then gluttony is idolatry. And according to Romans 1, sins stem from wanting to worship creation rather Creator. And that was largely the point of my article. Our affections are misplaced and misdirected and need to be reoriented toward God in worship to find real satisfaction.

    I can tell you have thought very deeply about this already, but I would still commend to you John Frame’s “The Doctrine of the Christian Life”. If you haven’t read it already, Frame does an amazing job of showing the connections between the ten words in the Decalogue (murdering is stealing life, adultery is covetousness acted out, and so forth). Please let me know what you think. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Thanks for taking the time to write this. Seems very thoughtful and wise to me without sounding condescending or self-righteous or (this is always the worst) condemning! I know that nothing is able to satisfy..I have experienced this..but what about needs/desires that are pure and Godly? I can diet all I want & eat like a true ascetic, or vow celibacy, or silence but what of that? Religious or so-called secular disciplines can be just as empty. Sorry, but it’s the truth. I realize this is about gluttony, so I think I understand this, but what if there ARE things that God has blessed us with here on earth that can pacify (duh) us while we are waiting to be with Jesus. Are those supposed to be blessings? At least no one ever was so greedy for their spouse! It’s more like “yuckihatemyspouse” anymore. Most ppl are not happily married because of the false standard of romance encouraged by who knows…Elvis? Lol.

  4. I honestly don’t have a problem with gluttony (excess), but I’m not exactly a mystic smothered by God’s mushy love. So when I read an article like this, I’m left feeling like, “Wow. That was really eloquent. And he’s right… but I really don’t experience God like that.” And then I try to process phrases like this (emphasis mine):

    “What we need is a RELENTLESS appetite for the divine. We need a holy RAVENOUSNESS. Our CRAVING souls can turn and become ENTHRALLED by a goodness that is found in the presence of an all-glorious God. … The more we drink DEEPLY of the ENDLESS love of an INFINITE God, the more our tastes will be changed. The DEEP BRIGHT MARROW of grace will DRIP down into the RESTLESS souls of the EVER-HUNGRY.”

    When the intuitive, feeling, perceiving, dreamer personalities write theology, they almost make me feel like I really don’t love God unless my emotions for Him are INTENSE!! But I know that’s not what they mean. It’s just that some people find it much easier to be mystical in their relationship with God by nature of their personality than others.

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