Book Title: Hungry Souls: What the Bible Says About
Author: Catherine S. Boyle
In the Beginning
Man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.1 Deuteronomy 8:3 (NIV)
It starts innocently enough: you want to lose a few pounds before beach week. You diet and exercise, work and sweat, and soon you've accomplished your goal. But then you sneak a donut when no one is looking, and the next day your scale shows a bigger number than the day before. You panic: the man who likes you so much better now that you're thinner will see that extra pound! He won't want you with your added padding! You must eliminate that pound of flesh!
And so you starve and exercise and work and sweat some more. The pound goes away, then another and another. Suddenly, you can't get away from the thoughts of losing weight, of the number on the scale, of the worthiness that will come when you are the smallest of all. Yet even as you shrink, your burdens grow. You now know that on top of all your struggles, you are a complete failure if you cannot conquer the hideous beast that is your body. You know the condemning words in your heart are true, that you are utterly worthless if you are fat.
Where did this all-consuming inner loathing come from? How did it arise so suddenly, from nowhere? How can you go from normal person one day to a slave to your destructive thoughts the next? You can't get away from the imprisonment, yet strangely, the prison grows more comfortable the longer you're inside.
Scenarios like this are true; this happened to me. My struggle with eating disorder arose just as suddenly, pulled me down as quickly; it was as if I stumbled into a black hole.
While it seems to happen overnight, the truth is that eating disorders are years in the making, and generally years in the breaking.
Seven times the Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (NIV).2 The Bible, God's own Words, is the authority on how we find God, how we learn the truth about real love and how we recognize evil. Fear, or reverence for God and His Words leads to knowledge and relationship with Him and understanding about the struggles we face. Truth is the truth, no matter what era we live in, no matter our problems. Therefore, the Bible must have some things to say about the destructive things that people do to themselves.
A few questions naturally arise: Does the Bible really yield any insights into the mysteries of eating disorders, and how to resolve them? Are eating disorders an age-old problem, or are they relatively new? Are eating disorders sin, circumstance or disease--or a combination of all three? Most who have suffered with eating disorder will acknowledge that the problem is with the whole person--mind, body and spirit--not merely a refusal of appetites. One of the reasons for this book is the enormous lack of information about the intricate interweaving of eating disorders and the underlying spirit. Our three-in-one selves (mind, body and spirit) cannot be divorced or compartmentalized from each other. Each affects the other.
There are many references to food and sin in the Bible; there is no leap of faith required when it comes to understanding God's position on misuse of food. While the words 'eating disorder', 'anorexia' and 'bulimia' are not found in the Bible, the Bible extensively addresses depression, anger, rage, jealously, insecurity, fear, sexual deviancy and immorality, and eating disorder is tangled up in of all of these.
By examining the characteristics of eating disorder--what an anorexic thinks, feels, and fears--and applying what the Bible says about such thoughts, emotions and behaviors, this book will clearly demonstrate that God's Word has much to tell the world about the epidemic of eating disorder. By applying the principles of the Bible, this book will plainly show the spiritual roots, physical manifestations, and emotional struggles that make up eating disorder. Additionally, current research about eating disorder and associated behaviors, as well as physical, psychiatric and neurological characteristics of anorexia and bulimia will all be examined to provide thorough understanding about this heartbreaking sickness.
One thing worth mentioning is that eating disorder--a condition where a person strives to lose weight in a way that becomes compulsive--is really the mirror image of obesity. Most of the principles detailed in this book apply to overeating as well. However, the express purpose of this book is to focus on the traditional view of eating disorder, that is, anorexia and bulimia.
In the Great Commission Jesus commanded that disciples must be made and that the disciples must be taught. Implicit in Matthew 28:20's command to 'teach' is that the teachers will know what they are talking about!3 I know what I am talking about when it comes to the thoughts, behaviors and obsessions of a person with eating disorder. I endured anorexia first and later bulimia. But this book is much more than just another diary of heartbreak. This book has resulted from insights born from experience, observations of and conversations with other women with eating disorder and extensive research.
The ultimate purpose of this book is to apply biblical truth to the monster that is eating disorder, to provide understanding, knowledge and insight, and to set the eating disorder captives free.
Eating disorder is a paradox, an upside down way of living. A paradox can be aptly described as '…a truth standing on its head…to get our attention.'1 Much of
what the Bible says is blessed and good is the opposite of life with an eating disorder, so the negative of the Biblical position is the reality of anorexia and bulimia. God loves a good paradox, and eating disorder is a study in the bizarre: the right gone so wrong and the lovely turned so foul.
The Bible is layered with truth; the lessons are not merely superficial. Actual events that forever changed ancient civilizations have important spiritual lessons for us today. While the famines spoken of thousands of years before Christ were physical, the application for our time is at a minimum a spiritual one. And like our ancestors of old, the issues that we struggle with today end up as our legacy, a spiritual lesson for those to come.
It is easy to read the Bible in a cursory way, never really thinking about the people whose lives are etched into history. But their stories, their struggles, were not romantic. Their agonies were often tersely recorded, worthy of mention because of their brutal power. Yet we read over them as if they were nothing. God brought forth the Bible from lands where paper and ink and the ability to read were the ultimate luxuries. We must not gloss over even one word.
God loves us so that He gave us His recorded Word as a model of instruction and insight for problems we encounter even today. Over 3000 years ago the words of Ecclesiastes 1:9b were penned, “…there is nothing new under the sun,”4 and that applies even to eating disorder. God's Word provides examples of every type of spiritually debilitating condition, even eating disorder, so that this and future generations will not be doomed to repeat unlearned history.
Food's First Entanglement with Man and Sin
In the beginning of the beginning, food was a component of the first and second piece of information that God gave to man. God created man in Genesis 1:27.5 In Genesis 1:28, God commanded mankind to be 'fruitful', that is, to sustain life, to be creative, to bear new life.6 Then immediately afterwards, in Genesis 1:29, God informed man of His plan to sustain our physical lives: food.7 God gave all plants and trees which yielded seeds to be food for people.
Seeds contain life, and so from the very first week of the earth, the concept was begun that food is meant to contain and sustain life. Life comes from God and life comes from the food He gives us. Without God there is no spiritual, and eventually no physical life; without food there is no physical life.
The first recorded stress-point over food happened almost as soon as people were created. In Genesis 2:17, Adam was commanded by God not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.8 Free-will just hates being told what it cannot do! And perhaps Eve accepted this command less willingly than Adam, because it was given directly to Adam, not to her.
That stress-point quickly led to the first crisis over food. In Genesis 3:3, Eve responds to Satan's question that she and Adam are not to eat or touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.9 She embellished (translation: lied) about what they were to do with the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Perhaps understanding that the tree would produce knowledge gave spiritual ground to the question of whether or not the food on the tree itself was good or evil. The truth is that food is neither good nor bad. It is a tool God gave to sustain life. Food itself has no quality of sin or conscience or choice, that it could be good or evil.
In Genesis 3:3, Eve's only real issue was a misunderstanding. She saw a non-existent lack in her life that she thought food could fix. Eve had everything she needed. She was perfect, just the way God made her. But she mistakenly thought that she was not perfect.
Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:20-23 say that very last creature God made, arguably His crowning achievement, is woman.10 God said all His other accomplishments were good, but on that last day of creation, after He finished making woman, He said His creation was 'very good' (Genesis 1:31).11 Women should take holy pride in the fact that God regards womanly beauty as very good, the ultimate finishing touch for the world He created.
But Eve thought wrongly about herself and about food, and what food could do for her or to her. Eve fixated her attention on food, instead of what God told her about herself, instead of what God created her for, and instead of God Himself.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was unusual, not only because it was solitary, not only because of its location in the middle of the Garden of Eden, but also because it bore no seed. God said specifically in Genesis 1:29 that every living thing (not just people) could eat any seed-bearing plant. The picture of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil bearing no seed is indicative that just because we understand the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, there is no life in merely understanding the difference. The life comes in choosing what is fruitful, choosing to obey God.
As we struggle with the Life-Giver (God), so we also struggle with the way He has chosen to sustain us (food). It is a great mystery and no coincidence that the fruit appealed so greatly to Eve, not Adam. The result of Eve's sin in our time is that women have far greater struggles with food than do men. It is also a great irony--and no accident--that women are typically the food gatherers and shoppers and preparers in their homes. Women touch food and shape it, fashion it, refine it and combine it. Food is much more a part of the average woman's life than the average man's life.
Thus, it is no surprise that women are susceptible to believing many unhealthy, inaccurate things about food. While we may not actually articulate that certain foods or diets will make us wise, or like God, what we often desire is a perfect body. There is not a great leap from desiring bodily perfection to being perfect, or being God-like in a self-serving, narcissistic way.
Eve was perfect, because she had perfect relationship with God and she was created without being marred by sin. Unlike us, Eve had to deliberately accept into herself this willful desire to be perfect (to be like God); that desire came from Satan. Her choice resulted in all flesh struggling with this desire for perfection. The drive for perfection is relentlessly unsatisfying because perfection is unattainable apart from relationship with God. We are wired to seek and want perfection, but there is only one way we can attain it. Colossians 1:28 declares that followers of Christ are to “…proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (NIV).12 The only way to true perfection is to become like Christ. The way that Christ displayed perfection was to so align His will so with God's that His will became identical to God's will. The only way we can become perfect is by taking into ourselves godly teaching, pushing our will down and holding God's will up. In so doing we will be made excellent and Christ-like.
Food's Tangled Web is Woven
The web of deceit began with Satan's rhetorical question in Genesis 3:1: “Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?”13 Man's first temptation involved food. While Satan did not lie in Genesis 3:1, his intent was clearly to deceive. In Genesis 3:4-5 Satan put Eve to a test: he challenged what God had said, effectively asking Eve to choose whether to be her own master or follow the Master.14 He challenged God's truthfulness to Adam and Eve, and implied that having additional information would be worth the disobedience.
Adam and Eve were certainly more innocent before choosing to eat the forbidden fruit, but that did not excuse their disobedience. Knowing that they were innocent, and no match for the wiles of Satan, God wisely gave Adam and Eve only one true choice.
It is unclear how much time lapsed before Eve was tempted by Satan, but the wording of Genesis 3 makes it clear that Satan had set his sights on Eve. Satan picked his time and place carefully, with malice aforethought. Satan deliberately approached Eve instead of Adam. Perhaps Satan rightly understood that Eve's beauty could be ruined by her disobedience.
Genesis 3:6-7 describes Eve's thought process.15 It is interesting to note that before any sin is committed, the sinner goes through each of these steps to rationalize his or her behavior. Though God said it was not good for her, Eve saw that the food was edible and could satisfy her perceived need. Eve saw that the fruit was beautiful. Eve saw that the fruit could make her wise. Eve just did not see that the fruit of the fruit was death. Eve did not think through to the point of
understanding that the knowledge of good and evil would in itself yield nothing. Only following God's commands would make her life truly wise and beautiful.
And so Eve ate the fruit, and then Adam. What an incredible disappointment it must have been to see the physical world with fallen eyes for the first time. Before their sin, they had purity in heart. They saw God, the beauty of His creation, the beauty in each other. Their sin took their focus off God and on to lesser things.
I wonder what happened to Eve physically as she committed that first sin. Did her heart pound, knowing she was deliberately disobeying the God who had made her? Did she clutch her chest in fright, to still its pounding, to keep it inside her chest? Or was she more cavalier, disdaining the very words of the Father who cared for her? This side of Heaven, no one will ever know.
Because their hearts were no longer pure, they could not behold the complete radiance of God's glory. Never again would they, or any of their offspring, fellowship with God so freely. Never again would they relate to God without a physical and spiritual barrier between them. Never again would they feel the contentment and peace from the absence of sin or impediment in their relationship with God or each other.
Adam and Eve's natural response was to hide from God. “…And the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).16 Ever since this act, mankind has tried to hide sin from God. As Adam and Eve hid within the garden, we mask our sins by keeping ourselves among real fruit. Whether the fruit is good words or kindness or philanthropy, all these things can only mimic the relationship with God that makes our lives truly fruitful.
God immediately dealt with Adam and Eve's sins. He dealt with the one that had caused them to sin (Genesis 3:14-15), then He told the woman, who had sinned deliberately, what the consequences of her choice would be.17 God specified pain in childbirth as a consequence to Eve's sin, but He also said something intriguing. In Genesis 3:16b, God said to Eve “…your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (NIV).18 Eve's sin with food led to her desire for her husband. The word 'desire', used in Genesis 3:16b, is only used three times in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word used here for desire is 'T'shuwqah', which literally means a yearning, a stretching out after.2 It is an overpowering urge, with needy undertones.
Food and sexual desire and children, the fruit of sex; food and desire for an honorable marriage; the fruit of food on our hips and thighs will forever be entangled with our relationship with men. What food does to our bodies is inescapably interwoven with who women are, how women see and use their bodies, particularly in a sexual way, and how women relate to men.
Ramifications of the First Conflict with Food
What is the natural progression of the conflict intertwined with food? As with all sin, the consequences of sin with food do not appear immediately. But God specifically spelled out what would happen: sin with food would lead to death. Along sin's path to death, women face consequences in their relationships, both with God and with men. Eve's desires were misplaced, and so modern desires are easily misplaced. Whether we settle for the false security that money or romance provides or how food (or the lack thereof) changes our appearance, we all desire fool's gold.
The first sin paved the way for all other sins with food. There is an undeniable compounding effect of sin; no sin is ever alone for long. And so it was from the very first sin: Eve lied and committed an act of rebellion and enticed her husband to join in her disobedience.
One obvious consequence of the first sin was that an animal had to be sacrificed to make clothing for Adam and Eve. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).19 Man also began to regularly kill to provide food for himself.
Meat and leather goods became staples of man's life, and living creatures had to die so man could survive. Health issues arose with the preservation and preparation of meat, issues which do not exist with fruits and grains. For the first time, rot and spoiling were realities.
Another less obvious consequence of the first sin was that Satan used food as a mechanism for Eve to break faith with God. And Satan continues to entice women to sin with food to break relationship with God. Eating disorder is therefore primarily an issue for those who have some manner of claim to the true God.
Yet in all the terrible, immediate consequences of the first sin with food, even then God painted a picture of Christ and His future sacrificial death. As animals shed blood to cover Adam and Eve and preserve their lives, so a vision of Christ was cast, His blood covering our sins so our spirits can live. During the wanderings in the desert some 2600 years later, God commanded that man not eat the blood of animals, because the blood contains the life. Animal blood was ordained to cover man's sins and restore man's spiritual life, and foreshadowed that Christ's blood would be the only way for mankind to receive real life.20
Eve thought wrongly that the path she chose was parallel to the path of God, that it was an equally righteous way. She could not have been more wrong. Divergence from the path of God, if not corrected, will always lead to an end far from God. Like two lines apparently parallel but slightly 'off', so we will be if we allow small sins into our lives. On the surface the sins may appear insignificant (the little white lie), but often pack enormous repercussions. Perhaps this is one
reason why God hates all sin so passionately, because He knows the terrible ends to which small sins lead.
In this present age, the results of the first sin with food are both visible and hidden. Visible misuse of food can reveal itself as obesity, a barrier for intimacy. Forsaking food leads to starvation, which can also be used as a barricade against intimate relationships.
But the inner results are worse. The outward manifestations of overeating and starvation have common roots in the heart: the desire that life would be different, less chaotic, more secure, more controlled. Deep is the desire to be in control of my own life. No one can be forced to eat--or forced to stop eating.
The diet pitches bombarding airwaves and magazines challenge listeners and readers to look this way, eat this food, turn your body into something new so you can be cool, in control, master of your universe. These promises and pitches all sound frighteningly similar to the first suggestion of Satan, 'You won't die, you will be like God. So just EAT it' (MSG).21
So how and where does this monster called eating disorder begin in the lives of young women? Since struggles with food started with Eve, is eating disorder unavoidable? Is it hard-wired into our DNA like hair color or dimples? Can it be stopped? Are women doomed to repeat this cycle of sin and sickness with every new generation? Can those with eating disorders truly change, and set aside their obsessions?
Like most serious issues in our lives, eating disorders do not just arise overnight. Isaiah 47:15 states that there are some issues in life that Satan has “…labored with and trafficked with since childhood” (NIV).22 The roots of this problem go very deep, to the earliest days and relationships of our lives. Before they can even tie their shoes, little girls are predisposed towards beauty enhancers, stories of princesses and castles and ornaments with which to adorn their bodies. Couple this natural propensity with the marketing of computer-altered, un-Biblical images of beauty targeted to ever-younger consumers, and the recipe for eating disorder is already cooking before little girls get to kindergarten. Eating disorders start in the hearts of young girls looking for beauty in themselves. Eating disorders start with what we see and hear, they start with what we take into our minds.
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