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A Pastor’s Reflections: Spiritual Bulimics and Anorexics

September 17, 2013


There are spiritual bulimics. Bulimia is an eating disorder where people will binge eat and then purge, to put it politely. I ran into a number of people like this who would regularly come to church, they would buy many theological books, and even profess to read and study the word. But regardless of how much they consumed, they seemed to purge it out as soon as the left the doors of the church. Their lives were a total mess—gross sin abounded and there were massive breaches of judgment.

There are spiritual anorexics. Anorexia is an eating disorder where a person stays away from food altogether. There were a number of people in the church who claimed that they were Christians, several of whom were on the membership roll, but who seldom darkened the door of the church. On a number of pastoral visits I would encourage them to attend church—I showed them various Scripture passages and explained the importance of the means of grace for their sanctification. Unsurprisingly, not only were these people frequently absent from church, but they were also inattentive to the word and prayer in their own private devotions. In one case, after many long months and repeated entreaties, the session placed one individual under church discipline for his or her failure to attend church—there were also other factors involved. People like this frustrated me because they would complain about having all sorts of spiritual problems. Well, yes, of course you will. If you don’t eat food then of course you’ll be weak.

In the church we all have to realize that coming to the table and eating (to extend the analogy) is not enough. You not only have to consume, but you also have to digest. The spiritual bulimic suffers likely suffers from insatiable hunger, but Christ tells us: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). Chances are, if you’re constantly devouring theological “food,” but to no effect, then you’re probably an intellectual ideas junkie. You like the intellectual stimulation but you’re not genuinely interested in taking up your cross and following Christ. Like Paul’s description of the person who possesses all knowledge but has not love, he is like a noisy cymbal (1 Cor. 13:1-2). Growth in grace is not ultimately about the acquisition of knowledge but ultimately the pursuit of wisdom—of learning who Christ is and seeking greater conformity to his image.

Likewise, for the spiritual anorexic, if you find yourself fleeing from the “meal” that Christ offers in word and sacrament, could it be that you don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness because you are already full? Have you already sat at the table of the world and taken your fill so that you have no hunger for righteousness?

In both cases, whether for the spiritual bulimic or anorexic, the only person who can move you past these sanctification disorders is Christ. Only he can give you the desire to pursue the wisdom that can only be found him (Col. 2:3). Only he can give you the desire to flee the table of the world and give you a hunger and thirst for righteousness that only word and sacrament can satiate.