One reader recently asked a great question about whether eating disorders are a sin or a sickness. Here are some of the things I said in our emails:
I’m a Christian and I sin all the time. And I forget God’s grace all the time too. And those two things are totally linked. Whenever I forget I’m forgiven, accepted and loved I try to punish myself, fake it and ‘perform’. And eating disorders are all about punishing myself, faking it and performing.
Eating disorders are just one more kind of disordered behaviour that show we haven’t really received the love and grace of Jesus. And that is the heart of sin. (See this article my husband wrote – all about how sin is not receiving the grace of Christ).
So, yes it is a sin. But when I admit to being a sinner this is not my queue for a pity party or for indulging some self-harm. (All that stuff is part of the problem!). No we need to understand how Jesus sees sin. According to Him, sin is a power. It’s something that’s bigger than us. It’s not just a simple practice that we’ve chosen, it’s a master we’ve fallen under. Every time we confess to sin we are confessing to something that is addictive and enslaving (John 8:34).
So really it’s not a question about whether an eating disorder is a sin OR a sickness. Because of the nature of sin, EDs are a sin AND a sickness. I am both guilty because I’ve given myself to something else other than Jesus and I’m helpless because it has trapped me. We tend to think it’s one or the other, but time and again the bible tells me it’s both. And this isn’t just a truth about EDs, it’s a truth about sin more generally.
So as I bring my struggles with eating before the Lord I remind myself,
a) the Lord loves me and has paid for all my sins with His blood,
b) I have sinned against Him in multiple ways and that’s wrong, and,
c) I am not able to simply choose holiness. I can’t just grit my teeth and correct my behaviour. No, I’m a slave to this sin and I need Jesus to set me free. I need Him to come into my heart in a deeper way, to change what it is that I love and to remake me as someone who desires that freedom from the heart.
So a prayer that I pray for myself all the time is from Ephesians 3:14-20. Paul is writing to Christians. They already know Jesus, they already have Jesus in their hearts, but Paul wants them to know Jesus and His love even more:
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.