Spiritual Learning, Part 2: Food

Good Food sign
I like the rich Biblical metaphor of food and nutrition: both Old and New Testaments are full of similes comparing God’s Word, and knowledge of His ways, with food. The Scriptures are described as honey, a few times as milk, and as solid food — like a baby’s diet and digestive system change and expand as he/she gets older, so our spiritual diet should grow, change, become deeper as we learn more about God & His character.

Food is a powerful metaphor; we know we need nutrients for our bodies to survive and thrive. If we don’t eat, we get hungry. If we try to eat too much in one go, we can struggle to digest it properly.

These ideas extend, I think, to the way we treat Scripture, and spiritual nourishment in general. Are we getting enough? Are we benefiting from what we do get? These are both traps we can fall into.

I like Christian author Steve Farrar’s description of these pitfalls: in his book Point Man he calls them “Spiritual Anorexia” and “Spiritual Bulimia.” Spiritual Anorexia describes those of us who simply don’t get enough Bible nourishment — we know it’s good for us, we know the benefit that it brings, and yet we simply don’t get it into us. It can be laziness, excuses (“I’m too busy / I don’t have time”), or straight-out pride (“I don’t need to”). All of us at some stage struggle with this spiritual eating disorder.

Spiritual Bulimia, on the other hand, is different: we “gorge” on great teaching, Bible reading, fellowship. We listen, we taste, and we say “wow, that was great teaching!” — and then we effectively go and throw it up by not letting it affect us and change the way we live. We like the taste of spiritual nourishment, but we don’t want it to make us grow.

Following on from my first post on this topic, which is more of a problem for you? I struggle with both: in my day-to-day life I believe I can get by without daily Bible reading (the spiritual equivalent of skipping meals). At the same time, however, whenever I’m blessed with amazing teaching (like a great sermon, an amazing camp, or a helpful book or podcast) my tendency is to say “wow, that was really tasty!” – and then throw it up as if it is of no use to me. Both of these are unhealthy habits, so I need to be constantly working on my spiritual diet.

Creative Commons: thehappyrobot on flickr


Both are dangers in my life, but anorexia would be my main problem. Not eating at all has a similar effect to throwing everything up - you go hungry. So when I do eat it keeps me going for a while, but not eating again and I'm back to an emaciated skeleton (spiritually speaking).
My problem is often trying to 'do' too much for God without being properly fed by Him. Nourishing my relationship with God, my character, and my personal relationships, requires a lot of patience.

In practice, for me, that often looks like: a lot of reading and a lack of prayer, a lot of study and a lack of meditation on the Word… a tendency to drift towards mental exercise and away from heart-to-heart communion with God.

I got rebuked hard by God this week for this tendency of mine! I love God, he's so precious… I can't believe I push him aside so often. I over-complicate things so I can pride myself in my mental prowess, but the gospel is so beautiful because it's so simple - the gospel is the love of God; Jesus died for my sin, and now I get to live with him!

Yeah, spiritual bulimia would probably be my danger. I eat lots, but digest occasionally.