When I was in college I was a shift manager of a CVS Pharmacy. One of the responsibilities that came with managing a store was dealing with shoplifters. It’s not something most of us think about, but I got a little glimpse of the juvenile court system.
One time I had to appear in court because the young man pled innocent, in spite of eye witnesses, a clear video image, and his confession when he was arrested. He refused representation and was fighting his own case. He did not deny taking something that did not belong to him, but he justified his theft based upon his need.
I’ll never forget the gentle, but stern look of the judge as he explained, “Your desperate need explains your behavior, but it does not excuse it.”
Those words have echoed in my heart for more than two decades, and they accuse me at the most inconvenient times.
Like when I am hungry.
First of all, you have to understand, I think there is some red-meat genetic mutation that the people in my family seem to have. Some sort of chemical imbalance happens if we go too long without red meat. It is not unlike what happened to the minions in Despicable Me 2… except we don’t turn purple.
OK, so it’s not that bad. But I do get sort of jittery and agitated inside. And there is this underlying fatigue/weakness. And without remedy (a hamburger will do…) I quickly become irritable and unkind.
When I am in such a state, little things like loud voices, spilled milk, a child rolling their eyes seem so much more significant. And my response is often way.over.the.top. I find myself saying and doing things I fully regret later. I know it even as I speak, and that knowledge provokes me all the more.
I think the popular term for this phenomenon is “hangry.” Hunger + Angry. There are a lot of articles, jokes, and memes out there exposing “hanger.” I guess I’m not alone.
One solution, of course, is to just get some red meat. Better still, I plan the meals for our family – why don’t I schedule regular infusions of red meat? But things happen, meal plans get rearranged, red meat is expensive, we travel… there are all kinds of reasons I end up steeped in red-meat sin.
And it is sin.
My desperate need for red meat might explain my behavior, but it does not excuse it.
There is no scripture that says, “Love one another as I have loved you unless you have not had red meat lately.”
And it gets worse.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Matthew 4:1-2
Jesus fasted for 40 days and “he was hungry.”
I think that’s a bit of an understatement.
And then the Bible goes on to tell us about how, before he stopped through the Burger King drive-thru, Jesus met Satan. And Satan tempted Jesus in every way – while Jesus was hungry – and Jesus, having feasted on scripture, did.not.sin (Matthew 4:3-11).
Forty days, people. There are days I go 40 minutes without food and I’m sinning all over the place. Then I try to excuse it because of my red-meat deficiency.
Perhaps it’s more of a red-word deficiency. I am not feasting not the words of Christ. Whether it’s the red-letter words of Christ in my Bible, or the Bible as a whole, those words, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3) speak truth to my “hungry” heart.
When my body has depleted its stores of myoglobin, I don’t have any physiological reserves to draw on for restraint. If my heart has depleted its stores of scripture, I have no spiritual reserves to draw on for righteousness. If I am spiritually famished, I do not have the strength to withstand the schemes of the devil.
Until I am ready to recognize that a regular infusion of scripture will do more to meet me in moments of temptation than a consistent diet of red meat, I will continue to rationalize my sin.
Red meat is a real physical requirement for my health and it is wise for me to attend to that need. I would be foolish to say I can just read the Bible instead of eating red meat and all my problems will be solved.
It is important for me to eat red meat, especially since I am prone to sin for the lack of it. But whether I have had red meat or not, I still have a choice about how I respond to provocation throughout the day. The Spirit of God resides in my heart, so I can choose to respond differently than my physical body demands.
I am especially tempted to sin when I haven’t eaten red meat. But that is not the only circumstance that can leave a person weakened in the face of temptation. What is it for you?
- Stress at work
- Chronic pain
Wherever you find yourself making excuses for your sinful behavior is your own version of red-meat sin and it seems to point to a red-letter deficiency.
The only way to have victory over this kind of sin is to feast on the words of Christ. When I am confronted with the truth and grace of the gospel, I find strength to take my thoughts captive. In that moment there is hope. It is in the strength of the gospel that I can resist temptation. It is in the hope of grace that I can choose a response that glorifies God.