Lent: Why We Fast


My daughter recently asked me why she couldn’t have something she wanted. Her reasoning was that she liked it, therefore, she should be able to have it. I told her that just because you like something doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

And that reminded me of old episodes of Star Trek that I saw as a kid. They had, on their ships, technology that could materialize any food for you just by asking for it. On the face of it, that technology seems like it would be an indisputable good.

But, as we all know, there is good nutrition and bad nutrition and many of us, if we have unlimited access to bad nutrition, won’t be able to resist that temptation and this would be the danger in this kind of technology.

At least right now, food costs us something and we have limited resources to access it. So, we have to balance our need for the nutrition that we need and the garbage that we desire with our limited financial ability to dedicate to either one. That puts somewhat reasonable limits on our bad food intake which when combined with our own will-power is a helpful limitation.

But the kind of technology that exists in Star Trek would erase those limitations which would inevitably mean that obesity and the ill effects of eating things we shouldn’t would skyrocket. #dadjoke

And this should force us to confront something. Why is it that something that is undeniably good, the ability to feed everyone who needs it, is a potential danger to the health of so many people, if not everyone? The only reasonable answer is, because human beings, are dysfunctional, or broken, or fallen. We are masters of spoiling a good thing.

And this is true for so many things. We learn to fashion tools with our hands so we use that ability to instead make instruments of war. We learn to build impressive structural wonders and we use them to sacrifice innocent people for our pious bloodlust. We learn to find ways to distribute vital information to the masses either through the printing press or the internet and instead we use it to fixate all our attention on Kardashian posteriors.

Kurt Vonnegut said it succinctly when he said: “I thought scientists were going to find out exactly how everything worked, and then make it work better. Scientific truth was going to make us so happy and comfortable. What actually happened was that we dropped scientific truth on Hiroshima.”

And very few people seem to appreciate the fact that whenever we are able to access something that could be used for good, we also have the potential to use it for ill… and we pretty much always do to some degree.

For generations, Christians and the Church have been telling us to limit our access and consumption of certain things and that just because something is new and shiny, it doesn’t mean it will be good for us and all the while the Church has been denounced as anti-progressive for issuing these cautions.

Often, it’s not because the Church doesn’t believe that many of these things have good qualities or potential, but rather because they can be dangerous in the hands of those who are not fit to use them: namely us.

And the reason is because we lack good judgement and self-control. So, as a remedy the Church has always prescribed fasting. It’s a kind of overcompensation to fix that lack of self control so that you can become the kind of person that can wield good things without risk of contaminating them.

A good example of this is the astronauts on the space station. When they persist in an environment with zero gravity, their muscles become weakened because they don’t have to resist the pull of gravity the way we on the surface do. So, they have to overcompensate with excessive exercise to find some equilibrium.

This is what fasting does for Christians. We don’t do it because we think that some good thing like food or technology are bad. We do it because we recognize that we are bad and need to overcompensate to become good.

Heaven, I imagine will be a state of being in which nothing is withheld from us but only because we will have become perfectly good. As long as we are not perfectly good we can’t have unlimited access to good things without the potential of being injured by it or corrupting it. And I think we would be well served by reclaiming an appreciation for the fact that we are broken or fallen and this means we should be careful about what good things we allow ourselves access to.

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