Gustus is Latin for “taste” of which the Middle English gust follows, adding to the meaning a hint of savoring or delighting in the flavor of food. Dis-gust, then, means the opposite – revulsion or repulsion. Disgust comes quick – a violent gag reflex, sweaty brow and sour gut, followed by a general loss of appetite. For all the God-directed insistence to worshipfully enjoy good food and drink – to savor or delight in them – there is equal scriptural encouragement to be disgusted in a stomach-turning sort of way.
There seems to be general neglect and misunderstanding regarding the importance of the physical in spiritual matters. The human body is often viewed as an obstacle to overcome rather than a living sacrifice to be offered in service. Taste buds and digestive tracts are designed to glorify God. Persons are embodied souls or soulish bodies – the soul has no monopoly on spirituality. The body – tissues and organs – has equal capacity to honor God, for it is the combination of body and soul that makes up the person. Body and soul walk together according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.
Without body worship, feasting and fasting makes no practical sense. Eating appears either indulgent or incidental. Why not processed foods? As long as the nutrients are fortified, Christians need not be sensual ? just satisfied. Why not fast foods if it is simply fuel ? the more convenient and efficient, the better. For many, enjoying good food and drink is simply too gourmet. The Israelites, however, were commanded to act otherwise:
Tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year…you may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. Deuteronomy 14:22, 25-26 NASB
Just as important as celebrating the gift was the reaction to what sours the gift. Israel not only feasted but also fasted. Sin is disgusting; at least is should be. It should make the believer retch. It makes sense that fasting – not just the discipline of not eating, but the natural, involuntary inability to eat in response to grief – would be the foundation of the practice. Certainly Scripture mentions other acceptable cultic fasts, but at the core of all fasting is a grievous reaction to personal sin, the sin of others or sin as a result of living in a fallen world – being so upset that you are unable to get food down. The Lord, through Joel, captures the emotion:
Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning, rend your hearts and not your clothing. Joel 2:12-13
Out of the heart, the contrite body expressed itself. This is a far cry from the traditional, at times phony, holiday “fasting” from electronic entertainment or sugary sodas. Probably more appropriately labeled “abstaining,” such elements rarely cause disgust (if they did, wouldn’t the prescription be to give them up totally and not just seasonally?). Abstaining from things can provide motivational discipline toward holiness without losing one’s lunch, but biblical fasting means not enjoying food – it means dis-gust. Perhaps this is because there is little more revealing than a body repulsed to the point of nausea. Perhaps it is because the body needs food to live. Fasting should be natural for Christians, not necessarily because believers are disciplined, but because sin is gross.