The Symbolism of Fasting

By Jon Elordi

Lent is a time of fasting. As a Roman Catholic, the tradition is to “give up” something for Lent. Usually, people give up chocolate or coffee. Something they would normally enjoy habitually. This way then they feel the urge to imbibe in that habit they can make the sacrifice for God. Roman Catholics also abstain from eating meat and snacking on Fridays. I say “snacking” to keep it simple, here are the recommendations for fasting if you’re curious.

Fasting is a great spiritual exercise. There are material benefits to the body. Intermittent fasting has become a popular diet trend as it’s helped people lose weight get healthier. It’s funny that intermittent fasting has been “discovered” when the ancient religions of the world have been doing it for millennia. It’s as if religion, culture, and tradition contain discovered and pragmatic truths. (I’m being very sarcastic incase you didn’t pick it up.) But the physical benefits are not the point of this post, the point is the symbolism of fasting.

To start, what is fasting? Fasting has traditionally meant to abstain from eating food for an extend period of time. Sometimes people don’t give up all food, but will limit their food to only a few items: bread and water. Either way, through fasting you will feel the pains of hunger. People do use the word fasting to talk about things they have “given up.” You’ll hear people talk about going on a technology fast. Where they give up using there phone or computer for a period of time. For the purposes of this post I’m looking at the traditional definition as it’s more concrete to explain my thoughts.

To simplify, fasting is abstaining from food to the point of feeling hunger for a period of time.

What does it mean to eat? Eating is necessary for living. If we don’t eat we get weaker and we will eventually die. This is why it hurts. Our body does not want to die, we do not want to die. It’s also a very primal instinct to eat. All animals eat and all will eat to excess. That’s why dogs and cats will always get fat if you give them. They have no concept of dieting or a “healthy weight.” They eat because it is necessary for survival.

Why is this a spiritual exercise? Fasting is symbolic of a dying sacrifice. Through fasting, we starve ourselves. But by choosing not to eat we are showing a willingness to die. In this way, fasting is a ritualized symbolic martyrdom. Jesus explicitly states in the gospel of luke:

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”

Luke 9:24-25 

The ultimate sacrifice is to give up one’s life for another. The goal of a Christian is to lose your life to Christ. To sacrifice your life for Christ. This is the sacrifice Christ calls us to in the passage above. To make the ultimate sacrifice to God, in much the same way Christ sacrificed himself for us.

Fasting is a representation of sacrificing our lives for Christ. We are starving ourselves. We are feeling and going through the process of dying. We are in a controlled ritualized process of losing our lives to Christ. Fasting is not just pain and suffering, it is a metaphor for the inevitable sacrifice we must make for Christ.

By fasting we are symbolically saying, “Lord I am willing to die for you.”