Can my hormones make me sin? It sure feels that way sometimes. Most women know what it’s like to spend a day snapping at their kids or glaring at their colleagues, only to get their period a day or two later and think, Ohhh . . . that explains a lot. How intensely we feel this (or not) will vary greatly—but for the vast majority of us, hormones do affect how we behave. And sometimes, if we’re honest, we behave badly.
It’s not just periods, of course. Other times in our lives—such as menopause or pregnancy—will present their own challenges. Nor is this a question just for women. The experience of getting “hangry” (hungry and angry), for instance, is linked to stress hormones released in response to low glucose level.
So are we ever justified to say, “My hormones made me do it”? It doesn’t seem right to exonerate ourselves completely when we know hormones have been at work—sin is still sin, after all. But when hormone-fueled bad behavior seems so impossible to overcome, what’s the alternative? Continually feeling crushed by guilt? Despairing over our bodies? That doesn’t seem right either.
Thankfully, the Bible sheds light on these very real and sometimes raw experiences.
Body and Soul
First, it teaches us about our bodies. There’s something physical about our humanness, our creatureliness. To be sure, we are more than our bodies . . . but we cannot be without them either. It’s all bound together: mind, body, soul—whole. One implication of this is that we can expect that the physical will have a bearing on the spiritual, and the spiritual will have a bearing on the physical. In this sense, it’s not surprising that rising and falling hormones have a very real bearing on our battle with sin.
Like the rest of creation, our bodies are good—but the reality is, they are also weak. We all discover that at one point or another in our lives. And that’s okay. Our human frailties—physical and emotional—are not something sinful. That’s how we were made. Our fluctuating hormones are not in themselves something to beat ourselves up over.
But it’s complicated. Sometimes we confuse weakness with sin. Sometimes we excuse sin as weakness. The truth is that a lot of the time we act in a way that mixes sin and weakness—they are very hard to untangle. And we’re prone to respond to our weakness in sinful ways.
Scripture speaks frankly about sin and its dangers:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (Colossians 3:5–8 NIV)
I find a strange kind of comfort in the fact that Paul has to tell Christians in Colossae to rid themselves of anger and malice and lust—because clearly they weren’t rid of them up until then. So we’re not the only ones to struggle with sin; Christians since the first century have faced these kinds of battles.
At the same time, Paul is very clear. If our true lives are hidden with Christ—if he died for our sin—then the behaviors we previously embraced or at least tolerated are no longer fitting (v. 7). We can no longer come running when these desires whistle. Instead, Paul says, Wage war against temptation. Don’t let it overpower you. Put it to death. It’s serious: “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming” (v. 6).
This is what we need to be reminded of, if and when we’re tempted to use our hormones as an excuse for sin. “Yes, I snapped at him—but he should try going through the menopause before he starts to judge,” is an attempt to self-justify. “I’m sorry, but . . . ” is a way of seeking to minimize what we’ve done. Paul gives no caveats when it comes to sin. We shouldn’t either.
Hormones are real, they do have a very real effect on how we’re feeling, and it is helpful to acknowledge that. But sin is equally sinful (and repentance should be equally repentant) whatever the state of our hormones.
Yet take heart: God is equally gracious, too. When we get things wrong, we can simply come to Jesus, knowing that He bears with our weakness and forgives our sin. Which means that even when we are finding it hard to sort out which is which, it’s okay: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 NIV).
So no, we shouldn’t seek to justify ourselves when we’ve gone wrong, but we don’t need to sit in shame. Nor should we resign ourselves to defeat. We have weapons for this battle. Taking sin seriously could mean tracking our cycles and anticipating when the pressure-points are going to come, so we’re prepared. It could mean being upfront with others so that they can pray for us and help us out practically to ease the pressure and minimize temptation. It also means taking advantage of the common-sense, common-grace gifts of good sleep, regular exercise, and proper nutrition, because we’re whole creatures, body and soul—so caring for one does wonders for the other.
It’s worth saying that for some of us, those common-grace gifts may include medication. It’s estimated that between three and eight percent of women suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)—intense depression, anxiety and/or irritability, tied to specific phases of the menstrual cycle. In these cases, and many others, it’s wise to seek the help of a medical professional.
For all of us, taking sin seriously will always look like availing ourselves of the gift of the Holy Spirit, making sure we ask Him to help us as we head into our day and praying throughout it for His power to be at work in us.
An Unexpected Blessing
Maybe the menstrual cycle is actually a gift of grace. Maybe there’s reason to rejoice at the fact that God gifted us wonderfully complicated bodies with scope to feel so many things. Perhaps if every day brought the same battles we’d lose the impetus to fight. Or maybe our hormones helpfully turn up the volume on the wayward desires that were there all along, so that we get the opportunity to see them more clearly. The fiercer the battle with sin, the sweeter the victory and the greater the change towards Christ-likeness—which is why our most hormonal days are not just a problem to be navigated with as little collateral damage as possible but an opportunity to fight and win and change.
In the words of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, “Anything that makes you need God is a blessing.” Even your hormones.
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