Reflection by Pastor Shawn Bawulski:
How should we think about God and food?
Perhaps food is a place of guilt and shame, or a stress release valve. Maybe we think of it mostly in terms of convenience. Or sometimes we obsess about diets and weight loss. This has even come over into Christian circles: in America, just to provide 2 examples, recent years have seen The Daniel (Diet) Plan and What Would Jesus Eat sell more than a few copies.
Well, I think “What would Jesus eat?” might be an interesting question. I think “What should I eat?” is a better question. But I think “As a Christian, how should I eat?” is the right question.
The answer to that question is, “eat with joy!” (Much of what I say here is indebted to a book called “Eat with Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food” by Rachel Marie Stone. (Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Eat-Joy-Redeeming-Gods-Gift/dp/0830836586 ) This is an excellent book!)
To begin to understand what it means to eat with joy, we need to ask why God made us as creatures that eat. Angels don’t seem to eat, but every living creature with a body does something like eating. Why? And further, why did God make eating so pleasurable? There’s more to it than metabolism and biology. There’s a nicely aged cheese, fine wine, and dark chocolate—things we eat that are just so good! When we move beyond biology to theology, we get a fuller story: as creatures, food sustains us and gives us pleasure because God does all that and much more. In a way, food is delicious because God is delicious.
The Bible seems obsessed with food, from the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden to the marriage supper of the lamb. Food was first given to us before we fell into sin and took the creation down with us, and it was good. It was abundant and not toilsome to get. God fed us, and we ate together with God. God wanted to feed humans, but instead humans stood God up and obsessed about the one food we shouldn’t have. It all goes wrong from there.
Later, Jesus says, “I am the true manna.” Bread from heaven sustained the Israelites in a land that couldn’t. But of course, those Israelites eventually died. Jesus promises something different: everyone who feasts on him will not die! (See John 6:51) We need to eat regularly to live. Without food, we die. We depend on food, and for that we depend on the creator’s hand to provide from the earth. This is a daily reminder of a spiritual reality—we depend on Christ, the bread of eternal life.
God has made us to enjoy food! When we embrace that, we declare that God is our creator and he is good. Food connects us with God. But in a fallen world, we can make it twisted. But if we’re careful and intentional, it can be a source of true enjoyment. It can be a spiritual act, where we accept food like a child—joyfully, with pleasure and thanks.
Food is also an opportunity for us to obey Jesus in loving our neighbors. Jesus makes it very clear that he cares about the hungry (see, for example, Matt: 25:31-46). So what might food justice look like today? How can we love our neighbors when it comes to food and food production? God’s intention is that all are well fed with good, nourishing food. When that’s not the case, we need to take action. Further, the food systems in many countries are stained with human abuse, exploitation, and suffering. We are right to pray before a meal that God would bless the hands that brought us this food, but we should also do what we can to ensure that those people are treated with the dignity that is fitting of being made in the image of God, as all humans are. We might need to ask ourselves challenging questions like, “where all the people involved in getting this food onto my plate treated fairly?” Too much of our food comes from a place of misery, not joy. If we are to love our neighbors, we need to work to change that. (We also need to have similar concerns about the ecological effects of farming, sustainable practices, and animal welfare and suffering.)
Another important aspect of eating with joy is eating together. Sharing food and sharing company through hospitality is a core Christian practice. In the early church, the visible witness of different types of people sharing meals and sharing life was a powerful witness to the gospel—and that’s no less true today.
The main approach to eating with joy is to understand it as a redemptive practice. God works in us in a redemptive way: he starts where we are, and moves us, step-by-step to bring us closer to being like Jesus. A Christian approach to food works this way, too: we aren’t going to change everything at once, but little by little, we work with God in obedience to the gospel to redeem the whole of our world. Including food!