On a crisp early autumn evening, our family finished a few last minute dinner preparations just before our guests arrived. We wove strings of last year’s Christmas lights through the branches of the fuschia crepe myrtles that surround the brick patio. We adorned our weathered outdoor farm table with a simple bouquet of blossoms freshly plucked from the cutting garden. The playlist was just loud enough to diffuse the bellowing cows in our nearby pasture. My family worked in harmony; my husband grilled, my older daughter baked brownies while my caboose kid folded the napkins—a symphony of cooperation.
I stood back taking in the whole scene absorbing the convergence of my tribe of hospitable hearts. The gifts of food that filled our table that evening offered more than a means of joyful feasting; they pointed to the Giver of the food.
Misinterpretation of specific passages of dietary freedom continues to widen the chasm between the deep connection between physical food and spiritual food. Once you bridge the gap between the two, it will transform how you fill your plate and gather around your table.
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Food Cultivates a Dependency on the Provider
For many Americans, every day is a feast. A constant abundance of food erodes our memory of the provision of a loving God. Unlike us, our agrarian forefathers relied on the land for sustenance. They expressed gratitude to the One who created the food, provided the rain, and supplied the harvest. These days, we numbly push our cart through a supermarket without giving thought to where our food comes, how it is grown, or who ultimately provided the food.
The Abundance of Food, in America, Produces a Food Paradox.
With too much, we forget about God’s involvement with food, and suddenly the gift of food becomes distorted. The gift then transforms into food-related idolatry or a food movement. Leslie Leyland Fields writes “without recognition of the God who has made the earth, our dependence on water and food may move us elsewhere—toward communion with the earth, even communion with food itself. Throughout the Old Testament, food for the Israelites signified their dependence on God’s constant provision of their needs.
Unfortunately, we count calories instead of counting our food blessings. We make radical, and sometimes permanent dietary alterations like eliminating bread from our diet. I am confident that Jesus would not refer to himself as the Bread of Life if bread were not a valuable, nutrient-dense food. The better option might be to replace industrialized, chemically enhanced loaves with bread made from real ingredients.
God promises to feed us both spiritually and physically. We see countless examples of this throughout Scripture. The two are inextricably connected. Removal of one weakens the other.
Food as a Conduit to Foster Fellowship and Hospitality
The table is a place to reconnect with old friends and build relationships with new friends. Inviting our dinner guests for a meal that autumn evening required us to prepare food and create a hospitable atmosphere. Preparing a table for joyful feasting allows us to show love to others. With every dish served, every glass refilled, we make space in our heart for others. The food and the fellowship reveal God’s presence in Creation. Radical Hospitality, a moving narrative about offering genuine hospitality, Lonni Pratt’s submits that “the table represents the unknown yearning of every human heart for communion with something more that infuses all that exists.”
Hospitality is offering the sojourner or the orphan spiritual and physical food that sustains and nourishes the heart and soul.
Food and the Gospel
When Jesus fed the five thousand, he did so with spiritual food and physical food. We need to feed our bodies with the same vigilance and care that we feed our souls. God graciously provides a simple, nutritious eating plan. Eat food within the confines of Creation and avoid foods that are adulterated by modern food science.
Maira Alejandra poses a compelling question in her article, “The Spiritual Roots of the Modern Food Movement,“Can we see God and even preach the Gospel through food? Absolutely. Alejandra explains how we “see God in the diversity and creativity of a meal… the meal itself is a story to be shared—how it is made and why? Food combined with genuine, heartfelt fellowship creates an atmosphere that encourages guests to lean in and listen. Throughout his ministry, Jesus sets the example of using food and fellowship to preach the Gospel.
Food Should Nurture Humility and Gratitude
These days food polarizes us rather than unites us. We are apt to either view food as an entitled, mundane act or a food movement orthodoxy. This is what happens when we fail to acknowledge that there is a theology of food entrenched throughout Scripture.
A fractured biblical perspective on food leads to:
- radical food movements that elevate food about the Creator
- exploitation of food and abuse of the earth
- seduction of self-righteous eating
- food-related idolatry
- complacency regarding nutrition
Extracting a few scripture passages about dietary freedom does not give us a license for mindless food consumption or environmental degradation. As caretakers of Creation, we cannot disregard our biblical responsibility for creation stewardship. Indeed, Christians are commissioned to steward the earth which includes ethical and sustainable farming practices. As Bethany Jenkins points out in her stirring article, “Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From? “Caring for the environment is, of course, a vast and complex topic, but a pastry chef seeking to integrate his faith and work can care for God’s creation in his baking.
Eating from a Christian Worldview is NOT a Food Movement
If you believe that organic foods, cage-free, and grass-fed are mere “pet food movements,” then you’ve grievously missed the mark on environmental stewardship. Conversely, if you develop an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, clinically referred to as orthorexia, then you’ve relegated the body more important than the soul and the need for a transformed heart.
For many evangelicals, the food blindspot seems to be balancing the scale between biblical food freedom and eating for the glory of God.
Our utter dependence on food should draw us closer to our Creator. Leyland Fields takes us back to the opening pages of the Bible “that all he has made, the fruits and vegetables spoke from his imagination, are ‘very good.’ Lush in flavor, exquisite in beauty and fragrance, their value is intrinsic to their God-made-ness.” This act of goodness and love for us should bring us to our knees in thankfulness.
The Shepherd’s Table
For too long, Christians fail to make the deep-rooted connection between spiritual food and physical food. Many extract a handful of food-related scriptures to justify poor food choices in the name of food freedom. We can’t escape the reality that food plays an enormous role in the Bible. It’s one of the Venn diagrams of Bible reading. The two topics overlap from the beginning of the redemption story to its end.
Perhaps, the food revolution should begin in our sanctuaries. It is possible to repair the fractured relationship between spiritual food and physical food. Once we recognize and embrace the inseparable bond between the two, we can fill the plates at our church potlucks with meals that nourish the heart and body.
Our kitchen tables will serve as a place of feasting and fellowship with an evangelical zeal that entwines hearts and hands.
Adam, Warner Day. Eating Before the Lord: A Theology of Food According to Deuteronomy. Scholarly paper. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40280. 2014 Document.