Certain questions about life dominate our thoughts and conversations. They bear discussion and debate, contemplation and argument. Many times, even after much searching, we never find the answers we set out looking for.
One question in particular looms large for all of us: What are we having for dinner?
I don’t know. What do you want?
Whatever you want is fine with me.
This is perhaps one of the most pressing questions of our daily existence. What should we eat?
In the Chamberlain household, we want it to be relatively healthy. And we definitely want it to be tasty. Most of the time, we want it to be quick and easy. I know. We want it all. Usually you can only get two out of the three for any given meal.
But when you think about it, much of our daily schedule is defined by food. It’s almost as if daily life can be measured in terms of meals.
Humanity has a unique relationship with food. I doubt that any other earthly creature obsesses about food as much as we do.
There’s something emotional, and even spiritual, about the way we interact with food.
Some fitness experts and nutritionists will tell you that food is nothing more than fuel. And there’s a grain of truth to that. Fueling your body is a science that can be measured by calories and macronutrients.
Some people pine about a future time when science will harness a way to consume all our necessary daily nutrients in the form of a single pill. But even if we had that pill, it’s doubtful that most people would prefer it. It’s likely that humanity would quickly grow weary of it, and we would soon reminisce about the days when we ate delicious meals.
Food is fundamental to the human experience. And since humans are created in the image of God, food must show us something about how we reflect who God is and what He values.
Here are some important things to remember if we want to think about food spiritually.
1. Food expresses creativity.
When God created the world, He created it with both order and beauty–both form and function. God looked at the world and saw that it was good. Everything functioned just the way He wanted it to. And beautifully so.
He formed vast systems of existence, like solar systems. He created complex ecosystems. Even the human body is made up of a network of systems like the respiratory system and nervous system. All of it is totally functional–and absolutely beautiful.
God cares about form, as well as function. He loves to create both science and art. It’s not about one or the other but a beautiful marriage of the two.
When it comes to food, we have the same impulse. We want to create and enjoy cuisines that fuel our nutrition. But we also want it to taste good.
What’s more is that we even want it to look good. To have a certain combination of colors and textures, to be plated in such a way that makes it lovely. We want the food to be paired with a beverage that complements the flavors. We want different courses of a meal to be individually delightful and yet to also paint a larger culinary picture together.
Food is beautiful, and it’s fuel. It’s art and science. That’s why we dedicate television shows, and even whole television channels, to the presentation of new foods to discover, how to prepare them, and where to travel to experience them.
Food taps into our desire to be creative and to experience creativity. That reflects God.
2. Food expresses culture.
Whenever the bible speaks about heaven, it always describes a multicultural experience. People from every tribe, nation, and language gather around the throne of Jesus to give God glory forever.
And God’s heart is to have a community of believers here on earth that reflects the same kind of diversity.
If we all express God’s image, and yet we all look different, then that means that each person or people group highlights something special about God’s image. Each culture is valuable, because each culture uniquely expresses God’s image.
Food is a major part of that.
In any culture, attached to the foods are stories. Stories about how that culture came to be. Stories that show what the culture values, what makes it beautiful, what goodness lies at its heart.
As we experience cuisines across cultures, we experience those stories. And in so doing, we experience just a little more of who God is.
3. Food expresses community.
You simply don’t get the full experience of food unless you’re eating it with someone. Food is best experienced in community, and food actually goes a long way in creating community.
After all, no party can fittingly be called such without food. What’s a party without food? A business meeting. (And even businesspeople would prefer food at their meetings.)
Food is integral to community, and community is a deeply spiritual thing.
In the bible, God talks much about the community of believers having fellowship–that is, spiritual partnership. We are spiritually connected to each other, and we are also spiritually connected to God. Food expresses this in a unique way.
In fact, one of the most important symbols of our faith–communion (also called the Eucharist)–involves food. When believers take communion, they remember Jesus’ death and resurrection through edible elements representing His body and His blood. And they do it together as a sign of unity with each other and with God.
Community matters to our faith. And food matters to community.
So, ipso facto, food matters to our faith.
4. Food, like any good gift, can be abused.
Food is a powerful force for good in our lives. But like any powerful substance, it can be used in ways that are not beneficial.
In many parts of the world, people suffer from malnutrition due to poverty. This poverty can exist for any number of reasons: economic injustice, oppression, a lack of global compassion.
But where there is tragedy and evil, there is also opportunity for God’s people to show His love in the greatest ways imaginable. Many times, through food.
For many others, they live in an abusive relationship with food. Whether gluttony or eating disorders that lead to self-starvation, deep emotional and spiritual wounds display themselves through food.
A good relationship with food cannot be restored until those wounds are properly acknowledged and cared for.
Food reveals so much of what is broken in the world. But it also reveals much of God’s goodness too.
As we think spiritually about food, we experience God in powerful ways. Ways that heal. Ways that connect us to each other. Ways that reveal something new. Ways that just plain taste good.