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The Theology of Food

Updated: Oct 11, 2018




Food matters. Not just to you or me, but to everyone. Look at the stats. The restaurant industry represents the largest form of entertainment in the United States. People on average spend over 10% (a tithe amount) of all the money they make in a month on groceries, fast food, drinks, snacks and desserts. Not only that, but food eats up a large portion of the book industry. Cookbooks and diet planners line the shelves. People can watch people make food, eat food, and talk about food on TV.


Go on Facebook, chances are most of the posts you see are of recipes, restaurants, or what someone had for breakfast. It’s even a part of our holiday system. We associate every major holiday with food. Turkey, pumpkin pies, hams, cake and ice cream. What’s a holiday without tasty food?


When people fall in love, one of the first things they do together is eat. Both liberals and conservatives will wait in line to enjoy a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. Every culture has its own beliefs and practices, but a common denominator is food and the meals that involve them.


This is even true in religion. Most if not all organized religions feature food in some form. Jews celebrate Passover meal. Catholics take communion. Muslims honor Ramadan, and Baptists hold potlucks! (I’m joking… sorta.)


Even Jesus loved food. The God of the Universe, all-powerful in every way, yet in human form, loved to eat. They called him a drunkard and a glutton. The stories of Jesus are littered with meals. Jesus cared about food, which means God cares about food, which also means we should too. But why?


Food From the Beginning


God not only uses food to provide physical life, He also uses it to illustrate our need for spiritual life. The first example of this was in the Garden. God gave every tree except one for Adam to eat and enjoy. He didn’t give him a calorie limit. He didn’t assign Weight Watcher points to each tree. He said, “Go at it! Enjoy.”


But in the middle of that delicious garden stood two more trees. One called the Tree of Life, the other called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Each represented something more than physical nourishment. It showcased the need for spiritual nourishment. It represented both the life that came from God, and the faithfulness required to obtain it.


Adam and Eve had to have faith that God had their best in mind when He told them not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, even though it looked delicious. By trusting God in that way, they could enjoy life with Him. That God planted the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil next to the Tree of Life illustrates this. Notice that God did not hold back both trees. The Tree of Life was meant to be enjoyed, because life with God was meant to be enjoyed. But, it was enjoyed only in conjunction with faithful obedience.


Food in Ancient Times


This concept may seem simple to us, but it was radical to what other ancient religions taught. Pagan religions also had a concept of divine food. Chances are they got this concept from the stories of the Garden passed down to them by their ancestors, the children of Adam and Eve. But these secular religions flipped the script.


In their religion, the gods protected their food and kept it from humans. The gods wanted to prevent mortals from taking their life-giving food. The gods on Mount Olympus ate ambrosia and drank nectar. But humans never could. They were forbidden to eat of it, because eating it would mean that they would share in the same life as the gods. The gods didn’t want this. Life was something for them to enjoy and mortals to lack. Numerous myths exist in both Greek and Mesopotamian mythology about the heroic journeys of mortals to try to obtain “divine food” from the gods. Almost all of them end in failure.


But God does not fit into that model. While pagan gods protected their life-giving food, God does the opposite. He provided it freely from the start. When it was lost because of sin, He began a centuries long process to redeem people in order to enable them to eat of it again. Everything He did for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and Daniel was all part of His plan to give His life-food back to His people. No wonder the Tree of Life is mentioned at both the beginning and the end of Scripture. In Revelations, the Tree of Life shows up again as available for those who dwell with God in the New Heaven and Earth. While pagan gods kept their food. God gives it.


God Didn't Just Give Food


But God took it one step further. Not only did He work to give His life-food back to people, He became that food. He was not just the keeper of some divine substance that gave eternal life, He was that substance Himself.


When Jesus came, He did not say that He came in order to equip man with what they needed to obtain the food of Life. He said He WAS the food of life. He called Himself Bread. Whoever wanted eternal life should eat of Him. He also called Himself water. Whoever drank of Him would never be thirsty. Life was not just something to receive from God, it was something to experience with God. The life-giver represented Life itself. It would be impossible to enjoy life without close intimacy with the one who gave it, because they are one and the same. Life is not an abstract force that God controls, its who He is by His very nature.


What Food Teaches Us Today


And nothing illustrates this better than food. Food doesn’t just bring sustenance. It brings closeness. When people eat, they are strengthened, but food is also used to strengthen friendships, deepen marriages, and unite communities. God sought not just to give life, but to share in life with His created people. Food illustrates that. It brings in small tastes what fellowship with God brings in heaping portions.


This is why Jesus took communion with His disciples. It was a meal that illustrated Jesus’ close relationship with His disciples, but it also illustrated the means through which closeness between God and man was possible at all. When we take communion today, we in a sense are sharing a meal with God. We are being reminded of our relationship to Him, and also the means through which he made that relationship possible.


And so, Jesus lifted up the bread to His disciples and broke it. The next day, the Bread would be broken again. This time on a Cross. When food is about to be shared, it is first broken. The pizza is sliced, the cake is cut. In order for the Bread of Life to be shared with the world, it first had to be broken, and so He was.


Conclusion


God uses food to illustrate His plan of salvation because food is understood by all, and salvation is offered for all. Everyone knows food, and God wishes for His salvation to be known by everyone.


Someday, those who trust and “eat” of the Bread of Life will share in a meal again. A “Great Banquet” will be held, where every believer will share in a meal with God. Imagine the utter joy of that. Every Christian that you loved, every long-lost companion, the believers that worked and struggled with you during your former life, sitting around the table with Jesus at the center.


What a day of rejoicing that will be! Every Thanksgiving table and Christmas feast points in a small way to that future joy. We will pass the plates and lift our cups with our Savior, and be glad. And behind the table, off in the distance, will be the Tree of Life, its leaves rustling gently through the breeze, restored again to God’s people.


Resting in Him,


Pastor Stephen