Food, Food, Food

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington

Is there is a way to have a balanced relationship with food -- amidst the heavy focus on food?

On one side of the balance, poverty and hunger devastate people. On the other side, fashion designers and food corporations manipulate nations with advertisements that define the perfect figure/build and the foods that should be consumed. Many are hypnotized by the desire to look a certain way or to eat a certain way to avoid and/or mitigate health issues. By contrast, in countries where food is scarce, the emphasis on food is driven by the need to stay alive. 2011's World Food Day (Oct 16) is focused on trying to find solutions to the rising cost of food, which is causing deprivation to millions of people.

What do we do about this picture of extremes? How can we think? How can we pray? Let's start with Jesus. To the primarily peasant population who was listening, Jesus said, "I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?" (Matt 6:25 NIV). The King James Version translates his words into: "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat…."

Figuring out what they were going to eat would definitely be a concern to the people of Jesus' time, as it is with many today. Bolstered by his clear understanding of the Father's love and his deep compassion for the crowd, Jesus allayed their fears with the truth: God loves you more than you can ever know and will care for your every need.

If we're constantly worried about how to get our next meal, it's a challenge to shift our focus and recognize blessings, to be grateful for all that God does provide, and to find solutions.

Jesus' words also speak to those of us who spend way too much time thinking about food, diet, weight, looks, etc. Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Jesus' words is instructive:

If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes…. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach…. What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things [food, fashion], but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (The Message, Matt 6:25, 26, 31-33)

Jesus is asking us to put God first -- to put God before food, diet, exercise, body image, fear, concern, lack. When we put God first, everything else falls into place. All our "human concerns" and needs are met when we "seek the kingdom of God above all else" (Matt 6:33 NLT).

There are many proofs of this truth:

  • By trusting in God, knowing that God is the source of all supply and true substance, Jesus was able to feed thousands of people with only a few fish and loaves of bread as a starting point.
  • God provided the children of Israel with manna, quail, and water as they wandered in the wilderness under Moses' guidance.
  • God provided sustenance for Elijah and Elisha in a time of drought, sending people to help them.
  • Joseph's brothers travelled to Egypt during an intense famine to find food and discovered that Joseph was in charge. In Joseph's words, "It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives" (Gen 45:5 NLT).

There are many more examples in the Bible of the good that happens when we put God first.

Where does that put food? While some people have gone long periods of time without food (Jesus, Elijah, Gandhi, disaster survivors), most of us need food on a regular basis. Food does have an important role in our lives. Eating in a proper and balanced way is one of the ways we take care of our bodies. We want our bodies to serve us as we serve and glorify God. We don't want to serve our bodies and glorify food. That sounds silly, but it's often what happens in our lives.

Let's think of our bodies as cars. When a car runs out of gas, we go to a gas station and fill up the tank. But we don't overfill because we'd be wasting our money. We also put the right type of fuel in the car, whether it be regular unleaded, premium, diesel, biodiesel, etc. If we eat the proper amount and the right type of food, we can follow Paul's words and be "willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8 KJV).

The proper type of food is food our bodies can actually use -- food that is real, natural, whole, rather than food that is highly processed, non-nutritional, chemicalized, fake. Just because a type of food is easier, faster, time-saving, or more enticing doesn't mean that it's good for us. So we might have to take a little bit of time to read labels to find out if the food we're buying is real or fake.

This doesn't mean that we become obsessed with ingredients or super sensitive about what we eat. It seems that all the emphasis on food allergies in the media is actually creating more allergies, feeding off of people's fears. Fearing food is just as harmful to our sense of balance and normalcy as is loving or craving food, especially food that's more artificial than real.

Both Jesus (Luke 10:8) and Paul (1 Cor 10:27) told their disciples and followers: "eat what is set before you." Jesus kept trying to turn people toward what really matters: "It's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth" (Matt 15:11 NLT). Food isn't a god to be feared or loved. What's more important than what we eat is how we live -- how we prove our love for God and our love for others through how we treat them, what we say and do.

When we see food for what it is -- helpful fuel to keep our bodies running -- we won't be tempted to use food improperly.

  • We won't look to food for satisfaction. Rather, we'll look to God to satisfy us.
  • We won't overeat -- eating more than we need or when we're not hungry. We'll eat until we're not hungry, rather than until we're full.
  • We won't be tempted to eat emotionally -- eating when we're sad, stressed, upset. Rather, we'll look to God to help us recognize that our true happiness and equanimity are spiritually based.
  • We won't use food as a reward for good actions or behavior. Rather, we'll see that being disciplined is simply the right thing to do as a way to express God. It's reward enough.
  • We won't be concerned about getting our next meal. Rather, we'll know that God is blessing us in practical ways.
  • We won't put food before God.

When we see that God satisfies us and provides everything for us, we can relax about food. We can take the time we spend thinking about food and redirect it toward thinking about God. What a different view that is -- of the grandeur, beauty, and goodness of God's universe and our wonderfully provided place in it.