A Theology of Food?

I read a quote from Tim Chester’s book, A Meal With Jesus. The quote deals with the theology of eating, in a sense. How eating is a physical sign of our dependence on God, the provider. I had never considered food or eating in this way. It certainly gave me pause for how I can say with my lips that God provides all, but I don’t live like that. Let me know what you think.

Eating is an expression of our dependence. God made us in such a way that we need to eat. We’re embedded in creation; this means that every time we eat, we’re reminded of our dependence on others. Few of us eat food we ourselves have grown and cooked. Even the more self-sufficient among us still rely on other people. Food forces us to live in community, to share, to cooperate, and to trade. In all societies there’s a division of labor, which means we work together to provide the food we need. The division of labor frees us from constant hunting and gathering to develop science and art. A humble loaf of bread expresses the mandate God gave humanity to develop agriculture, technology, society, commerce, and culture.

Above all, food expresses our dependence on God. Only God is self-sufficient. We are creatures, and every moment we’re sustained by him. Even our rebellion against him is only possible because he holds the fabric of our universe together by his powerful word. Our shouts of defiance against God are only possible with the breath he gives.

Every time we eat, we celebrate again our dependence on God and his faithfulness to his creation. Every time. Food is to be received with gratitude. “Taking the five loves … he gave thanks” (Luke 9:16 NIV).

“Nobody in the ancient world ever took their food for granted.” Today it’s different. Today we have Walmart. Walmart receives one of every five dollars customers spend on food. If it were a nation, Walmart’s economy would be larger than Argentina’s. In the UK the equivalent is Tesco. According to Andrew Simms, “there is little, now, that Tesco does not promise in terms of meeting your daily needs.” Notice the godlike language. “Not only does Tesco aspire to become the commercial equivalent of the nanny state, providing every product and service imaginable—something that is unhealthy for many reasons—it also aspires to have a store format for every location.” Tesco is omnipresent and omnipotent. Walmart is Walmart Jireh, Walmart the Provider. We may direct our prayers to God, but it’s Walmart to whom we go for daily bread.

“Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:2-3). That is how Jesus teaches us to pray. We need to pray for our daily bread not because we’re worried about where our next meal might come from, but because we’re not.

We not only express our dependence on God by feasting, but also by fasting. Just as food points to the goodness of God, so the hunger of fasting reminds us of our need for God. Most of us rarely get hungry before the next intake of food comes along. When we perceive no need, then our self-sovereignty is undisturbed. But fasting brings our need to the fore. Fasting reminds us that we’re creatures. We’re not self-existent. As the hunger pain bites, we recognize with gratitude and prayer our dependence on creation, on community, and on God.

Fasting reminds us that we depend on God for physical satisfaction, but also for spiritual satisfaction. Our hunger for food heightens our hunger for God. We typically become grumpy when we’re hungry. Some of us medicate through food. Our habit when in need is to turn first to food for escape or refuge. Fasting retrains us to turn to God.

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