First, one friend asks whether there is a middle ground between tyrannical legalism (everyone must eat brussel sprouts!) and complete moral apathy (food doesn’t matter, stuff your face!). Shouldn’t we care about the process of making food? Shouldn’t we make (as much as is possible) wise and moral choices to be good stewards of our bodies and creation? Shouldn’t we care if some food is better for you than others?
Yes, we should care. But, BUT, we need to listen really carefully here. Because food and health has been at the center of our rebellion against God since the beginning. Our track record is extremely iffy. We don’t listen very well when God talks to us about what’s on the menu or what’s good for us. God said: eat your heart out in this garden and live forever. All of it is yours except for the one tree in the middle of the garden: IT’S BAD FOR YOU. And the next chapter there’s forbidden fruit juice dripping off our chins.
So if you want to have this conversation, let’s start with a deep, healthy (ha!) suspicion of human nature and our ability to judge rightly. God speaks clearly and serpents show up five minutes later and deceive us. That’s how messed up we are. Don’t get all preachy with your all natural, fiber chips; don’t go pontificating about the wonders of magic beads and expect me to take you seriously unless you are simultaneously wearing a hard hat, a reflective jacket, and you’ve got one of those climbing harnesses wrapped around your waist like six times.
Call me jumpy, but the history ain’t pretty. Eve ate the fruit. Cain sacrificed veggies. Israel lusted for leeks, grumbled about miracle bread, and gorged themselves on gourmet quail. We’ve got the sons of Eli stuffing themselves with sacrifices while getting laid in the back room of the tabernacle. Israel didn’t keep the feasts of God, didn’t give the land her Sabbaths, and so it vomited them out of the land and scattered them to the nations of the earth.
Let’s see, what else?
The Pharisees gripe about people washing their hands before dinner, Peter has food fellowship issues, and most of the letters of the New Testament contain warnings about striving, wrangling, and debating… about what? You got it: food.
Jesus gave us an incredibly simple meal and gave us just one command: do this as my memorial. And after two thousand years, we still have people bowing to it, kissing it, hiding it, saving it, changing it, and avoiding it. Jesus just said to eat it with thankful hearts we when get together. And we’re still trying to figure out if it goes on our heads or in our pockets or if it would be better with kool-aid and cookies. Our track record pretty much stinks.
And then somebody shows up all breathless and wants to share the wonders of fish oil. Paint me skeptical. Not because I don’t believe God loaded this world with wonders. Not because I don’t think there are huge, mind-blowing blessings still to be discovered, uncovered, invented. I do. And there will be. I’m not skeptical of God, His gifts, or the monster glories still hidden, waiting for us to uncover. I’m skeptical of people. I’m skeptical of human hearts.
Of course everything we do must be done in faith. We order cheeseburgers in faith. We deep fry our twinkies in faith. We farm in faith. We garden in faith. We choose the week’s menu and go grocery shopping in faith. Which means that we want to offer it all up to God as worship in Jesus’ name. Part of that worship is what we offer. But the Bible is full of warnings that so often the deepest, most insidious problems are not in what we do but in how we do it. And the perennial temptation of humans is to think that if they believe they picked the very best apples, the healthiest snacks, and the freest chickens, then somehow whatever they are doing is automatically good. But meanwhile they’re snarling at their wife and kids. They’re complaining about their house, their body, their clothes, their boss, their work, their church.
Look, I think you should eat healthy, exercise, and generally avoid foods that do bad things to you or the world God made. Got that? But here’s the huge — like the size of the Grand Canyon — caveat: our knowledge and understanding of that whole subject matter is about the size of a chickpea. And it’s constantly changing, shifting, updating, reversing. And on the other hand, we know a LOT about what our hearts are supposed to be like while shopping, eating, and sharing table fellowship. Our hearts are supposed to be full of the fruits of the Spirit (yum): humility, grace, kindness, joy, gentleness, with grace heaped up and spilling over all of it.
Yes, all things being equal, people should take care of their bodies, animals, and creation as best as they can. But we know that the best way to do that is to stop looking at porn, stop using foul language, stop yelling at your wife and kids, stop getting drunk, to work hard with our hands, to stop complaining about your husband, to stop being lazy, to stop worrying, to be generous with our time, talent, and resources, to laugh with our children, to tell people about Jesus, to sing Psalms, to worship the Triune God every Sunday. The Bible tells us clearly that is how we can best take care of our bodies, the creatures in our care, and creation as a whole. Stop stealing. Stop lying. Stop coveting. Honor your mom and dad. Don’t murder anybody (or hate them in your heart). You can take that to the bank. For Christians, there should be a huge and obvious distinction between these priorities (10 Commandments/Fruits of the Spirit/Sermon on the Mount) and where your coffee beans came from.
And yes, I know it’s *possible* to support oppressors and unjust tyrants when you buy your coffee beans. But it’s one thing to know for certain that it is true, and it’s another thing entirely to be herded along by the liberal scaremongers. Turns out some times, those kids in African factories are getting some of the best money in the best conditions on the continent, even if it seems minuscule and rough by our standards.
One last thought, anticipating another question: What about our postmillennialism? What about taking dominion of the earth? What about cultural progress? Shouldn’t we want to see our great-grand children taking dominion of nutritional and agricultural science and medicine for the glory of Jesus? Yes, of course. If we want to see progress, shouldn’t we give them a head start now? Yes, most definitely. We start schools, churches, businesses, and teach our children that every square inch of all of creation belongs completely to Jesus. No square inch escapes the Lordship of Jesus, including food, economics, medicine, agriculture, politics, and the members of Green Day riding llamas. Yes, and amen.
But in order for it to be true creation dominion, true progress, real postmillennial building for the future, it must be built out of the lasting materials of the Spirit. Some build with hay and stubble, and that ain’t gonna cut it. We need gold, people. Which is to say that Christians need to study and learn and investigate all these areas, but what often passes for a “Christian” approach to food and farming and economics is young college punks slapping Jesus fish on whatever the latest liberal slogan is. Take something slightly edgy, find a Bible verse that kind of sounds like it’s defending it, and then blog it, baby.
Teenagers do this with skinny jeans, black eyeliner, messy hair in the face, and whatever else is the latest, trendiest way to give the finger to authority. Hello, let me show you my insecurity card, my father-hatred, my whiny-fussy heart by dressing up like all the other middle-class white kids who haven’t found the peace of Christ. And of course lots of Christian kids get duped and run along with whichever way the wind is blowing. And they want to know: What’s the big deal? The Bible doesn’t saying anything about lip rings. It doesn’t say anything about tattoos. It doesn’t say anything about messy hair. Right, it doesn’t. But it does say that we may not love the world or the things of the world. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world (1 Jn. 2:16).
It’s the same phenomenon only 10-15 years later with food and health issues. It’s the same breathless excitement only now it’s organic veggies and diet fads and hemp dresses and incense and magical oils and deodorant that doesn’t work. Of course, I know that some of you have come to it completely innocently. Your parents farmed, gardened, and used the oils. Your dad’s name was Jedidiah, he wore overalls every day of his life, and can fix anything. He loves Jesus and makes fun of the stupid magazines at the Coop. Hey, that’s awesome. That’s great. Remember to be a good neighbor, use discernment in your selections, and remember not to make your choices the gold-standard. But if you’re just joyfully receiving what you’ve been given, then God bless you. If your heart is just thankful, you’re not disobeying the clear teaching of Scripture, then do what you think is best before God and give thanks. That is real culture building. I’m not talking about you.
But the spirit of the age is blowing hard, as it does in every age. And the spirit of this age is gusting with gluten allergies and organic soil and free range mountain goats and the trendy knick-knacks of old wives tales. If you can see the idols, if you can see the shrines and you chuckle and roll your eyes at the paganism in your local Food Coop and farmers market and pick and choose your products carefully, then great. It’s all clean. It’s all sanctified by prayer and thanksgiving. But if you don’t see, if you don’t think there are any idols, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then I am talking about you.
Everybody knows the Shopping Mall is full of idols to consumerism and trendiness and sex and popularity and materialism and greed. Everybody knows about those shrines (or at least they should by now). But I’d like to see a little more discernment among the consumers of granola. How about just as much skepticism over the Food Coop as Walmart, just as much discernment in the Farmers Market as in Old Navy?