Daniel’s Diet: God and Healthy Bodies, part three

[Note: this is the third in a four part series developing a theology of physical health. You can find the first part here, and the second part here.]


When Daniel sat down at the table that first night, I’m sure he could not believe his eyes. Captured and taken to Babylon, enslaved for the rest of his life, now he and his friends sat down to a meal the likes of which they had never seen: huge platters of meat dripping with juices; succulent fruits braised in honey and spices; piles of freshly baked bread with creamy butter; mountains of pies and cakes piled to the ceiling. This was not the kind of food Mama made.


For Daniel, that was a problem. Daniel was a devout Jew, a young man who had probably been living in his parents’ house, eating Mama’s cooking, right up until the day the Babylonians took him. And Mama didn’t cook like this. No, Mama cooked according to the Torah, the teachings and laws that God gave to Moses. Torah taught restrictions on what you could and could not eat, and how it was to be prepared. It is what this day we call kosher. As beautiful and delicious as the king’s spread was, Daniel was sure it was not kosher. That meant that this was not the food God wanted Daniel to eat. So Daniel and his friends did the unthinkable: they asked for vegetables and water. (Daniel 1:3-20)


The book of Daniel contains some of the best-known stories in all of the Old Testament: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, the writing on the wall, Daniel in the lions’ den all come in the following chapters of this book. But it starts with Daniel and his friends going on a diet, choosing vegetables and water while a king’s feast is spread before them.


Being faithful to God means being faithful in all things. It would have been easy for Daniel and his friends to say that those laws did not matter now that they were in another country, another culture, now that they were conquered. It would have been easy to justify eating this food out of fear of what would happen if they rejected the king’s hospitality. It surely would have been easy to say, “Y’know, I would like to try bacon just this once…” Instead, Daniel and his friends decided to be faithful in this small thing, faithful in their food. The rest of the book of Daniel- the fiery furnace and the lions’ den and all that- are a result of this kind of faithfulness.


What does it mean for us today to be faithful in our food? There’s a good piece of Acts dedicated to that question, and the apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, concluded that we gentiles are under no obligation to keep kosher. We can eat whatever we want, right? But Paul reassures us that while all things may be lawful, not all things are beneficial. (1 Corinthians 10:23) And Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that one who is faithful in a little will be faithful in a lot. (Luke 16:10) I believe this includes being faithful in our diets.


Now this is no Weight Watchers meeting. I am not here to hawk some kind of specific diet or tell any of you that you need to lose weight. I am here to point you to Christ and to give you some direction on how to practice your Christian faith in your day-to-day living. I am also here to share with you what I have found, that developing small daily disciplines better prepares you for when large disciplines are needed. To put it another way, that daily being faithful in small things gets you ready to be faithful in large things. To put it another way, eating your veggies can make you a better Christian.


Here’s how I see it: God has given us bodies, God likes our bodies, and our bodies are to be used to glorify God. Therefore, we need to take care of our bodies, treat them as the gift they are, and do whatever we can to keep them ready to glorify God at a moment’s notice. This kind of living requires discipline and self-control. There are many, many areas where we are good at discipline and self-control, but our plates ain’t one of them.


Food manufacturers know this. They play off of this. They make money from us by selling food that is hard for us to be disciplined and self-controlled with. What was the old Lays potato chip slogan? “Bet you can’t eat just one.”


Food manufacturers know that our bodies crave three things: sugar, salt and fat. There are receptors in our brains that are triggered when sugar, salt and fat cross our tongues, and those receptors shout, “Eat all of this you can!” Food manufacturers know this, and so that is what they sell us.


The result of this lack of discipline is seen all around us. You regularly hear news about the obesity epidemic in our nation, the rising number of children with Type 2 diabetes; something that 40 years ago was unheard of. We have a problem with discipline and self-control with our diets, and not only do the manufacturers take advantage of this to sell us unhealthy food, they also turn around and take advantage of it to sell us the cure!


Soda is making us fat and diabetic, so we switch to diet soda, all the taste with none of the sugar. One of the most addictive things on this planet is the combination of caffeine and aspartame, also known as… diet soda. It is addictive, just like nicotine and opioids. I know hundreds of Christians who have this addiction but never consider it a problem.


But it is a problem. It is a problem first off because Christ came to set us free- he said so himself in John 8:36- and anything that enslaves us, that controls us, that keeps us from choosing Christ first and foremost in every situation is against Christ. Second, it is a problem because these kinds of foods harm our bodies. They do not provide the nutrition that we need, they fill us with a whole lot of things that we do not need, and they are killing us.


If we are to glorify God in our bodies, we need to glorify God by what we put into our bodies. If we are to be faithful in all things, we must be faithful with our plates. So what can we do?


The best diet advice I’ve heard comes from Michael Pollan. He gives us three easy rules to follow:


1) Eat food. Not manufactured food products. There is very little food in that kind of food. Pringles potato chips, for example, are only 41% potato. What is the rest of it? Is God glorified by Doritos? The less steps between the field and your mouth, the better that food is for you.

2) Don’t eat too much. Be self-disciplined. You do not need dessert after every meal, you don’t need ice cream every night before bed, and yes, just one more can hurt you. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and early theologians recognized it as one of the seven cardinal virtues, the opposite of the deadly sin of gluttony. Practicing self-control with our forks helps us practice self-control with other things.


3) Eat mostly plants. I am no vegetarian at all, but I do know that eating more plants and less meat, dairy and bread is better for you. In Genesis God gives us plants to eat. I personally think God knows what he’s doing, so maybe we better get back to eating more plants. And again, the less steps between the field and your mouth, the better. It tastes better, too. Wouldn’t you rather have a fresh tomato sandwich in July than a ketchup sandwich?


Around the world and throughout history, Christians have been received at Christ’s table, to share together the meal he has prepared for us, to consume his body and blood. Even as we come to Christ’s table, consider this: when Christ comes to your table, which he does every time you come to your table, is he glorified or horrified?


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