One of my seminary professors, Dr. Norman Wirzba, would often say in class, “Good food is God’s love made delectable.”
I love that line, and was immediately fascinated the first time I heard it.
We must eat to survive. Every living creature on this planet takes in sustenance in order to live. Plants use sunlight, yes, but also absorb nutrients and water through their roots. Animals eat the plants, or eat other animals that have eaten the plants. Fungi take in their nutrition in a wide range of ways. When living creatures die, one way or another their remains are broken down by other living creatures and returned to the soil from whence they came, and the cycle starts all over again.
This could be a boring, straight-forward, no frills experience, explainable by science as the need for living creatures to use minerals, vitamins, proteins, and other things to replenish cells and continue life.
But God did an amazing thing when it comes to food: God gave us taste buds.
From an evolutionary perspective we could say that the purpose of taste buds is to tell if the food one is about to eat will make you sick or not. Sure, sometimes taste buds are still used in that way; I’m sure we have all tasted some food that had spoiled and known immediately not to eat it.
Taste buds do much more than that, though, don’t they? Taste buds do not simply distinguish between what will make you sick and what won’t. Your taste buds allow you to enjoy the food that you eat. Think about your favorite flavors. Maybe you like sweet things, or salty things, or even sour or bitter things. Maybe you like a combination of flavors.
Now think about all the different foods that carry those flavors that you like. Me, I have found that I like bitter flavors, maybe because deep down I’m a grumpy, bitter old man. Foods that are bitter include coffee, dark chocolate, red wine, hoppy beer, various leafy greens. What a wide range of plants that carry that bitter flavor that I like, and what a variety of nuance of flavor just within that one category of bitter. And that’s just the beginning!
God did not have to create us in such a way that we could enjoy the taste of food like we do, yet God did it anyway. Why? Because God wants us to enjoy this creation, because the enjoyment of flavor builds in us an enjoyment of our creator (“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8), and because God loves us.
No wonder Dr. Wirzba said, “Good food is God’s love made delectable.”
Tasty food is a perfect example of the connection between the enjoyment of creation and the use of creation. In creating living beings, God gave the command that they, “Be fruitful and multiply,” and in the life-death-life cycle of food, God provided the means for creation to fulfill that command. We are dependent on creation, dependent on the ongoing food cycle that God made, for our very lives. There is no food source out there, no matter how processed, that is not a part of this creation God made. We are inseparably connected to and dependent on creation for our lives.
Eating is an intimate act of relationship. Every bite of food that enters your mouth was once a living creature. Now you are taking that living creature into your body, breaking it down on a miniscule level, and renewing your body from its body. It is as intimate a relationship as you can get.
Throughout scripture we see God concerned with food. In Genesis 1 God provides food for all of creation, and in Genesis 2 God tells Adam and Eve they may eat of the fruit of the Garden of Eden. When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, God fed them with manna. When they entered the Promised Land, God gave them instructions in how to work their fields, plus instructions in how to share their food with the hungry. Ravens were sent carrying bread to Elijah in the wilderness. In Isaiah, God calls to the exiled people of Judah to come and eat. Jesus very famously fed five thousand people with just a little bread and fish. Before he was betrayed he shared an intimate Passover feast with the disciples, and after his resurrection Jesus shared a breakfast of fish with them on the seashore. Our highest, holiest ritual as Christians is sharing a meal, taking into our bodies the body and blood of Jesus.
This is the means by which God provides for abundant life in creation.
But for God, abundant life does not mean just a numerical increase. Abundant life is abundant in the things God values: love, joy, peace, hope, and on and on.
It is hard to experience those things if you are hungry, though.
We cannot help but use creation. Everything that humanity uses is either grown or extracted at some point in its existence. We must use creation.
But are we using creation in such a way that it provides for abundant life?
Something must die every time you eat; what is being sacrificed for your life? And who is suffering so that you can live the type of life you’re living?