A Nutrient-Dense Theology of Food for Families
Theology – literally, the “study of God”—helps us distinguish a biblical perspective from a worldly perspective. A theology of work – how does God view our work?— might help a teen navigate relationships with coworkers in her first job. A theology of gender may aid a student in grasping the mystery and beauty of being made male or female in the image of God. Likewise, a theology of food can guide parents and youth ministers in conversations with teenagers about their relationship with food, creation, and their bodies.
The Bible contains many individual stories about food. It is possible that Adam and Eve were vegetarians (Gen. 1:29). Meat-eating may not have been ushered in until the time of Noah (Gen. 9:3). Daniel’s diet was plant-based and he abstained from alcohol (Dan. 1:16). John the Baptist consumed locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6). Jesus may have been a pescatarian and he drank wine. People fasted and feasted. At times moderation and self-control are upheld as the standard, while at other times everything sold at the market was permissible. On the surface, these individual stories can read like our social media feed about fad diets and it could seem that there are inconsistencies.
However, these individual stories about food combine to give us plotlines of the one story in the Bible. Reverend David H. Kim from Center for Faith and Work proposes seven plotlines (Center for Faith and Work, 2014). In the Old Testament: food is a celebration of creation and work in Genesis 1, a test of our obedience in Genesis 2, an expression of God’s provision and dependence upon Him in Exodus, and a symbol of restored communion with God in Leviticus. In the New Testament, food is a physical metaphor for our spiritual reality (1 Cor. 6:13), the culmination of food is Christ himself (1 Cor. 10:3), and, finally, God will feast with all his children (Rev. 19:9). The plotlines, then, give us a theology of food.
I like to think of it as a bread recipe: the individual stories are the ingredients, the plotlines form the dough, and when you knead and bake (study God’s word), you get a delicious bread, or theology of food. And what is a Christian theology of food? For me, as a dietitian and follower of Christ, food is God’s love made nutrient dense. Nutrient dense is term used to describe foods that contain more of what we do need (think: vitamins A, C, fiber, calcium, iron, etc.) and less of what we don’t need (think: saturated fat, added sugar, sodium, etc.). Similarly, the stories and plotlines about food in the Bible give us a nutrient-dense picture of God’s love for us in Christ.
There are at least three nutrient-rich pictures of God’s love depicted through food in Scripture that have been helpful in my life as a mom. First, the Bible begins and ends with good food. Food is God’s good idea (Gen 1:31; 1 Tim. 4:4-5; Rev. 19:9). God made us with taste buds, and, therefore, we can imagine that Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35) and that He satisfies our thirst (Ps. 63:1). Food is a type or shadow of Jesus for us, and we can taste and see that the Lord is good because we have tasted good food (Ps. 34:8). In the same way, we are God’s good idea and all of our stories are filled with God’s goodness and love from beginning to end.
Second, everyone is welcome at His table. The Lord Almighty will prepare a feast for all people (Is. 25 and Mt. 22). Jesus eats with sinners (Mat. 9) and provides a new menu (Acts 10-11; 1 Cor. 10). He is preparing a banquet for us (Rev. 19:9). This is good news to the teen who was not invited to the party or did not make the team. It is good news to the parents who feel lonely because a problem their child is having seems unique to them. It is even better news to the student who cheated on a test and the parent who lost his temper. And it is the very best news to the mother with cancer or the child with type 1 diabetes because we can trust that when our outer body is wasting away, Jesus is renewing us inwardly and for eternity (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Third, eating is an opportunity to remember the Lord. Food satisfies us for a time, but we will hunger again. Fasting is an opportunity to remind our bodies that we need and want God more than food. Moreover, each time we come to the table to eat, whatever is on our plate or how it got there, we have an opportunity to remember the Lord. Bethany Jenkins (2013) writes:
Memory is an important part of our faith…The creation-fall-redemption framework is helpful when we imagine how God is working to heal our world. In some industries [the food and beverage industries and big agriculture, for example], there is so much brokenness that seeing “creation” and imagining “redemption” seems futile because “fall” is so readily apparent. This is the moment, however, when we must return to remembering. We remember what the Lord has done in seemingly impossible situations with nothing but sinful human beings. Most especially, of course, we remember the incarnation, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).
Family dinners, saying a blessing at a meal, or celebrating a birthday with cake and ice cream are ways we remember the Lord’s faithfulness to our children and our family each day and throughout the year. Every time our student skips breakfast, leaves a lunch bag at home, or is refused a snack because dinner is in half an hour, we remember “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mat. 5:6). And the next time fast food is the only option at the out-of-town tournament, or we are serving pizza and soda at youth group (again) because it’s inexpensive and easy, we can sing to remember, “Longed my soul for something better, only still to hunger on. Hallelujah! He has found me. The one my soul so long has craved! Jesus satisfies all my longings, through His blood I now am saved” (Red Mountain Music, 2003). Now that is a nutrient-dense theology of food!
Center for Faith and Work. (2014, February 24). A Theology of Food [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYOEU_SoB4w
Desiring God. (2018, November 28). Ask Pastor John: A Bite-Sized Theology of Food [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJA0bJ5uhQ8
Jenkins, B. (2013, December 5). We Struggle to Imagine Because We Struggle to Remember. The Gospel Coalition. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/we-struggle-to-imagine-because-we-struggle-to-remember/
Red Mountain Music. (2003). Satisfied. On Depth of Mercy. Birmingham, AL: Red Mountain Music.