Have you ever been hungry?
Now I’m not talking about “I’m so hungry I could eat a hippo!” when in reality you ate 5 hours ago. I’m talking about the kind of hunger that comes about because you haven’t eaten in days and your body begins to break down muscle tissue in order to produce enough energy to survive. The kind of hunger that causes you to hallucinate about a triple-chocolate brownie sundae but are left with only the discarded food out of a garbage bin. That, my friend, is the hunger that I am describing. The desperate hope to intake a few meager calories so that your body can keep functioning.
Now whether or not we have experienced such extreme hunger, we all know what it is to hunger and we all know that we need food to survive. Which proposes a question: “Why do human beings hunger?” Of course if broken down we see on a molecular level there is an exchange of energy by consuming food and absorbing it. Human beings are constantly driven to consume external energy in order for our bodies to function. But on another level, as Christians, we ask,
“Why did God create us as beings that need to eat?”
Perhaps the answer is that we are not meant to be self-sufficient. If we were, what need would we have for God in our lives? Looking at the creation account in Genesis, God tells man to tend to the garden and eat of it. In part, he created us to be hungry and eat! As Alexander Schmemann points out in For the Life of the World, God gave mankind the fruits to eat as a gift, a way in which man could have direct communion with God. However, in the fall, mankind took food that was not a gift from God. Instead of hungering for food as a way of receiving God’s gift, we began to hunger after food for its own sake. Today, eating still holds a special place, but we have become less inclined to think of eating as communion with God and more of a self-preserving or even self-gratifying act of staying alive.
This, the act of removing the presence of God from our human tasks of eating and drinking, is sin.
I know that I do this all of the time. Our culture has begun to move at lightening fast speeds and our food consumption has met the demand to keep up. From fast-foot chain restaurants to microwave meals, I can go through an entire meal without receiving it as a gift from God. Eating can become so commonplace in our lives that it loses all of its Godly significance. Peter Brown, in his book The Body and Society, writes that the sin of Adam and Eve was actually a lust for food. The Egyptian monks of the 3rd century, such as Antony the Great, recognized their propensity to lust for food and sought ways to drive it out.
They believed that in order to right their relationships with God, they needed to overcome their fierce lust for food.
If these 3rd century monks felt the need to seclude themselves in the desert in order to deal with their lust for food, how much more susceptible am I to this sin in a world saturated with easily accessible food? Now I am not advocating that we all give up eating, or go be a recluse in the mountains! As I live and engage with my 21st century culture and it’s eating habits, my goal is to understand and recapture the act of worship that God intended eating to be.
To do so, we must take our desires for physical food and turn them into a desperate hunger for communion with God. Whether this takes place as we fast through Lent or feast at Easter, may we remember whom our food comes from and retain a deep desire in our hearts to eat in the Lord’s presence. Instead of thinking of ourselves as self-sufficient, let us not eat food only for food’s sake, but for God’s sake.
In acknowledging that God has provided the gift of food for us, we eat as a way of communing with him, turning our eating into an act of worshiping the one who creates, sustains, and provides for us.
John is a husband and father, student, and outdoor adventurer. Born and raised in the Midwest of the U.S., he and his family moved to Vancouver at the beginning of 2015 to study at Regent College. When not studying in the library, John likes to spend his time with his family and friends in any sort of outdoor adventure, whether that be hiking, climbing, crabbing, kayaking or biking. If you are ever going on an adventure, give him a call!