I wanted to revisit the food issue this week, because it’s important to me to get something like this right. Last week I wrote about one rule that stops me from overeating, and I stand by my rule as a helpful practical aid in the everyday struggle against gluttony.
But I’m not comfortable throwing out tips like that without a follow up discussion on the why.
Why does it matter whether I overindulge? Why does it matter whether I use food well or poorly, enjoy it or abuse it, become energized by it or become overwhelmed and mastered by it?
It matters for the same reason so many of these sins of the flesh matter: joy. The joy must not be stolen.
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything. Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”
He was talking, at this point in his first letter to the Corinthians (6:12-13), about sexual immorality. But standing in the pantry gorging on crackers falls under the same category—food, like sex, is a potential flesh-dominator.
As Paul points out, your body doesn’t matter. Also it matters very much. Your flesh isn’t going to last, and neither are the things that tempt your flesh. But the way you respond to temptations… this is of eternal consequence, for you and for the cloud of witnesses who watch you.
You cannot worship the cracker and the Christ at the same time. If the cracker becomes a thing that you are controlled by—if, instead of accepting it with the open hand of thanks, you bend your neck under it to become a slave—you are acting as if your body was never bought (as it was) with a price (as it was). You are now unable to “glorify God in your body” as Paul exhorts (6:20).
But it’s just a cracker
It is just a cracker. We’ve circled back around—yes, the food will rot in a week, the body will be dust in only a few more years. Still, something about the way we do this physicality thing, something about the way we wear our flesh, something about this temporal business we call life… it matters. Not because we are capable of eating our way out of a state of grace. But because we are now part of an eternal family, and because the story we tell with our worshipings is, from here on out, supposed to be a true story.
When we worship the cracker over the Christ, we tell a lie: This cracker (with something exciting on it like cream cheese and jam, perhaps) tastes better to me than the sweet friendship of my savior. It tastes better than the knowledge that I am redeemed with a price. It tastes better than to sit on my Father’s knee. It tastes better than the communion I have with an indwelling Spirit.
Christ came and became bread for us to eat. Now, we feed on him and find, the further up and in we go, that his friendship gives us a sharpened appetite for heaven and for further intimacy. It also seems to have a side effect on our other appetites, the kind of appetites that belong to our taste buds and reproductive parts. They are both dimmed and sharpened, because they start to work the way they were meant to. They become dimmer in the sense that now, they are powerless to tempt us to sin in pursuit of them (Christ tastes better). They are sharpened in the sense that now, they invite us to partake in the pleasures rightly (pleasure for Christ’s sake instead of pleasure for pleasure’s sake).
This is when suddenly the cracker and the Christ are not competing in a strange, disordered way. The cracker becomes subservient. The cracker becomes, in fact, a eucharist. A thanksgiving.