Environment, Spirituality

I am the Bread of Life (or, Theological Thinking on Food #1)

October 22, 2012

Have you ever stopped to think how central a role food plays in the Bible? Right from the story of creation, through to the eschatological banquet at the end of Revelation, so much of the story revolves around food.

Food, of course, is about so much more than just nutritional maths. In fact when that is what it is reduced down to we know that we are in trouble, whether that be in situations of hunger or of obesity and dieting. Food is linked to every aspect of our lives: it is part of our societies and cultures, and it looms large in our contemporary economic and political systems. As I’ve thought and read around issues of poverty and development over the years, what I have realised is that food and our global food industry is at the heart of the majority of the issues that we are facing.

Food is also something that is deeply spiritual. It is a gift of God and therefore should be treated accordingly. And food and drink sustains that which God has created (ie us and other beings) and so the very acts of eating and drinking are – or should be – acts of reverence and thankfulness. God has created us and loves us deeply, and so eating and drinking in ways that are destructive are fundamentally sinful. Ouch.

I’m intrigued that our relationship to food seems to be analogous to our relationship with God. I am reminded of the Psalmist’s words that, ‘as the deer thirsts for streams of water so my soul thirsts after you’ (Ps. 42), and, elsewhere, that, ‘I will open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands’ (Ps. 119). We seem to have been created so that our need for and desire for food and sustenance in some way mirrors our need and desire for God.

Jesus reflects this when he describes himself as the ‘bread of life’. According to the Gospel of John (chapter 6), the disciples had just witnessed Jesus’ miracle whereby he transformed two loaves and five fish into enough food to feed possibly upwards of 15,000 people. As the people were feeding on his words, so Jesus gave them physical food to feed on too.

The next day, Jesus makes an implicit comparison between this miracle and the miracle of God providing manna for the Israelites in the desert. That’s all well and good, says Jesus, but the true bread is that which comes from God and gives life to the world. Jesus then speaks these extraordinary words: ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’.

I love food. As you can see from this blog, I love cooking it and sourcing it and thinking about it and eating it. Food is one of the things that gives me the most amount of pleasure every day. And yet Jesus’ words remind me that, ultimately, I find the richest satisfaction in him and in the life that he gives me. And so, as I eat, I do so reverentially, using it as a means to reflect on how Jesus sustains me each day; on how he brings colour and variety to my life; on how he gives me the energy and motivation to keep going. And as I eat I ask him to make me more and more hungry for him and his ways.

My deepest place for reflection on this, of course, takes place as I eat the bread and drink the wine of communion, and this will be the focus of my next post. But for now, I want to pause and thank God for this wonderful gift of food that I enjoy so much, and to pray that he will help me to spend myself on behalf of those who do not have as much as I.

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  • Reply lizacooke October 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Brilliant, Ruth. Thank you very much.

  • Reply Byron Smith October 24, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Yes – I have been arguing for the last few years that the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics ought to have a conference on food because I think it is such a rich seam for further reflection. Looking forward to this series.

    • Reply ruthvalerio October 25, 2012 at 8:12 pm

      Good comment – I think you’re absolutely right, it’s one of the biggest ethical issues of our time. This series won’t be particularly deep theologically and will just be a few thoughts aimed at a popular level, but it’s good to begin the conversation anyway. I’m really hoping I might get some more time next year to look more deeply at this whole topic.

  • Reply Eating Flesh, Drinking Blood (Thinking Theologically About Food #2) | Ruth Valerio November 18, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    […] we saw in the first post in this series on Thinking Theologically About Food, food plays a major part in the Bible. In fact, so much of the story revolves around meals that […]

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