The world is falling apart all morning, and then 12 o’clock comes and you remember that half a corned-beef-on-rye and the bottle of pop in the fridge—and you sit down and enjoy. Then the world resumes its out-of-control spinning in the afternoon, but at 6 p.m. it all gets put on hold as you ensconce yourself at the table for a hearty bowl of homemade soup.
During this particular season of my life, where the mornings are falling apart and the afternoons are spinning, I have started to notice what an underrated wonder food is. Food is something to look forward to no matter what else is going on. It is the common denominator of rich and poor, overachiever and underachiever, people getting engaged and people breaking up. I once hitchhiked through Ireland with one apple to nurse for two days. Upon consumption, it was the tastiest apple in the history of man.
You only notice what a difference food makes on the day you choose to give it up to fast. I believe this is why God so highly prizes fasting as a spiritual discipline for drawing near to Him in prayer: To fast is to forfeit that which makes the drudgery bearable, that which breaks the interminable into the manageable. “I afflicted myself with fasting,” said the psalmist (35:13). The sage of Ecclesiastes concurs: “Man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8:15).
“This will go with him in his toil through the days of his life” is a comforting thought, and I take it as a God-backed promise. If our suburban house is repossessed or our lifestyle goes down a notch, there will be food. Somehow. I sometimes imagine the worst case scenario of economic or personal collapse—and food is always there in my scenario. It is good to imagine the worst; it sets you free.
And food, after all, is what Jesus said to pray for (Matthew 6:11) and what he said to count on. He did not promise Porsches but potatoes: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ … your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).
As Paul said to Timothy, lest the acolyte occupy himself with things too wonderful for him (Psalm 131:1), “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). And the apostle really means “content,” not merely stoic. For food in itself is meant to delight. God makes “wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:15). Our God is not a cosmic killjoy, begrudging us of fun. What is more fun than the picture of 11 men hip to hip on a giant steel cross beam 1000 feet over Manhattan, taking a sandwich break from constructing the Empire State Building?
In his great wisdom, God knows we function better as a species when we have something to look forward to. Hence, the Sabbath every seven days and the Year of Jubilee every 50. “It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan” (Leviticus 25:10). And hence, also, pot roast and ice cream to divide up your workday. God understands anticipation.
Partaking of food, when it suddenly occurs to me in the middle of catastrophe that I may do so, teaches me again and again how to live in the present, where his blessings never fail. There is something very existential about food in the Christian life, the way it returns our focus to the basics and God’s banquets in the desert. No wonder that when facing his own dark tunnel the Lord looked forward to a meal: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).