What is the balance to be kept when it comes to saying that God “doesn’t care what you eat,” which He doesn’t, and saying that we are to exercise dominion in all that we do? If there is no neutrality anywhere, and there isn’t, then how does this fit with statements like “God doesn’t care”?
The answer is that God cares about everything, but He doesn’t care about things the same way we do. Our job is to learn how to care the way He does, instead of invoking His name to make it seem like He cares the same way we do. There is a way that seems right to a man, but the dead end of that cul de sac is death (Prov. 14:12). Men have a way of esteeming things that God considers below dumpster scrapings. “And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).
So there no neutrality anywhere, but this is not the same thing as saying that everything matters in the way we want it to. For example, say that somebody started saying that a particular brand of white tee-shirt was guaranteed to make you holier, wiser, and healthier than you are now. I would be willing to say that God doesn’t care about whether you wear that tee-shirt or not because His Word leaves that kind of decision up to us and our preferences. But this doesn’t make us “tee-shirt neutral.” God cares if those who made it were doing the best job they could given their resources, He cares if we cheat people or not when we sell it, He cares if it was shoplifted, He cares whether it is folded in a drawer or dumped on the bed all the time, and He cares if we make spurious claims about how holy, wise, and healthy it might make us. If someone claims that this tee-shirt he is selling can cure my cancer, and I dispute it, it is not an adequate comeback for him to say, “I thought you believed there is no neutrality!” There is no neutrality, but “no neutrality” doesn’t mean any thing can do everything.
So bring it down to food. It is not remembered often enough that the Pharisees were pushing, in part, a pure foods movement. But the problem was not with their food — it was the leaven that they insisted on putting into everything. Jesus warned us about that leaven, and not about the food per se. Jesus had no problem going to a Pharisee’s house for a Pharisee dinner, and when you do that you are going to get Pharisee food (Luke 7:44). But Jesus was strict in his warning to His disciples — watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees (Matt. 16:11-12). Beware of their teaching concerning food, not the food as such.
We know from Scripture what food tastes like without that leaven. The Bible tells us plainly. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4-5). The world is God’s bistro, and the menu is enormous. The bottles in the middle of every table at God’s bistro are full of righteousness, peace, joy, and thanksgiving. It is a special sauce, and it goes on anything.
So why do I say that God doesn’t care what you eat? Well, because, you know, because of the verses that say the same thing. And why do I also say that the glory of God is involved down to the last caramelized onion? Because the Bible says that whatever you eat, it should be to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). But this concerns the way we come to food, not what food we come to. Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19). When He declared all foods clean, He was not declaring all food fussery clean. Just the opposite. Declaring all foods clean means that every attempt to make the foods unclean again is a vain form of uncleanness. It won’t work — the food cannot be defiled by this teaching, but the hearts can be.
So — righteousness, peace, joy, and thanksgiving, all of them in green bottles. By way of contrast, the foodie movement as it exists in its natural state, at its point of origin out in the world, consists of fear, anxiety, self-righteousness, timidity, guilt, ingratitude, and pride. It is a warehouse of fifty gallon drums full of Pharisaical leaven. Anybody who cannot see that reality is simply not paying attention. So when Christians go over there to get some food, I don’t care — because God doesn’t care what’s in your food. He cares what is in your heart. So I don’t care if you get your food at Safeway or at the Coop. You have to buy it somewhere. Just make sure you get some, and make sure you thank God for it.
God doesn’t care what is in your food, but He cares very much what is in your food-thoughts. So what a pastor must care about is whether Christians are picking up any of the leaven — the fear, anxiety, self-righteousness, and so forth. And the answer is that they are, and in many cases, in terrible, debilitating ways. One of the ways I know this is the case is the inability of some to grasp these very simple distinctions. All foods are clean. Not all hearts are. Everything else follows.
I am afraid I can’t really make this point as I would like to without bragging a bit about Nancy, but (truth be told) I don’t mind doing that. Anybody who frequents this blog for a while might easily gather that I take a dim view of food righteousness. That would be right. And they may have read me saying that “God doesn’t care what you eat.” But does this mean that God doesn’t care how we eat, or why we eat? Or with whom? Of course not. The world is God’s bistro, remember, and the production and consumption of food is necessarily a big part of all our schedules.
So food is a big deal at our house, not a little deal. Every Saturday night we have our Sabbath dinner, where Nancy spends her Saturdays preparing a thanksgiving meal for twenty-nine people, and that is if there is no company — and there is frequently company. And she uses cloth napkins. One time she was ironing the cloth napkins, which are not just for sabbath dinner, incidentally, and I asked why she was doing that. She said, putting it all in a nutshell, “it’s reformational.”
So meals are about loving people with something hot for the plate. Meals are about loving people with pressed cloth napkins. Meals are about joy and laughter across the table. Meals are about the pandemonium of clean-up. Meals are a big deal. We should love them more than we do, and this means receiving God’s permission slip to eat absolutely anything, and then with equal joy and grace to receive His commandment to love the person sitting across from you.