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.
Here’s why “God doesn’t care about X” seems problematic: The modern order is instituted through advertising. Progressives love people getting along, and so, now, they love Coke. (Because of the Superbowl add.) Same thing, different products, for conservatives. I think most of us *feel* this, but are powerless to fight it. Whereas in some societies, boundaries constrain, in our society, lack of boundaries constrain us to follow the advertisement. What we need to get out of the mire is a father who cares, who feeds us, who provides us boundaries that free, etc. That is, a father who cares deeply not only what… Read more »
Thanks for your article – I really appreciate hearing your perspective on this issue. I understand your point that no food, of itself, can impart (or separate you from) holiness. But it seems like there is morality involved in what we eat, not just how we eat. It seems like a responsibility to eat as healthily as possible (give the machine of your body the best fuel available so you can serve God with as much energy as possible), and to feed your family in the same way. If a mother feeds her family exclusively on pop tarts and fruit… Read more »
Progressives don’t love Coke, actually — Coke has a very bad history with their labor practices. We just find the freak-out that Conservatives had over brown people singing in languages other than English in an *ad* (gasp!) hilarious. (“You mean not everyone in MURICA is a white English speaker? Say it isn’t so!!”)
Huffpo liked the add. But you’re probably right that they haven’t rebranded themselves yet. They’re working on it, but they’re not done. It’s a step in that direction.
Here’s the article I was drawing off. Sorry if it sounded like I was stereotyping.
“The answer is that God cares about everything, but He doesn’t care about things the same way we do.” Which is exactly why I usually cringe when I hear the “no square inch” quote invoked to justify any political cause.
Hi Katie, What if we applied the how and why she feeds her family to your example. Is the mother feeding her family fruit loops and pop tarts because she hopes her children will get sick, or because where she lives, this is often all that is available, or because her children are running the household and decide what the family eats, or because she was convinced by a slick, diet fad that this is the best food there is, and it is very hip to do so… Isn’t that the issue at hand still? Not the fact that it… Read more »
I have two questions: 1: Do the prophet Daniel’s dietary decisions shed any light on how we should eat nowadays, or are things different for us now that Christ has come? 2: Much of the food purity movements seem based around the business practices of the people producing it. For example, “Fair Trade” coffee is purchased over other coffee not because it is healthier or tastes better, but because it was purchased for a “fair” price (whatever that means). I’m sure there are a lot of lies put forward by slick marketers about how morally their food is produced. However, doesn’t… Read more »
I was thinking of getting Francis Foucachon’s Food for Thought.
Do you have an opinion on it?
Well said, Doug. I’ve encountered a number of Christians over the years who have tried to convince me and my family that the Bible does give us dietary requirements. My wife was forced to go gluten free because of an allergy, and one of her friends brought up the fact that God supposedly gives us a recipe for bread in Ezekiel. Totally out of context, as that recipe was for Ezeki to show a specific sign to the children of Israel. Our previous church also had a Sunday School class teaching us how to eat according to Scripture. Those wanting… Read more »
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,$$$$$$$$$$$Does He care if it were made in a sweatshop in Bangladesh by children? This does happen.
However, are we resposible to research where each article of clothing we wear is manufactured? Paul said in regards to eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols not to ask where it came from. I don’t know if my underwear was made in a sweat shop in Bangladesh or not and I’m ok with that. If your concience requires you to find these things out, by all means do it. If you can not wear underwear in faith without knowing who made it then you must do it. I’m not sure that it should be a blanket requirement for… Read more »
If I may, I would like to point out an issue with this article and its interpretation of Scripture that I believe is very important to understand correctly. The Bible never once says that all foods are clean. If you read the account of Acts chapter 10 in its fullness, in proper context and with the proper understanding, you will see that I am correct in that statement. G-d isn’t referring to the food on the sheet as being what He has made clean. He’s using a picture, something that Peter would understand, to prove a greater point: that the… Read more »
Charlie Reifinger brings up a really important point if this issue is going to be addressed exegetically. “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” is the go-to, all-purpose verse for the Christian food police. However, Paul explicitly dismisses the food nonsense just six verses earlier, in 1 Corinthians 6:13. There’s a specific point Paul is making there about sexual morality, and we don’t have license to pour other nit-picky agenda points into it.
Also, Nicholas Scarpinato: You’re correct that God was using a symbol in Peter’s vision to show him that the Gentiles will too be justified. But your mistake is in assuming that the symbol itself is irrelevant, or doesn’t mean what it means. God may well be arguing from the smaller thing (diet) to the larger thing (justification of Gentiles), but that doesn’t mean the smaller thing doesn’t exist. You said: “The sheet of unclean animals is not meant to describe food.” To which all I can say is: Huh? [He] saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet… Read more »
Hi Carole, I think you’re dead-on about the why and how questions, but I don’t see how we really can neglect the “what” question entirely. A developing child being fed exclusively on strawberry pop-tarts is – objectively speaking – going to suffer severely for it. This is not junk science or the latest fad in ultra-nutritious diets talking; it’s simple common sense. The kid’s getting scurvy, and there’s really no excuse for that if it can be prevented. If the mother really is doing the best she possibly can with what’s available, then God bless her — my great-grandparents certainly… Read more »
I really appreciate several things that were written here. Specifically about the intentions of the heart, and the why mattering more than the what. There’s an aspect of this discussion that isn’t represented here. My family might be considered a “foodie” family, meaning we care about what we eat. Not because food makes someone righteous or not. Jesus answered that when saying that what goes into the mouth doesn’t defile a person (Matt 15:11). We simply want to be healthy, and we consider that an act of worship, doing the best we can. We shop at, among other places, Target,… Read more »
Hi Tim, yes I do agree with you that wisdom matters. The point I find particularly important personally, because it is an issue in my life and church, is that while those decisions for families do involve wisdom, they are not sins, and therefore are decisions that should be left to families. I strongly believe that there are some who are disrupting fellowship because they believe their wisdom regarding food is superior to others. For example, I am late in responding because I have been in hospital, again, for the last week. I wouldn’t be inclined to share that information… Read more »
If you value cloth napkins, why is it so different to place value on a system of agriculture that “uses cloth napkins,” so to speak? As long as we can outsource all of our ugliness to strip mines and Indian call centers and dress our tables up with cloth napkins from Bangladeshi sweat shops, you’re happy? Your position seems to be merely a defense of completely selfish consumerism and of excusing yourself for the negative externalities that uphold your exploitative consumerism.