Dwelling, Dining, and DudsApr 04, 2022
Do you pray before your meals? If you say a version of the familiar, “Thank you, God, for this food and the hands that prepared it,” you may want to add: “Please remove any deadly toxins.” In the United States alone, in the last three decades these foods (and more) have been responsible for illnesses and/or fatalities: salsa, smoothies, spinach, cheese, cantaloupe, chicken, hot dogs, hot sauce, and hamburgers, peanut butter, potatoes, and peaches.
June 7, 2019, marked the first U.N. World Food Safety Day, drawing attention to the 600,000 million people who are sickened annually by food-borne pathogens and the 420,000 deaths. An average of one in ten people each year will become ill due to a food they ingest. And yet…we keep eating!
In the U.S., a person will consume an average of 35 tons of food in their lifetime. At 2,000 lbs per ton, that’s…yep, 70,000 pounds! In addition, during our lifetime, we’ll dispose of about 600 pieces of clothing which accounts for more of the textile waste each year in the U.S. than carpets, furniture, and towels. An average of 25-30% of a person’s earnings in the U.S. will be spent on housing – and this is before monies are taken out for income taxes, social security, and other mandatory deductions. Food, clothing, and shelter demand a lot of our time, energy, attention, and money.
Being human means being hungry. Our triune nature – body, soul, and spirit – craves nourishment physically, socially, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. These needs aren’t the result of sin, although sin corrupted each one. Adam and Eve were safe prior to swallowing the serpent’s bait, but afterwards, appetites took on a different meaning and created new demands, such as clothing. Safety and survival became new needs. We must know we can survive in this world: having adequate food, clothing, shelter, and a means to provide these.
The damage sin imposed on the world defies description. Being born with a sinful nature doesn’t mean the original God-created appetites disappeared but rather became deformed. Without transformation, we’ll focus on our needs instead of the Need-Giver & Need-Filler and try to satisfy these cravings without honoring the Creator.
We don’t love God by trying to escape from our appetites but submitting them to Christ and using them to participate in God’s grand story of redemption.
In his love, God banned Adam and Eve from Eden so they wouldn’t eat from the Tree of Life and live forever in a sinful state. Death was never “normal.” It was a consequence of sin God repurposed by grace, providing those who love him a perfect and eternal life together. In the meantime, we secure food, clothing, and shelter through blood, sweat, and tears. In other words, work. Scripture admonishes us to make caring for the poor a priority, not just meeting our own needs.
All appetites distract us from God by default.
People tend to be obsessive, either fearing having too little or focusing on acquiring too much. In Matthew 6:25-33 Jesus addresses the first group: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and 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.”
History reveals Christians sometimes are deprived without food, clothing, or shelter – even to the point of death. So how do we reconcile this reality with Jesus’ words? Scripture includes laws and principles. Moral laws, such as those in the Ten Commandments, are unchanging and apply to all people for all time. Principles are the way life normally works when people follow God. Yet the effects of sin are real and innocent people suffer. Children starve by the millions where corruption is commonplace. Adults are enslaved because officials abuse their power. Jesus is affirming the need for Safety while emphasizing the greater priority of righteousness – or right living.
Now Jesus doesn’t say, “Quit your job. Pray and wait for clothing, food, and a rent-free apartment.” When he points out lilies don’t “toil or spin,” he doesn’t add, “so neither should you.” Rather, he’s saying, “Don’t allow your toil (work) and spinning (labor) make you lose sight of your Father.” He’s addressing our priorities. It’s not just poverty that can cause anxiety; so can prosperity.
Safety, mishandled, is dangerous.
For those who have enough, the temptation is ingratitude (leading to a hard heart) or equating stuff with significance: wearing designer clothing, living in an impressive house, attending a prominent college, dining at fashionable restaurants, owning the trendiest tech gear. When a person’s beliefs about themselves or others are tied to things, it’s idolatry. Idols aren’t just images people bow and pray to; they’re anything we love more than God. For those who struggle with basic needs being met, the temptation is anxiety or envy. Both attitudes pull us away from faith in God. Anxiety discounts God’s love and power and focuses on our circumstances. Envy maligns God’s motivation towards us and targets our thoughts on others’ possessions or accomplishments.
The idolatry of ingratitude, anxiety, and envy all lead down dangerous paths, away from the first Great Commandment – that of loving God. Whenever we see these temptations trying to lure us away from the only desire which satisfies completely and eternally, all it takes is redirecting our thoughts to seeking him.
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©Stephanie D. Smith, 2022