Monday, March 29, 2010

Hunger and the Christian Faith

The Gospels are full of references to food and hunger. Many times Christ is compared to food and drink, for instance, bread of life (John 6:48), living water (John 4:10), etc. The Samaritan lady at the well wanted the living water so she would never thirst again. After being fed by Jesus, the 5,000 followed him across the sea. They weren’t after him because of the miracle they had seen, rather they wanted another meal (John 6:26)! Jesus said that they were going through a lot of work for bread that wouldn’t satisfy when they should be striving for the bread of life (John 6:27). These trite examples show us that the Bible uses food and hunger to describe our relationship to God. So why use food?

  1. Hunger is universal. This is something every man, woman, and child understands. Not in the true hunger, like I haven’t eaten in a week kind of way, but we all have experienced times of feeling hungry.
  2. Food is incomplete. There is never a meal that will satisfy you forever. There was this greasy spoon breakfast joint called Diamond Jim’s in Bellingham, Wa. that would satisfy you for a day, maybe a day and a half if you didn’t get too sick, but in the end, you always need more.
  3. Food is what we work for. The primary function of working and earning a paycheck is to provide food for yourself and your family.

The first thing I would like to say is that our need for food is no more of an accident than that our basic family structure is a man and woman united in marriage. A marriage is representative of Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph 5:22-24). This means that our marriages are an image of Christ and the Church, not the other way around. Therefore our need for food is a shadow, a mere representation, of our ultimate need for God. So how does food help us understand our relationship to God in a deeper way?

  1. The living bread is really what you need. We don’t need another social program. We don’t need another piece of technology. We don’t even need that new car. What we really need is a reconciled relationship with the God of all provision. All other needs, wants and desires pale in comparison.
  2. When the Israelites were out wandering in the desert, God promised them a land “flowing with milk and honey.” The land was literally prosperous, but it doesn’t stop there. God was also promising them a loving and ultimately fulfilling relationship with Him. No longer do you have to look for a different well when yours runs dry. When we look to be ultimately fulfilled in things that aren’t God, we destroy whatever that thing is. If you look for your wife to fulfill you, you place her in the position that God is supposed to fill. This leads to deciding you have the wrong wife when you aren’t fulfilled. God ultimately fulfills.
  3. You need to work at your relationship with God. Jesus tells his disciples to abide in His word, and to keep his commandments (John 15). While the power and strength of our faith comes from the indwelling of Christ (Eph 3:16-17), we are called to act on that power. This is where our energy is to be spent, on the food that satisfies, on the work that matters.

When you sit down and eat dinner tonight, remember that our food is a pale and finite representation of God’s providence. Our hunger for food that spoils, food that fails to keep us from experiencing future hunger, is an example of the finitude of this world, and our hope is in the joy that that will follow.

Finally, consider fasting. Fasting is an outward expression of our true dependence on God to meet all of our needs. While fasting has fallen out of practice in most protestant circles, it is a spiritual practice that is prescribed in Scripture. It is not a way of “punishing” the body, as some have characterized it, rather we are acting out what is ultimately true: without God we have nothing.

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