Along with countless other Americans during this pandemic season, I started my first edible garden. Two weeks into the adventure, my indoor seedlings sprouted small and bright green leaves. The joy was crushed by week three, though, when they all died. A second attempt proved fruitless (literally). One last-ditch effort had me throwing seeds into pots in our backyard. To my astonishment, these seedlings grew into thriving vegetable plants. Over the coming months I learned about root rot in tomatoes, how to rid beetles and slugs that infested green beans, and how to cut basil so it can abundantly provide. Weekly my children would come outside to check on our plants and to gather our bounty. And every time I would ask them, “Who made this?” “God!” they would yell back with fingers pointed high.
We watched God produce the food that would nourish our bodies. But more importantly he showed us in a season of uncertainty that no matter what we did or what we ate, we could rejoice in his providing hand.
As Tilly Dillehay argues in her new book, Broken Bread: How to Stop Using Food and Fear to Fill Spiritual Hunger, God cares much more about how we eat than about what we eat (13).
Your Diet Is Not Your Savior
Dillehay—pastor’s wife, homemaker, and author—begins with four poles that encompass our food sins: (1) asceticism (too proud to enjoy the enjoyable), (2) gluttony (a pleasure that never reaches its fulfillment), (3) snobbery (consumed with being on the right side of food history), and (4) apathy (too lazy to consider the sights, smells, and taste that God has laid out on the global table) (13–14).
Habitually we fall in and out of one or more of these poles throughout our lives and, as Dillehay explains, they’re all forms of a food idol. “They are each an attempt to use physical food to fill a spiritual hunger––hunger for righteousness, for pleasure, for significance, or for ease” (15). This isn’t a modern-day phenomenon. We’ve been here before.
In 1866, Ellen White gave a speech to a small but emerging group called the Seventh-day Adventists. She proclaimed God had spoken to her about which foods are and aren’t allowable. Using Genesis 1:29, she declared a divine command to the followers—they were to withhold from foods such as meat, caffeine, salt, spicy condiments, and fried foods (21).
As we scroll through Instagram today, countless diet gurus preach to us about foods to avoid for a flat stomach; how if we’re not eating organic grass-fed (and grass-finished!) meat we’re contaminating our body; and how some diets can help us outrun even death. White’s food commands don’t sound so different from the world’s current food influencers. This is just a kind of prosperity gospel, Dillehay explains, a false gospel that teaches God promises health as part of Christ’s atoning work (67)—in effect, a way to defeat death and undersell the glory that awaits us in the new heavens and new earth.
The obsession with using food as a tool to cheat death, seek control, or get the body we desire has seeped its way into the mouths of believers. I’ve often been guilty of this—finding it much easier to speak of my newest diet then to speak to my sister in Christ of our shared spiritual need. These physical bodies of ours are wasting away day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). No wonder we’re warned not to squander our limited time this side of heaven by obsessing more about eating or drinking than God’s kingdom (Rom. 14:17).
If we’re to regard food as God intended, we must look past our self-seeking mentality and look to God. Last December, my husband and I hosted a Christmas cookie exchange in our home. Along with our small group we invited believers and unbelievers alike to join us in food and fellowship. It isn’t hard to believe that the assortment of cookies, hot chocolate, coffee, and cheese balls are what pulled these people into our home. But ultimately the food was an invitation to intentional relationship and gospel conversation. As Dillehay states, “When we use hospitality as an aid and a vehicle for intimacy and truth and worship, we are using it as it was intended to be used”.
Jesus was no different in his ministry. He saw physical needs and fulfilled them (John 6), but more importantly he detected desperate spiritual needs. “Do not labor for the food that perishes,” he said, “but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). Food invites, nourishes, even drives us to worship, but in the end it’s only through the Bread of Life himself that we can be saved.
Food and self-care have their proper place, but we must approach them with an eye on eternity. “The body you’re in now is more like a tent than a lasting monument,” she writes. “You care for this tent in a godly way, all the while understanding that it’s fundamentally a short-term dwelling place” (220).
Feast in Zion
In the second half of Broken Bread, Dillehay explains the biblical use of hospitality, why we should learn to cook, the importance of fasting, the wrongful use of alcohol, and more. While some chapters in this section feel disconnected to the book as a whole, individually each chapter is strong and will leave you encouraged.
In this time of quarantine, we’ve seen a reawakened fixation on the food we eat, whether it’s growing our food, starting a hobby of sourdough baking, or fighting the Quarantine 15. And because of that, there is no better time to read Broken Bread. Dillehay will help you see the food idols in your life you might not have even known were there, all while pointing you to the spiritual feast with Christ that, as believers, we’ll one day enjoy.
In the meantime, we can feast today as we await the eternal feast in Zion.