Some time ago I worked as a journalist on a country newspaper. One of the numerous articles I wrote was titled “A taste for rats!” It began:
In many schools they dissect rats, but at the X High School the students eat them! Indeed such is the students’ taste for the rodents that they consumed over 200 during one lunch period last week.
Rats, jelly rats—green ones, red ones, yellow ones and purple ones—were on sale last Thursday in a bid by the student council to raise funds …”
To accompany the article, I had taken a photograph of a youth dangling six jelly rats by the tail, as if he were about to lower them headfirst into his open mouth.
It was a fun article and I was rather pleased with it. It evidently appealed to my editor, too, because he featured it on the front page of the paper.
A few days after publication, a lady phoned me.
“Are you the journalist who wrote the article about the jelly rats?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, smiling into the mouthpiece. I assumed she had phoned to commend me. Perhaps it was her son in the photograph and she was tickled to see his face on the front page. Perhaps she liked the humorous tone of the article …
“Well, I wish to lodge a complaint,” she said.
My pulse quickened, along with my thoughts. What had I done wrong? Had I spelt a student’s name incorrectly—or worse, used the wrong name in the caption? Parents can be touchy about such things.
“Oh,” I said. “What’s the problem?”
“I don’t think that sort of thing is suitable in a community newspaper.”
That sort of thing? Perhaps she didn’t like the tone after all. Perhaps she was a rat lover. Perhaps …
“It’s not right to be encouraging children to eat junk food,” she continued. “You are what you eat, you know.”
Actually, I didn’t know that. But I let it pass and took up her first point.
I explained that I had merely reported an event organised by the student council. If the sale of jelly rats were inappropriate—and I for one saw no harm in it—then it was the school’s responsibility, not the reporter’s. I suggested she phone the school principal if she wanted to take the matter further.
It was only after she had hung up that I began to think about her second assertion: “You are what you eat.”
Over the years I have met many people who are very moralistic about what they eat. They are the sort of people who walk into a café and order a lentil burger in a loud voice, then run through a checklist with the waitress to make sure all the ingredients are ideologically sound. Then they sit down and look condescendingly at the other patrons who are hoeing into their hamburgers and chips.
The Bible does not support such nutritional moralism. While not denying that one food may be healthier than another, scripture teaches that all food is morally and spiritually neutral. Eating or not eating certain types of food is neither good nor bad. A person is morally no better for abstaining and no worse for indulging. Consequently, people are at liberty to pick and choose as they please, provided only they respect each other’s choice: “One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him” (Romans 14:2-3).
The Lord Jesus taught plainly that food cannot corrupt anyone. For “whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart [his inner self] but his stomach, and so passes on”. By this teaching, Mark explains, Jesus “declared all foods clean” (7:18-19).
The apostle Paul denounces the “liars” who insist on “abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving”. He states that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:3-4).
Paul insists that “Food will not commend us to God.” (This means, conversely, that food will not condemn us to God, either.) Even when it involves food offered to idols, “We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (1 Corinthians 8:8).
While God’s word forbids gluttony (Proverbs 23:20-21; 28:7) and bids proper care of the body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), it does not curb diet. The stomach is not a spiritual organ, and so what goes into it is not of spiritual significance. Ultimately, “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food—and God will destroy both one and the other” (1 Corinthians 6:14).
Certainly, God cares about the food we eat. After all, he made us bipartite beings, having both physical and spiritual parts, and he ordained eating as the way in which we should “keep body and soul together”. He also ordained eating as a means of giving us pleasure. But physical food is not his primary concern.
Spiritual food—food that nourishes the soul—is God’s main concern. And he supplies this food in and through the Bible.
Quoting from the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). God speaks to us through scripture, revealing himself and his salvation to us. As we chew over his word and digest its meaning, it nourishes faith within us (cf Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23).
However, in a sense, the Bible is only the spiritual appetiser to prepare us for the main meal. It cannot save us. It can only stimulate an appetite for the One who can save us. And that One is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins.
Jesus says of himself, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” And again, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever” (John 6:35, 51).
What does it mean to eat the Bread of Life and how is it possible? It means to receive Jesus into our innermost being and it is possible by faith. Faith is an act of the mind, emotions and will whereby we turn from our sins and entrust ourselves to Jesus as our Saviour and Master. When we commit ourselves to Jesus in this way, he enters us by his Spirit and imparts new and eternal life to us.
Jesus urges all people: “Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). Jesus himself is that food. He alone can nourish our souls. And he invites each one of us to eat and live forever.
Once we have eaten the Bread of Life, a change takes place in our spiritual constitution. We find ourselves saying with Jesus, “My food is to do the will” of God (John 4:34). Having received Christ, we begin to be like him. In this sense, we become what we eat.
Copyright © Andrew Lansdown