The Vulgarity of God, Part 2: Food and Drink

A few weeks ago, drawing on some inspiration from C.S. Lewis, I began by stating what I meant by “The Vulgarity of God”. By way of reminder, I defined God’s “vulgarity” as his “lavish, unblushing, and almost excessive provisions of joy for the human being, especially as expressed in the created order (though not limited thereto)”.1 This week, we’ll be looking at God’s “vulgarity” in food and drink. To do so, we have throw it back – way back.

Vulgar from the get-go

Most of us are familiar with the creation story laid out in Genesis. In fact, there’s two creation stories.2 Here’s a highlight from the latter of the two:

[7] then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. [8] And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. [9] And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:7-9)

There’s a couple observations to be made. First, where did he put the man? In a garden. When you think of a garden, do you imagine a place that is lifeless, or vibrant? Is it cold, or is it warm and inviting? And what else did God put in the garden? Did he leave Adam only with Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and some legumes? No, he gave him “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (emphasis mine). To be sure, there had to have been Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and legumes there, (as they are all “good for food”,) but think about it: there was also watermelon and pineapple and green beans and, well, insert your favorite plant food here.

We should also take note of the fact that God has created all these foods and given them to Adam before the Fall. Providing food was not a necessary evil meant for the continuance of the human race; it was a part of God’s plan from the beginning. So, we should not be like the Gnostics, who believed that the material world was inherently evil or shameful and that the spiritual realm only provided good. Rather, we should believe the biblical witness that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).

But then notice that God doesn’t say, “OK Adam, I made all these good foods but now you can only eat the healthy ones that I made. Stay away from that sugary mango!” Instead, it goes down like this:

[16] And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, [17] but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

Read those words: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden”. As if creating a world full of different kinds of plants and animals wasn’t enough, he actually tells the man that he may participate in and enjoy the things in the creation that God has made. There’s just one caveat: “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat”.

“Aha!” some might say, “so he is holding out on us after all!” You missed the first part; there is only one “no” in a world full of “yes”. Everything that God has created (including Adam and even the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) he has created good. Nothing in this creation (yet) is fundamentally bad or evil. It’s all good and it’s all “yes”, with but one “no”.

The first lie: God is fundamentally prohibitive

We know that the story takes a drastic turn for the worse. But it starts with an illustrative dialogue.

[1] Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” [2] And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, [3] but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” [4] But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. [5] For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” [6] So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:1-6)

Notice first that the serpent (i.e., Satan) is described as “crafty”; that word could also be translated as “subtle” in more archaic English or sútil in modern Spanish. The first words out of his mouth come in the form of a question: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” (emphasis mine). You see what happened there? The serpent’s question turns God’s design on its head. In the words of Joe Rigney, he’s taken God’s one “no” in a world full of “yes” and blown it out of proportion. The serpent’s lie is that all God does is say “no”. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The serpent’s lie has penetrated and permeated our consciousness perhaps more than we’d care to admit. We’ve all had moments when we thought that it was God’s main prerogative to squelch our joy and ruin our fun. And while there are prohibitions in the Bible (more on that later), I think that we are much more apt to believe that God cares less about what we do than what we don’t do. For example, many who would subscribe to Christian morality would agree that premarital promiscuity (that is, sex before marriage) is inherently sinful and wrong (Hebrews 13:4). But do we also recognize that God is the author of sex and gave it as a gift to husband and wife not only for procreation, but also for mutual enjoyment (Proverbs 5:18-19)? Yes, sex itself, in its proper context, is an act of worship and should be celebrated as such.3

At the end of the day, God cares a great deal that we enjoy the creation he has made. Why? Because when we enjoy the good things that he has made and trace it back to its origin in him, the enjoyment becomes an act of worship. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.”

More than plants

It’s convenient (for my sake) that the biblical texts I chose dealt with food – plant food in particular. But the principles I have laid out go far beyond just raw plant food. Listen to what the psalmist has to say:

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock

and plants for man to cultivate,

that he may bring forth food from the earth

and wine to gladden the heart of man,

oil to make his face shine

and bread to strengthen man’s heart. (Psalm 104:14-15)

We’re now into the realm of bread, meat, and virtually anything else you could cultivate and turn into a product. We’re into the realm of cheeseburgers, pastas, brownies, buttered lobster, blueberry pancakes, philly cheesesteaks, apple crisp, and – oh yes – bacon. And as far as drinks are concerned, we have sweet tea, coconut water,  smoothies, apple juice, chocolate milk, and coffee.

Conclusion

With all this in view, should we not have a fuller picture of what we mean by God’s “vulgarity”? As some of the most tangible of goods we can consume as humans, God has created food and drink to be visible expressions of his goodness. Even apart from God’s saving grace in the gospel, his common grace expressed in the gifts of food and drink are enough to make one blush. And while we should certainly stray from gluttony and overindulgence, we should also thankfully leverage these gifts as means for worship and enjoyment of our exuberantly generous Father.

 


  1. I apologize for the wordiness of this definition. 
  2. Hermeneutically, I don’t have that one figured out yet. I’ll let you know when I do. 
  3. I hope to broach this subject later. For further reading in the meantime, see John Piper’s book, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ
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