Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
In the modern food world, food temptation carries with it different connotations. For some it is purely commercial: emphasizing the allure of the food experience. We see this in the advertisements, in the way providers of food would emphasize things such as mouthfeel, dining experience, and taste. For others it is viewed as a powerful force that needs to be inhibited lest one overindulges. A wave of body shaming linked to the lack of discipline of choice, to linking health problems with food consumption patterns, leads to the search for food that seems to suggest that "the less taste/enjoyment of your food experience, the more healthy it is." In our polarized world, it seems to be harder to find a view of food that is neutral. In the movie Ratatouille, the father of Remy, the main character of the rat who aspires to be a chef, viewed Remy's extra sensitive nose and taste to be used solely as a check for rat poison rather than an avenue for culinary creativity. The father warns Remy who had been a bit more picky on what he chooses to eat, "Food is fuel. You get picky about what you put in the tank, your engine is gonna die. Now shut up and eat."
Well, food certainly plays a role, perhaps even as a common vehicle of not just nutrition, but culture, ideology, and belief. In some way, we may be blaming food too much for what often is a problem that is beyond what the food is. Both the obese and the anorexic can be enjoying the same food, but the food by its own substance does not cause obesity or anorexia.
This leads us back to the first temptation recorded in the Bible. Interestingly, it involved food! It also involved a bit of advertising, perhaps false advertising in this case. It also had a consequence.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind?
One interesting issue that the tree of knowledge of good and evil had was that it was not inaccessible or invisible. God had put the tree with a command: all other trees were open for consumption save this one tree. Modern day parenting may perhaps start to ask difficult questions from comparison: if it was so dangerous and destructive a plant, why wouldn't God put it out of Adam and Eve's reach? Surely it would almost seem that God was irresponsible to put such a 'eat-and-die' item in a place where Adam and Eve can reach out and consume it. Almost like having poison in the food cupboard, could God just be held accountable for the tree's access?
Well, on the surface it does seem that we could, almost in a naturally human way, assign the full blame on God. However, upon careful reflection, we realize that Adam and Eve made a conscious informed choice in reaching out to eat the fruit. It wasn't just out of curiosity or accident. If God had put the tree in the far ends of the earth, out of sight and out of mind, it would have been the same - should Adam and Eve believe in their hearts that it was desirable, the very act of attempting to reach it would have been part of its consumption. Humans are indeed made by a Creative God, and our creativity has allowed us to push the boundaries that nature has around us - from flight to space travel, from the harnessing of energies, to the manipulation of biological things. This seemingly unsatisfied hunger leads us to what we call innovation, but often at the cost of our sacred relationship with God.
In the end, neither Adam nor Eve pointed to the fruit being the problem. Scripture points to how the fruit "was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom," traits many in food marketing would love to also acquire for their products, but it wasn't the core issue. The food was a vehicle for a sacred sign of trust with God, one that was violated by Adam and Eve.
Bishop Iraneus of Lyon, echoing the position of the early church of his time, provides a different perspective of the tree's place, and sees both Adam and Eve as 'infants':
“But things which are made by [God], in as much as they have received a beginning of their existence at a later time, must fall short of the one who made them. Things which have come into existence recently cannot said to be unoriginated. To the extent that they are not unoriginated they fall short of being perfect, for, in as much as they have come into being more recently, they are infants, and, in as much as they are infants, they are unaccustomed to and unpracticed in perfect discipline. A mother can offer adult food to an infant, but the infant cannot yet digest food suitable for someone older. Similarly God, for his part, could have granted perfection to humankind from the beginning, but humankind, being in its infancy, would not have been able to sustain it.” (Against Heresies IV.38.1)
This implies that the tree was there because it is actually God's desire that all knowledge of good and evil be eventually given to humanity when we are able to sustain it - and this is in the light of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). When we accessed things we couldn't handle, it lead to guilt and shame. Our selfishness made us use the knowledge of what is good and what is evil in ways that simply benefitted ourselves. However, when God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, leads us with knowledge, we now have that same knowledge in the context of loving God and our neighbor - only in Christ and His Spirit are we ever going to be ready.
There is a certain awareness that we can learn from today's reflection. The thoughts and attitudes we carry on the food we eat not only affect how we enjoy the food, but also carry with it real spiritual consequences.
My mom was sharing with me a story of a sudden change in the food experience after being offered a different thought about it. In a western cafe, she had ordered Angel-Hair Pasta, and was enjoying the dish until my brother offered her a perspective: "Angel Hair Pasta? Isn't that just Misua? (a rice noodle used in Chinese cuisine). My mom claims that as she imagined it to be misua, the taste of the angel hair pasta just changed in her mouth. And she couldn't go back to enjoying the dish as what the chef had intended!
So, perhaps in today's reflections, I want to offer two suggestions for us. First, let us start to be more aware of how we consume our food - what attitudes and postures do we carry with it? Do we blame the food for something that we should actually reflect more deeply in ourselves for? Secondly, have we honored the sacred relationship of God and us through food? Do we come with gratitude or grumbling to God for His provision? Do we trust in His Time or consume with our impatience? Do we value the relationship with the One who gives us our Daily Bread more than the bread we consume? Our Father in heaven, thank you for providing us with food and the means to feed not just ourselves but others. Guide us to have a spirit of gratitude towards all You have given, that we may not allow ourselves to consume food in ways that draw us away from You or lead others to harm. Convict us through Your Spirit if our hearts are not right before you. As we love You, so we also enjoy Your blessings. In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen. Hungry Chaplain