“Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” …So He drove the man out, and …He stationed the cherubim … to guard the way to the tree of life.
– God the Father, Gen. 3:22,24
“To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.”
– Jesus, Rev. 2:7
First of all, let me get this out of the way. I would take a bullet for the sake of the gospel. What follows is not the gospel, and I wouldn’t die for it. I’d take a paper cut with lemon juice poured into it, but not a bullet. I realize this is a touchy subject, so if this really ticks you off, don’t be ticked off worse than if I gave you a paper cut with some lemon juice in it… I’m not dropping the hammer of Divine Authority by any means. Just think through the issue with me, and that’s all I could ask.
Maybe it’s my fundamentalist roots, but I’ve always been very suspicious of anything faddish, trendy, or cool that captures both the culture and the church. I must therefore admit that it’s possible that I’m just a cranky old geezer that gets all bent out of shape over something hip for no other reason than that it’s something hip.
That said, I get rather perturbed by the current quest for the perfect food. Food that is natural, organic, non-GMO, non-gluten, non-dairy, non-cancer-giving, non-mood-altering, non-killing. It turns out all the stuff my mother fed me was basically poison churned out by a giant poison factory, where they’d put entire animals in a blender, inject the resultant soup with various chemicals, some to make it last forever, some to make it taste like food, and we would take it home and microwave it to death, with the result being that I don’t have a prayer of living but maybe a few more years. And remember when we ridiculed the idea of buying water in those stupid little bottles? How idiotic to think we could drink bleached city-water or pesticide-rich well water and expect anything but an imminent onset of brain cancer.
We live in an age that is not merely health-conscious, but it is health-crazed. The more we know about food, it seems the more we’re afraid of it, and driven to find food that won’t kill us. We live in an Age of Nutritional Enlightenment, it seems. We have discovered that virtually all our problems are caused by our food. Our diseases, our aches, our pains, our temperaments, our headaches, our backaches, our kidney-aches, our bowel movements that are too few, too frequent, too… ok enough of that (but seriously, where has the sense of shame gone?), and any number of other things are caused by gluten, by the conspirators at Monsanto and their Genetically Modified Organisms by which they plan to take over the world (leading me to believe Pinky and the Brain are heading up that demonic company), by the greedy buzzards on corporate farms churning out ungodly yields per acre by use of lethal doses of autism-inducing pesticides, and the heartless chicken farmers stuffing their poultry with an elixir of hormones and antibiotics that would make an honest man blush. If I’m forgetting something, it is a testament to my incredible ignorance of the subject.
To all who have placed their hope of a happy, healthy, long life in their dietary discernment, let me just run a few things by you to think about.
- Our mortality is inherent, not acquired.
We get sick, old, decrepit, diseased, and dead because our bodies are fundamentally flawed. God programmed them to fall apart and die. There’s no getting around this:
As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow. Ps. 90:10
In other words, we don’t die ultimately because of what we impose upon our bodies so much as because God has decreed that they fail. I think that even many who heartily agree to the Reformed view of the depravity of the soul can be rather Pelagian when it comes to the body. It’s rather natural to think that the body is only corrupted by external forces, not internal self-destructive programming. Don’t put your faith in your food, assuming all threats lie outside of you, when the reality is the greatest threat to your well-being comes from within, rooted in sin and aggravated by the reality that we live in a cursed world.
There is, however, one food which a person may eat of and never die, as described in Genesis 3:22-24. It was the tree of life, and God set an angel to guard it to prohibit Adam and Eve and anyone else from eating from it. In other words, there was a food that one could eat and live forever, and God refused to let anyone eat it. So, they ate the other food in that very primitive world, which was doubtless about the most natural food a person could possibly eat, certainly more purely natural and organic and all that jazz than anything we might dream of touching to our hungry lips – and they died. They died because God said they would, He determined they would, and He prohibited them from escaping death through means of eating from the tree of life.
In practical terms, this simply means this: come to grips with your mortality. You won’t live on in this life forever, nor were you meant to. For His own purposes God deliberately shortened man’s lifespan from almost 1,000 years just after the fall down to about 70 years today. Maybe 80, Moses writes, but the pride of those last 10 years are pretty much “labor and sorrow.” No diet will help you escape this reality. Some might help you delay it for a couple years, but maybe it won’t.
I think of it this way: avoiding certain things may help me avoid cancer, and avoiding other things may help me avoid heart failure, and avoiding this or taking that may (or may not) grant me some immunity from various causes of death, but each potential life-ending threat we eliminate only unveils a new batch of them. I have heard that there wasn’t so many cases of cancer a century ago. Perhaps part of the reason is that people died of other things before they could get cancer. If, like Jonathan Edwards, you die of smallpox in your fifties, you don’t survive to die of cancer in your 70’s or heart failure in your 80’s. If God programmed our bodies to fail, then the major threat is internal, not coming at us from the outside.
We realize this in the spiritual realm; Jesus was explicit about it: “There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” (Mark 7:15) But that is also true, to some extent anyway, in the physical realm.
James says this: “you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” (James 4:15) To state it another way, if the Lord doesn’t will, you won’t live. Psalm 139 says our days are known and numbered before there was ever one of them. Every funeral I’ve been involved in, I’ve calculated the number of days the deceased lived. 30,000 days is a pretty long life. I also buried a young lady who lived less than 6,500. God’s not surprised when we die, nor do I think He’s shaking His head saying, “If only you’d eaten better I’d have left you there longer!”
- Concern for our mortality must be measured against our concern for immortality
Some will doubtless read this and think I’ve wandered into the Colossian heresy: “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” (Col. 2:23) I understand that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, they reflect the image of God, and in a forthcoming article I’ll try to lay out a doctrine of the body that will make you think I’m obsessed with our body. So keep that in mind.
It’s not that I don’t care about the body – I do, because Jesus does. When He died on the cross, He didn’t just die to redeem our souls, but Romans 8 indicates that He died to purchase redemption of our bodies. But Jesus also advocated cutting off hands and gouging out eyes if they stand in the way of entrance into the kingdom. Admittedly there’s something of a tension here. Wanton destruction of the body as though it was anything but a marvelous gift from God and very much a part of who we are as human beings is damnable. Desecrating the body, especially destroying the brain through various forms of abuse is hateful in the eyes of the One who fashioned that body while we were in our mother’s womb.
On the other hand, waltzing into hell with two hands because you wouldn’t hack one off for the sake of the kingdom is even more damnable. So Paul expressed it this way:
Bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Tim 4:18)
There is profit in bodily discipline. But only a little. So do a little bodily discipline. But bodily discipline doesn’t hold a promise for “the life to come.” Godliness does. So “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” (1 Tim 4:7)
I think Paul would wish that for every 5 minutes people spent spreading the gospel of the gluten-free life, they spent an hour in their Bibles, on their knees, and in conversation encouraging others concerning the kingdom of God. Paul might wish that for every promise claimed by the disciples of the organic lifestyle, a hundred promises of God would be exercised in the confession of sin, pursuit of holiness, and exulting in God’s grace in an evangelistic way.
By all means – eat right and exercise. But do so in proper and God-honoring proportion to your godly disciplines. Do not lose sight of the “life to come” in an obsession for “the present life.” Besides, Paul makes it clear that godliness actually does hold promise “for the present life.” Godliness is of double benefit – now and later. Bodily discipline holds promise – a little, and only for this present life. Measure the concern for your body against the concern for your soul – and adjust your efforts accordingly, in proportion to their significance. Spiritual, eternal matters far outweigh physical, temporal ones. Obsess over the important ones; deal with the insignificant ones when you have to.
- Beware of the temptation to embrace “the secret.”
Every once in awhile an article will come across my radar about someone who has lived well into their 100’s or even 110’s. Almost assuredly someone will ask them “what’s the secret for living so long?”
Humanity has long been tempted by the notion that someone, somewhere, is hiding the key to their success, and once we find it, we’ll all have that same success.
In theological terms, this attraction of “the secret” dates back at least as far as the writings of the New Testament and the people known as the “Gnostics,” who claimed that they were in possession of “secret knowledge,” which made them spiritually superior to your run-of-the-mill Christian. I haven’t done so in ages, but I used to poke around the dark corners of the internet to see (and get alternately angry at and amused by) those “theologians” who have discovered all sorts of Biblical “secrets” by use of various mathematical algorithms or pulling a letter here and there or twisting a phrase this way and that in order to demonstrate that “secretly” the Bible predicted Adolf Hitler, 9/11, probably Donald Trump, but always some imminent catastrophe.
We don’t like the fact that someone might have helpful information that would make us better people, and we don’t know what it is. In short, we don’t like others to have secrets, unless we are in on them. We like to know what other people don’t know; we like to have the inside track, the scoop, the hidden knowledge.
I think we understand that for every problem, there is a solution, and if we can just get our hands on the solution, we’ll have solved the problem. And a “secret” is a little-known solution to a widespread problem. Nutritionally, there’s a zillion secrets now available to combat nearly every problem. The secret to avoiding this disease is to eat this; the secret to avoiding that malady is not eating that, and so on and so forth.
Secrets have two potential consequences. First, the pursuit of the “secret” and attaining of it almost automatically causes us to cast our hopes and dreams on “the secret” instead of the “normal,” which would be, in the case of the Christian, the providence of God. A feverish pursuit of solutions that all humanity has been searching for over the course of centuries means that the only solutions left are usually found in really weird places. Who’d have ever thought that for the last 6,000 years bread has been the staple for the human race, only to find out that the gluten it contains is the cause of virtually every problem known to mankind? I’ve yet to be convinced that cutting out gluten is going to be the ultimate transformational secret it promises. In any case, I find it amusing that as often as not, the “secret” that the 110 year old gives includes fried food and cigarettes. Either way, beware lest the pursuit of the “secret” displace the pursuit of Godliness and trust in His good providence, which can cause the person living on fried chicken and Marlboro’s to outlive the rest of us with our tasteless, colorless, vitamin paste.
The second consequence of pursuing the “secret” can be, though is not always, a sense of superiority over the “unenlightened” masses. Being in possession of a secret means a person has something someone else doesn’t have, and having that secret gives you an advantage over them. Being so enlightened that one wouldn’t dream of defiling their lips with vegetables fertilized by manure from cows who drank non-distilled water puts one in a precariously pretentious frame when observing a Big-Mac monger like myself doing my American duty down at the Golden Arches.
- Pursue a full life
I love the epitaph God gives to David: “he died in a ripe old age, full of days, riches and honor.” (I Chr. 29:28) David died at 70. Best I can tell, that’s the youngest person described as dying “full of days.” The description also applies to Abraham and Job, but they lived about 3 times as long. But here’s the point: David’s life was a full life, and the age of his death was “a ripe old age.” It wasn’t really that old. But let’s face it – it was time. He was an old man shivering in bed and could only stay warm if someone huddled up next to him. But his life was full, and it was honorable.
I sometimes wonder if the next generation will be so frozen with fear about their health that they’ll be hesitant to take great risks and do great things. Maybe this isn’t the place to pontificate about putting a helmet on a kid riding a tricycle, but the idea that we need to be kept safe from all threats at all costs is going to come with a pricetag, and I’m not yet sure how high that might be.
We live in a “safety first” world. I’d be curious if Jeremiah thought “safety first” before he irritated people so bad they threw him into a pit. I’m not sure John the Baptist thought “safety first” before he preached against the adultery of Herod. Paul marched into Jerusalem knowing that not only would he not be safe, he would most certainly be harmed.
There is no such thing as a full life that is a pain-free life. Are we so free from pain that we have taken to obsessing about avoiding potential future pain by means of nutrition? Maybe if we had other wounds to nurse, other threats to handle, we wouldn’t find ourselves so consumed by the ones that we aren’t, and maybe won’t experience. By all means, we don’t want to bring on unnecessary pain just for the sake of suffering, but let us develop a mindset of being willing to suffer greatly in order to receive an epitaph such as David did. And that may mean being so consumed with risking life and limb for the Kingdom that we don’t have time nor inclination to be consumed with saving life and limb through nutrition.
Better to die at 70 and have God write an epitaph that says, “full of days,” than to die at 80 with the epitaph, “safest man ever.”
- The Tree Will Be Unlocked
Finally, the day is coming when the tree that yields the fruit that one may eat and actually live forever will be made available for our consumption. Jesus told His children at Ephesus, “to him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.” (Rev 2:7)
However literally one takes this, or what connection this tree has with the tree in Eden may be up for debate, but here’s the point: Those who trust in Jesus, and because they trust Him they love Him, they follow Him, if need be they lose their health, their wealth, or even their heads for Him, they are willing to lose hands, feet, eyes, parents, and even their own lives in pursuit of Him, who overcome all obstacles in their way by the power of the Holy Spirit, will be raised again to live a physical, eternal existence, free from aches, pains, disorders, malfunctions, diseases, and the ravages of old age. Our bodies will be fully and finally perfected for all time. We have no idea what being in perfect health must be like, but we will know it then. Our minds will function as they ought, our hormones will be in perfect balance, our allergies will be non-existent, and this body which is so feeble, fragile, and threatened by a zillion different kinds of viruses, bacteria, and diseases will be free from them all, and for all eternity.
In that day, Jesus Himself will escort us to the tree, and say something like, “My dear child, eat this, and live forever!” Then we’ll all agree on what the best diet is, because that’ll be it.