I have been thinking about how we “ask a blessing” at mealtime. Quite often we say something like this: “Please make this food healthful and nutritious, take out the impurities, restore the vitamins and minerals, remove the carcinogens and replace them with numerous antioxidants, make the calcium/magnesium ratio 2:1, annihilate the bad bacteria and put in some good bacteria. Please replenish the trace elements, make the pH 7.0, provide the electro-chemical energy for the synapses in our brains to snap properly, normalize the glucose, reduce cholesterol, and may it build strong bodies eight different ways. And, oh, yes, may it shrink our hemorrhoids. Amen.”
The above is a composite of words we might say during different mealtime blessings — with just a bit of hyperbole here and there to make the case.
The point is that saying these things makes it almost appear that we view food as hazardous to our health until God rearranges the atomic particles. It seems to me that this kind of prayer is a little offensive to the cook. (“Please make this horribly degenerate, polluted, tainted stuff fit to eat.”) My wife is a good cook and works hard in the kitchen. I don’t want to insult her by asking God to make her meals fit to eat.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m one who is very concerned about what goes in my mouth, especially since reaching the prune-eating stage of life. Many of us experience numerous health problems, often caused by years of poor diet. It would be nice if God made all of our food nutritious, if we could eat fries and get the nourishment of veggies.
In light of all the health problems, even among Christians, I don’t think God makes junk food nutritious even when we ask him to. Experience tells me that if I eat a sugary doughnut, it tastes like a sugary doughnut in my mouth, and I strongly suspect that it goes into my digestive tank as a blob of devitalized sugar and flour. Nutritionists tell us that the most nutritious part of a doughnut is the hole. I doubt that God transforms the solid portion into something healthful on the way down. Maybe I’m wrong, but won’t we assimilate pretty much whatever we poke into our mouths? Those Twinkies don’t turn into carrot juice.
Do people who smoke ask a health-promoting blessing on cigarettes before they put them in their mouths and set them on fire? Who knows? Maybe some do.
In looking in the Bible, I could find only one incident of God cleansing food. It’s in 2 Kings 4:38-41. In this case the chow was so toxic that the diners would have died on the spot if God hadn’t intervened.
Scripture cites several occasions when Jesus prayed before eating. Matthew 14:19 uses the Greek word eulogeo, meaning “speak well of.” The King James translation reads, “he blessed” (the food). However, in John 6:11, which recounts the same event, the sense is “thank, be thankful.” In this case the King James reads, “He had given thanks.” The NIV translates both verses as Jesus “gave thanks.” Matthew 15:36 and Mark 8:6 are other examples where Jesus “gave thanks.”
In all these examples, Jesus expressed appreciation for his food. Even when the word “bless” is used in some translations, it is an expression of gratitude. Jesus didn’t ask the Father to purify and cleanse food. He simply expressed thanks to him. Romans 14:6 speaks of giving God thanks for food, and 1 Timothy 4:3 speaks of receiving food with thanksgiving.
Incidentally, we often use the phrase “saying grace.” The word “grace” comes from the Latin word gratia, meaning “good will” or “gift,” and implies “thanks.” It’s the origin of the Spanish word gracias or “thank you.” Before meals, Spanish-speakers say gracias just as we say “grace.”
It seems to me that we should focus more on giving thanks and praise to the One who supplies all our needs, and less on asking him to perform miracles before we eat.
If I die of food poisoning you’ll know I made a mistake.
We live in a society where “Give us this day our daily bread” is just a formality. Let’s remember those millions around the world where food is scarce — for them every meal is something to be grateful for. As recipients of God’s generosity, we can give abundant thanks for the food our Father so graciously provides.