The story is told of the pompous fellow in the expensive car who pulled up in front of a one-pump back-woods store. Striding up to the grizzled proprietor rocking on the porch, the stranger demanded: “Fill her up and make it quick!” Looking away, the old fellow mumbled: “Cain’t sell yew enny gas.” “Look you old coot – I don’t have time for this” snapped the stranger, “I have connections and I’ll make your life miserable if you don’t hop to it!” After a thoughtful pause the old guy rose from his rocking chair, shuffled over to the antique pump, and filled the tank. As he paid the charge, the big-shot couldn’t resist a final barb: “I hope you learned a lesson about customer service today!” The old guy grinned back: “An I shur hope thet-thur fancy car likes ker-o-sene!”
The right fuel matters! That’s what a much-beloved Christian writer was thinking about when he wrote:
“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on [gasoline], and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity – emphasis added).
The Bible tells us that all human misery can be traced to the illusion that we can run on substitute fuels. It’s probably no accident that the Biblical story of man’s fall into sin involves eating the ‘forbidden fruit’ and that God’s covenant relationship with the ancient Hebrews forbade eating certain foods. Food itself is neither sinful nor righteous, but it is a powerful metaphor for how our moral appetites can hunger for good or evil, and how our spiritual health is affected by the ‘dietary’ choices we make.
Twenty-first century Americans are food-obsessed — at least, that’s the conclusion we might draw from the amount of attention given in our media and marketplaces to food preparation and consumption. Increasingly, one’s choice of diet is regarded as an expression of one’s self-identity: “You are what you eat!”
Ironically, however, at a time when our culture pays such obsessive attention to how we fuel our bodies, it is largely oblivious to how we fuel our souls. While preoccupied with the real and perceived dangers of various foods and additives, and while advancing proposals for ever more stringent regulation, our society has largely abandoned any pretense of regulating the kind of fare that is ingested in the way of entertainment or values. While obsessed with the long-term consequences of exposing ourselves to any and every alteration in the food chain, our culture shows no concern about experimenting with moral innovations.
Now, as Christians, we are not in the position to dictate the menu offered by our media culture or censor the ‘dietary choices’ of others, but we absolutely DO have a compelling need to regulate our own consumption. This is certainly (but not only) a matter of choosing to forgo toxic menu choices (such as pornography, hateful rhetoric, and material idolatry) but, even more to the point, making deliberate choices to feed our spirits with the pure and wholesome fuel that we were designed to run on: God Himself! We do this through our choices to worship, to pray, to read His Word, to commune at His table, and to have fellowship with other believers.
The world tells us to look for our ultimate fulfillment in the present, and thus offers a vast selection of inferior ‘synthetic fuels’ formulated to gratify our immediate needs and desires. Though their harmful effects are not always immediately apparent, the long-term damage is every bit as inevitable (and vastly more costly) than putting kerosene in our gas tanks! We who follow Christ, however, recognize that our true and eternal joy is found only in nourishing ourselves on Him.
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)