By: Dennis Gruening
March 18th, 2022
I like to eat. I really do. When we were newly married, we had friends over and something we ate contained little bits of extra sweet flavor. In an effort to give voice to my enjoyment of the snack I blurted out, “Mhh, sweet bursts!” Everyone laughed. What I tasted in my mouth and felt in my body connected to my feelings – I truly thought it was a good thing I was tasting.
In their book Untangling Emotions, Alasdair Groves and Winston Smith have a chapter entitled “On Nourishing Healthy Emotions.” In it, Groves describes a counseling situation with a man who was constantly overthinking his faith. Long story short, Groves gave the advice to go and cook a good meal which would be enjoyed after a simple prayer of “Thank You” to God. Groves then writes, “My goal was not to make him less precise in his theology or less appreciative of how every moment can connect us to God. My goal was to help him build an altar to God through the act of cooking, through tasting and seeing (and smelling) that the Lord was good in a way that would be unclouded by endless analysis.”
Groves and Smith reminded me of how life’s simple pleasures can lead us to beautiful places of worship. Think of the multitude of ways in which we can ascribe worth to God. Imagine how wonderful it is when we our hearts are motivated by a desire to praise the only God, Yahweh, the creator, sustainer, and only sovereign in this universe.
It is this God who has given us the Bible. Biblical Counselors believe that it is truly God’s own words to humanity. Instead of diving into a discussion on possible views of and understanding of the Scriptures, we want to look at the kind of language God uses in the Bible.
I’M JUST A SIMPLETON
A dear friend of mine often refers to himself as a simpleton. The Oxford English Dictionary defines that as “A foolish or gullible person; a mentally handicapped person.” We use that kind of language to show that we don’t take ourselves too seriously on the one hand and that we don’t care too much for super complex things. Another way of saying that is, “Give it to me straight!” or “Don’t beat around the bush.” Language is very powerful and can evoke a lot of emotional responses and remind us of all kinds of life experiences.
In the Bible, God uses very simple and clear language that people can relate to easily. God knows our frame. He knows what we can and cannot handle. He understands how we think and why we think that way. So, he uses language we can understand. I truly love that about Scripture because, even though I do enjoy a good idea or complex argument every now and then, I too am a simpleton; when it comes to my faith, I don’t always want to do heavy lifting just to understand who God is or who I am.
In the Bible, God uses very simple and clear language that people can relate to easily.
Food and drink are concepts frequently referred to in the Bible. Obviously, these things are the critical for our physical survival. But God does not only talk about food and drink in general terms. He has specific purposes as is clear from the laws for the people of Israel that set them apart from the rest of humanity. In that context, there is always a clear connection between eating/drinking and worship. Yet, it is not complicated language with tons of hidden meaning. There is a spiritual component, but not always a veiled purpose to be discerned only by the “extra spiritual.”
While like the disciples, we do not always grasp the deeper meanings of God’s words to us (see for example Matthew 16:5-12), it is not always that complicated. If we care to read and listen carefully what God is trying to say, we can glean a lot from this simple language.
When I first moved to the US almost twenty years ago, I met someone at my college who spoke German. Some mutual friends of ours thought we should meet. After the initial meeting, we decided it would be fun to visit one of the German restaurants in town to have some “German” food. Growing up in Germany, I often would eat pork knuckle or ham hock. It is a roasted-till-crispy portion of a pig’s hind legs – for those who like crispy bacon, this is like a dream. Hungry anyone? My friend and I went to the restaurant and since my English was not all too good yet and smartphones did not yet exist, I ordered what I thought was roasted, crispy pork knuckle. What I got, was a boiled, gray looking, entirely bland piece of meat on a plate with very little appeal. Just looking at it I lost my appetite (though truth be told, I ate as much of the meat as I could).
This example serves as a simple reminder of the fact that food can be a very powerful agent in human life. It also serves as an introduction to a passage of Scripture that I was first introduced to in the counseling context by Scott O’Malley. I’m entirely indebted to him for much of the following example and its use in counseling.
What Will You Eat?
If you can, open your Bible to Psalm 63 – or else come back to it later. From the very start of this passage, we are met with very relatable language. In verse one we read, “my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land, where there is no water.” Ever been in a hot climate? You step outside of airconditioned spaces and perspiration starts immediately. In very short order you will feel like you want to drink something. When you are in a place where there is no water naturally accessible or you do not have any water with you, suffering comes upon you quickly. Similarly, verse five uses language related to food: “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food…”
As David is in the wilderness likely running from his son Absalom, he is thinking about how refreshing water can be and how satisfying food can be. But it is not as though he is in a state of hallucination, dreaming of what he doesn’t have. Rather, in the midst of being pursued by his own son who wants David’s throne and power, David uses this language to describe something about his relationship to God. Remember, God, through David’s words and experience, wants to communicate something to us. Let’s consider what that may be.
Think for a moment about the worst kind of food you can imagine? Is it something from some kind of fast-food joint? Is it something you ate once, and it totally ruined your appetite? What made it so unappealing to you?
Next, think about your most favorite food. What is it? What is it about this food that you enjoy so much? What physical reaction or emotions come up just thinking about this delicious meal?
At this moment, I should have you thinking about a very simple concept: food. You are thinking about the difference of great food and awful food. Now, let us think again about the Scripture passage at hand. What are we to learn from it?
Having considered your most and least favorite grub, let us make a test. Imagine I have a dish of food in each of my hands; one hand holds your favorite food, the other your least favorite. If I were to ask you to choose between the two, which would you choose? How much time did it take you to decide? Likely you immediately chose your favorite. What does that say about you and your relationship to that food?
As we consider the implications of what this reveals, we quickly find that in light of Psalm 63 and our thoughts about food, we should understand what David is saying, no, what God is saying.
In verse 5 David says “My soul will be satisfied…” The Hebrew here indicates a “future” idea as we see in the English translation. David “will be” satisfied. The question is “when”? To find out the when, we have to look at v. 6. “When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.” God is the object of David’s thoughts here. Therefore, God is the one who will satisfy David’s soul.
Similarly, when you look back at verses one and two, you quickly find that the object of David’s longing is God himself. “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you… my flesh faints for you…” and so on. Between verses one and eight, David constantly refers back to God as the one to whom he looks, upon whom he thinks, whom he praises and to whom he clings.
Spiritually speaking then, what will you eat? Choosing a food in the example above was likely very easy (I’m guessing your favorite food won uncontested). You have had that food, there is reason you like it so much. It likely also is more than just a mere physical pleasure. There are probably emotional ties and sweet memories attached to this food. And for good and valid reasons.
CAN GOD REALLY BE ENOUGH?
Counseling is tough. It is quite difficult to come alongside hurting people, deeply enter their plight, and meaningfully lead them toward the redemptive Word of God. We can quickly sound arrogant or condescending, even when we do not mean to. Simply urging people to read their Bible more, attend more Christian fellowship, or change their outward action to be more reflective of religious fervor seldomly convinces people that there is something wrong in their lives.
When you consider, however, that you would walk with a person through some of their most difficult seasons and trials, they need more than a spiritual Tylenol. We cannot overstate the importance of leading hurting people to the only source of true and lasting redemption – Jesus Christ. Because the words God uses in the Bible can be so simple yet powerful, slowing down and applying them to our own lives carefully, humbly, and consistently will bring true and lasting transformation.
We cannot overstate the importance of leading hurting people to the only source of true and lasting redemption – Jesus Christ.
Let us come back to Psalm 63 once again. Remember what is happening. David is running from his own flesh and blood. He is the target of a death wish and he has to cower in the desert tombs of the Middle East. When you are hunted like that, what could have more importance than your faith? When you are on the brink of death, having settled what happens should your physical body perish is of utmost importance.
God, through David, exhorts us therefore to consider what is of greatest value to us. Do we believe that God truly satisfies? Why do we believe that? Are we just ascending to some spiritual truth in some cranial exercise or are we truly convinced of this truth? What then are the effects of that belief? What are the street level choices that you make, the split-second thoughts, the emotions that you display before other people, the plans you execute in life, the responses you have to life’s pressures? How is your life, how is my life, different because God says he can truly be enough for us?
Whether you are a counselor or not, I hope you will carefully examine your own heart after reading this post. But don’t do it in light of this post, do it in light of Psalm 63. Consider your own cravings and their relationship to your current problems. What does “God satisfying our soul” really mean? How does the picture of food via the example of your favorite meal underscore what God is trying to communicate? Furthermore, does God fall short of satisfying you in comparison to your favorite meal? Does he exceed it? How do you know?
I want to challenge you not to think in theologically and logically true categories – because there, God will always win. He is God. He is perfect. He is more precious than anything you can ever imagine. If we are honest, theology and logic cannot betray themselves – they will always proclaim His sovereignty.
Introspection in light of Scripture quickly reveals the discrepancy between our spoken and our lived theology.
But in spite of that fact, we so easily wander and are satisfied with so much less. If we are honest with ourselves, introspection in light of Scripture quickly reveals the discrepancy between our spoken and our lived theology. May God grant us that we truly find him to be more satisfactory than any meal we can eat. May it be true that this deepened faith bears lasting fruit in our lives as we seek to honor him in our thoughts, intentions, emotions, choices, and desires, regardless of our circumstances. As that kind of faith bears fruit, we will find that we truly do not live by bread alone.