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Waffle House and the Wonder of God

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God’s Glory and Good Eats

I was nearly 33 years old before I discovered the glory of Waffle House — about the same age as Jesus when he rose triumphantly from the grave. Having misjudged a book by its cover, I had dismissed decades of invitations to dine there. But conversion came like a thief in the night when providence led me to a video of a renowned chef introducing Waffle House to a famous food critic. The former cited the chain as his inspiration for cooking. The latter compared it favorably to The French Laundry, a five-star restaurant in San Francisco with a months-long waitlist for reservations. So it was that before I had even tasted the glory, I already felt my heart strangely warmed.

A few of my friends struggle to make sense of my newfound enthusiasm. “I thought you were a foodie,” they say with some skepticism. But this only confirms my suspicions that they have never had a pecan waffle, brown (crispy), smothered in hydrogenated oils and swimming with maple-flavored corn syrup. It’s not gourmet, but it is good eats — and it is meaningful, a reality that I have come to appreciate. I have always been a lover of food, but it wasn’t until recently that I considered how much food matters: like all of God’s gifts, food is meant to show us the wonder of God.

Like all of God’s gifts, food is meant to show us the wonder of God.

The Wonder of Fuel

When faced with eating an especially boring or unpleasant dish, my father-in-law likes to say, “Food is fuel.” This is his reminder to be thankful for “our daily bread” and for the strength it supplies. There is an important sense in which he’s right: before it is anything else, food is fuel for our bodies.

Unfortunately, in the routine of eating we only ever ask, “What’s for dinner?” and never quite get around to asking, “Why does dinner exist?” The answer goes deeper than the growling of our stomachs, for God did not have to create us as he did. If he had wanted, God might have created humans to produce energy, like plants, instead of consume energy as we do. But God did not make us that way on purpose.

In other words, it is theologically significant that we need food to survive. Our existence is not self-sustaining, and the constancy of our need of food is a picture of our dependent nature. It is a continual and unavoidable sign of our fragility and contingency, helping us to see and feel our unending need for God himself (John 15:5). Every kilojoule of consumed energy is a sermon on dependence on God for all things; every meal is an invitation is ‘eat this in remembrance of me.’

The Wonder of Fun

God is not a utilitarian. He did not create food only as a source of energy and a reminder of our need for him. Calvin points this out in the Institutes when speaking about God’s varied gifts. The rich abundance of God’s world is a clear sign of God’s grace. Calvin could have pointed to the beauty of a sunset or the warmth of a fireplace or the pleasures of sex — but Calvin was French, so he mentions food and wine.[1] He discusses the beautiful symmetry of fruit and the sweetness of their smell — unnecessary attributes if food is only fuel. He also considers the variety of foods that exist: God didn’t have to make a world with apples and oranges and bananas. As a source of fuel, one of these would suffice.

Calvin concludes that the incredible varieties of tastes and textures and colors of the foods in God’s world tell us something important about God himself: he delights in delighting his children. Food is for more than fuel; food is also for “fun.” Yes, fun — as in “enjoyment,” as in, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”[2] Now, of course, we must never elevate the gifts of God over the Giver himself, but we must never separate them either. God is not as gnostic as some of us make him out to be: our salvation culminates in a wedding supper (Revelation 19:6-9). And if the miracle at Cana is any indication of God’s grace, Jesus won’t be serving just bread crusts and water.

Perhaps God means it literally when he says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Or as C.S. Lewis beautifully puts it,

The sweetness [of an apple] is a beam from the glory…. [E]very pleasure [is] a channel of adoration…. Gratitude exclaims, very properly: ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says: ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.[3]

And all this is from the One “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). The hashbrowns declare the glory of God — especially if they’re scattered, smothered, covered and chunked.

Food tells us something important about God himself: he delights in delighting his children.

The Wonder of Fellowship

Where two or three are gathered together, there is food in the midst of them. (This is true even if you’re not Baptist.) What is baseball without hotdogs, peanuts and cracker jacks? What kind of birthday party doesn’t have cake? How many weddings have you attended that failed to celebrate the marriage with food and drink? Food even comforts the mourners of the recently deceased.

If we lived in a meaningless world of random accidents, we might dismiss those as insignificant cultural curiosities. But similar customs span every culture as a sure sign of the image of God. Indeed, we were made for unbroken fellowship with God and with each other. And while that communal life has been severely spoiled by sin, meals shared together offer glimpses of the life we were made for: a world of abundance, without poverty or need; a world without division, where people build bigger tables instead of bigger walls; a world without selfishness, where every delight is a summons to share the source of joy with others — like bacon so crispy you beg your friends to savor a slice for themselves.

After he instituted the Lord’s Supper, Jesus told his disciples that he would not drink wine with them again “until that day when I dink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). We are told that as often as we eat the bread and drink the cup of communion, we are announcing the Lord’s death, resurrection and return (1 Corinthians 11:26). I think that Jesus’ words also contain an implicit promise, a picture of life after life after death, when God will dwell with us, and we will be his people, and God himself will be with us as our God (Revelation 21:3). On that eternal day God will say to us, as he did once before, “Come and have breakfast” (John 21:12). And we will glorify God and enjoy him forever.

[1] Calvin, Institutes, 3.10.2. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.xi.html. Accessed March 17, 2017.

[2] Westminster Shorter Catechism, A. 1. http://www.reformed.org/documents/WSC.html. Accessed March 18, 2017.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), XVII, 120-122.

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Doug Ponder

Doug Ponder (M.Div., Th.M. Southeastern Seminary) is the Teaching Pastor at Remnant Church in Richmond, VA. He also serves as Dean of Faculty and Professor of Biblical Studies at Grimke Seminary. He and his wife, Jessica, have four sons.

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