08 April 2011

Is Bread Meet?

Yes, pun intended.

With that out of the way, I've been thinking about Christ's various injunctions about bread, both the temporal and the spiritual, found in the scriptures.

On the one hand, he teaches us of our dependency on it and the provisions He makes for us to fill that need. First, he provided us the ability to work. In the garden of Eden, Christ taught Adam: By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou earn thy bread all the days of thy life. Second, he provided prayer. In the Lord's Prayer, he reminds us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread."

We probably don't think a whole lot about our dependence on food, it being such a key part of human sustenance. I know that I don't unless I'm writing a blog post where our mutual dependence on food is a key point within it. When dinner rolls (pun intended) around, I want food, but I don't often separate myself Josh from being myself the eater of food. Perhaps someone who is dependent on smoking might have a mental separation between they the smoker and they the person, but I believe few conceptualize themselves as food-eating humans verses that non-food-eating variety.

Such a dependence is built into human nature, but Christ asks us to overcome it just like all natures intrinsic to our mortal probation. Sometimes He does this by direct schoolmaster-type commandments. The two that come to mind are fasting and the Word of Wisdom. These indeed have direct health benefits, but there is a much more fundamental reason that they are given. Indeed, one might imagine a number of people who regularly fast and devoutly obey the Word of Wisdom, but still don't "get it", whether by looking beyond the mark or by drawing their lips nigh but not their hearts.

This brings me to the other hand. The Lord, after fasting himself for 40 days, is tempted by the adversary to turn stone into bread. (In fact, he says "***If*** though art the son of God...," which is one of the most potent lessons in the New Testament, compare this "if" with the "if" in Daniel 3:18. Which "if" is yours?) Christ answers with utmost meekness, deferring not to his divine authority as the son of God which Satan had just drawn into question but instead to the written word (you think you should start keeping a journal now?), "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God".

Wait? Not by bread alone? This comes from the Man that knows full well that the mortal vessels in which He placed the spirits of men need food to survive. Indeed, the Lord isn't advocating fruits and vegetables nor the Atkins diet. Nor is he referring to "live" as "maintain the vitality of our tabernacle of clay". He is teaching us the eternal rule that life cannot be limited to the meaningless biological and chemical processes of self-sustaining; hedonism doth not a child of God make.

Which is an interesting point at which to find ourselves. I have already admitted that I don't naturally separate myself from my eating self, yet Christ asks me to do just that. He gives us a slight out with the word "alone," but there is more to it as He clearly juxtaposes the temporal with the eternal in His answer to Satan.

We get more on the topic from Him in the Bread of Life sermon. After the miracle of the loaves and fishes--the living by bread part--many begin to follow Him a little bit more persistently, probably wanting to live a little bit more by bread. (Do we do this, by the way? Do we sometimes treat Christ as a glorified butler, fetching for us the temporal and materialistic desires of our hearts? Or, have you ever gone to a meeting *because* refreshments would follow?) He calls them out in John 6:26: "Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled."

He teaches them rather pointedly (though not as pointedly as the pharisees! =]) that if they are going to follow Him, they have to learn to seek him for spiritual reasons and not just for materialistic ones. When they see Him as the bread of *real* life, then will their physical desires for sustenance not be misdirected.

What's the big picture, then? Christ teaches that there is a distinct difference between ends and means and that while our mortal coil is desperately dependent on bread, bread can in no way be an end unto itself any more than preserving our own life is an end unto itself. These things are means by which we can accomplish the things that are the ends of mortal existence: To build a faith-based relationship with God (Hosea 6:6), to strengthen the feeble knees (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5), to prepare to meet God (John 17:3).

This is, of course, a principle for our entire lives. We are left with temporal (insufficient and meaningless) means to accomplish eternal (sufficient and meaningful) ends. We are given our ears, but then are asked to listen instead to a still small voice. We are given hunger, but then asked to not be driven by it. We are given sight, but then asked instead to walk by faith.

Distinguishing between our mortality and our immortality is the very challenge given to fallen man, and it is encapsulated in Christ's teachings about bread. It is a challenge only to be superseded by the higher laws of resurrection--where our temporal and atemporal natures are combined forever--and exaltation--where we ourselves become the end.

P.S.: A note on the word "meaningless". The words from "For the Beauty of the Earth" hardly seem to support the idea of meaninglessness when it comes to the Lord's creations. But, if God weren't really there and this were all a cosmic accident, wouldn't it be pretty meaningless in the end? I think so. Those things are meaningful not because they have any meaning on their own but because God's existence gives them meaning. Kind of like how we ourselves are nothing without God and everything with Him.