The image of Scripture as food is never more vivid than in the season Lent. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” said Jesus. The offer had been extended to Christ: quench your material longings by your own ability. Jesus’ reply?In the end, that wouldn’t satisfy my deepest longings.
But how are we satisfied by the word of God? The basic metaphor of Scripture as nourishment demonstrates Christ’s expectation that we would not simply intake his word, but digest it. It is through daily meditation that we carry the word of God with us—breaking down the whole into discrete parts which can be processed into our thinking and habits.
Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote that this action—carrying and integrating the word of God—is what separates real faith from false religion:
Genuine faith is never satisfied with the religious way of doing things – Sabbath worship or an hour or a half-hour of each day. Christianity is nothing else but faith right in the middle of actual life and weekdays. But we have reduced it to quiet hours, thereby indirectly admitting that we are not really being Christians. That we should have quiet times to think about God – this seems so elevated and beautiful, so solemn. It is so hypocritical, because in this way we exempt daily life from the authentic worship of God.
Yet this process activates our heart’s defense mechanisms. Kierkegaard confronts our refined ways of avoiding this tension:
The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?
Nourishment is incomplete until food is converted to energy—faith to action. Truly our lives are transformed through the food of God’s word; our potential for flourishing is unlocked through its nourishment. It is our desire to maintain control over our lives, Kierkegaard warns, that keeps us from living by every word from the mouth of God; “Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”