Today we have a question about junk food. A young man writes in to ask, “Dear Pastor John, I’m from Singapore. If we are about to eat a meal we know is unhealthy, like fried chicken or fast food that will not serve our bodies like more healthy food will, should we pray and thank God for the food? Or is praying over this food a phony act because the food itself will wrong the body he gave us to care for? How should we think of gratitude and junk food?”
Giving Thanks for Junk Food?
Good question. Here’s my answer in a couple of sentences, and then I’m going to just kind of ramble. I want to talk Bible here, but that is kind of hard. You’ll see if it helps. Here’s my answer.
“If your heart is divided when you eat something, then your heart is going to be divided when you attempt to give thanks.”
To the degree that you are justified in eating something, to that degree you are justified in giving thanks for it. That’s my short answer. To say it another way, to the degree that your conscience is clear in eating something, to that degree your thankfulness can be offered with a clear conscience. To put it one more way, if your heart is divided, partially approving and partially disapproving when you eat something, then your heart is going to be divided when you attempt to give thanks.
I’m going to refer to just a couple of passages. See whether or not these passages shed light on the issue.
Not Everything Good Is Wise
Consider the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness in Matthew 4:1–11. Satan suggests, “Turn these stones into bread. Jump off the temple. Bow down and worship me.” Now, the first two temptations are based on perfectly legitimate expectations of God’s favor. God will nourish with bread. God will keep his feet from crashing into the pavement below. The Bible says so (Deuteronomy 8:3; Psalm 91:11–12).
Presumably, then, Jesus would be able to give heartfelt thanks for these good gifts of God’s provision and protection. “Go ahead, Jesus, and act in a way that creates an occasion for great thanksgiving.” But he won’t do it. The possibility of thanksgiving does not carry the day. In other words, “I can do something because I can give thanks for it” doesn’t carry the day. The argument doesn’t suffice. There are other factors that make the miracles here unadvisable.
Jesus is on a path of suffering on his way to the cross. That’s what’s in front of him. It’s not a path of self-serving miracles. It does not matter that God’s goodness and power might be shown by turning stones to bread and catching the Son as he falls. It doesn’t matter that Jesus could have rejoiced and given thanks for those miracles. They were off limits because of the path assigned to Jesus. I commend that we reflect on that in relation to what’s permitted in one sense but may be not advisable for other reasons.
Can You Give Thanks?
Think about 1 Corinthians 10, when Paul was dealing with whether Christians should eat meat that had been offered to idols. He argued like this: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” Every food that is made is the Lord’s. “If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (1 Corinthians 10:26–27).
In other words, the food that is being set before you belongs to the Lord of the earth. The Lord is your Father, and this is a gift from him. If you receive it from him with thankfulness, it’s good whether it has been offered to idols or not.
Then he continues like this: “But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you” (1 Corinthians 10:28). Then, he adds this argument: “If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?” (1 Corinthians 10:30).
“Is my eating of this food an expression for how much I value the glory of God?”
Now, this is relevant to the question it seems because it’s an argument that isn’t really necessary. I mean, he just adds it on. He’s already settled the issue, but he adds it. What it seems to add is this: If you regard something as questionable, not certainly evil or certainly good, but something where true believers may disagree with each other, like they were disagreeing in Corinth, then the issue of genuine thankfulness becomes relevant. Let me read it again, “If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?” (1 Corinthians 10:30).
My thankfulness is morally relevant here on this question or issue. Paul is arguing like this: Here is my brother doing something that seems questionable to me — like eating something I regard as less-than healthy — and he has a genuine, heartfelt thankfulness to God for what he’s eating. Therefore, my attitude should be to rejoice that his heart is good toward God and leave to God and his conscience whether eating the questionable food is sinful or not.
Let me read that sentence again. “If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?” (1 Corinthians 10:30). In other words, the thankfulness itself is part of the reason for not denouncing the action. That’s kind of what our friend was asking about.
Judging our Brothers
The next verse says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is Paul’s final criterion for eating every kind of food. Is my eating of this food an expression for how much I value the glory of God? Am I content in the glory of God? Do I esteem the glory of God?
“My guess is that we’re in greater spiritual danger of judging people where we shouldn’t than we are in danger of eating what we shouldn’t.”
This verse speaks to the one who is watching the person eat as well as the eater himself. If the eater is supposed to eat and drink in a way that gives glory to God, then the watching person is also supposed to assess his eating and drinking in a way that glorifies God. Now, this raises the difficult issue not only of what is in the eater’s heart, but also what food is really off limits for one who would eat to the glory of God.
I’m highly skeptical that we can judge with confidence what foods are certainly junk and what are not. That may be heresy to some people, but that’s my skepticism. What foods damage health and what foods serve health? What foods are more or less neutral? My guess is that when it comes to eating this food or that, we are in greater spiritual danger of judging people where we shouldn’t than we are in physical danger of eating what we shouldn’t.
To sum it up, Jesus says that just because you give thanks for a divine gift doesn’t mean you should take it. Paul says if you can give thanks for something that is not clearly wrong, then it is better to rejoice in the thanks than to condemn the wrong.