Religion and Comfort Food


Meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Pot roast slowly simmered in the crockpot with carrots, potatoes and onions. These are what I crave when stressed out to the maximum. They are what we call comfort foods. Some might add fried okra or chicken fried steak depending on the part of the country you are from. But the idea is the same. Sometimes we rely on food to soothe our damaged souls. But we also know that comfort foods are not always the best for us. They are high in carbohydrates and calories. If we make it a steady diet we will become overweight and probably our hearts will stop somewhat prematurely shaving years off our life span. So, when times are normal, the draw to comfort foods abates for many of us and we revert to a diet more amenable to a healthy lifestyle.


We often approach religion in the same way. In times of stress, when we are at the limits of our own personal resources, we turn to religion. Perhaps this is captured in the extreme by the saying ‘there are no atheists in the foxhole.” It is as though the deity lives somewhere else, out of sight and perhaps even in a different dimension. We plead for the divine presence to come crashing through all barriers into our domain and deliver us from our travail. God becomes our religious comfort food. But when the crises is over we again revert to our own resources until the next time that they are stretched to the breaking point. Just as we no longer need the comfort food and its draw wanes, so does our need for God, and our passion for God wanes as well.


I once heard a story of a small by on the roof of a house. He started sliding down the pitch of the roof. It was clear he was headed for the ground several feet below and obvious injury. He started praying fervently to be saved from this fate. Then at the last possible moment his trousers caught on a nail and stopped his progression. Immediately his prayer turned from “please save me God” to “never mind God.” The nail had saved him! He no longer needed God and God could return to Godland, wherever that might be.


The problem seems to be in the way we visualize God. If we envision God as a superhuman being, a king if you will with powers to do anything at any moment, then we need to plead for this God to come into our lives and save us. But if we understand God as the life force of all existence as Paul Tillich has argued then we don’t need to call God from somewhere else to be with us and rescue us. Rather God is always present. God can perhaps be thought of as the essence of reality, the glue that holds all things together and the empowering spirit that makes things happen. Consider God embedded in all that exists, in each of us and in all living and nonliving entities. If this is the case then God is not to be called from elsewhere. Rather in our travail we must seek the divine living deep within us and the comfort of the divine living deep in the community of our human family.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that we should not push to or keep God at the boundaries of our lives, but rather keep God at the center of our lives. That means awareness of God residing in all things. In times of our own travail we should dig deeply within ourselves for that divine strength available to us and offer the same when we find others in travail. That is the message of Christianity. That is the kingdom of God. So, unlike comfort food, a steady diet of God consciousness is good for body and soul and should not be relegated to the background.


Sam Gould

April 8, 2017