If I were an atheist (you’ll be pleased to know I am not), I would scan my fellow lumps of biomass and conclude, “Human life is the highest form of cheese.” It would be hard to conclude otherwise.
Each person is unique, each flavored by a lifelong accumulation of moments, each person best enjoyed when surrounded by things that complement and contrast. Just like cheese.
Brad Kessler writes about cheese in his marvelous book Goat Song: A Short History of Herding and the Art of Making Cheese. He talks about the fact that no two cheeses are alike:
Every raw-milk cheese is an artifact of the land; it carries the imprint of the earth from which it came. A cheese—even the fresh chèvre—is never just a thing to put in your mouth. It’s a living piece of geography. . . . Winemakers talk about the terroir of a particular wine, how a place’s geology, drainage, soil, plants, and weather all contribute to its vintage. You can’t create terroir artificially. It’s the gift of a place. . . . Everything around us contributed to our terroir.
I like that. As human beings, everything around us, every moment of each day, contributes to our terroir, resulting in what we call a life.
But unlike cheese, we don’t age on a shelf as inactive bystanders in our own progress. We are a living piece of geography, our story shaped by where we have been, who our traveling companions are, and what we bump into and chase each day.
Maybe the apostle Paul smelled the pungent aroma and watched the curds separate from the whey as goat’s milk was poured into molds at a stall next to his tentmaking shop. Perhaps it prompted him to say, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
Paul knew that either the world will flavor us or Christ will. Everything contributes to our terroir.
It is amazing how tragedy can deepen faith in one person while ransacking it from another. The death of an infant moves one parent to cry out, “How can I believe in God?” Another asks, “How can I not?” Everything flavors us—joy and sorrow alike. But how, exactly? Why does faith sour with age in some individuals while it ripens in others? It’s amazing that the same universe that causes one person to fall down before God in worship causes another to just keep looking.
Carl Sagan spent a lifetime gazing at the stars. He once gave a lecture at Cornell University where he showed the fantastic portrait of Earth shot from Voyager 1 at a range of 4 billion miles. In that photo the earth appears as a single pixel against the empty black of space, a pale blue dot. Sagan commented, “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Yes, we ought to deal more kindly with each other. But what a wonder that a little lump of cheese on a dot in space could contemplate such thoughts!
Thank God for his loving work of molding us into his image, day by day, grace upon grace, each person meticulously handcrafted by the Artisan, just like cheese.
About the Author
Jay Knochenhauer is pastor of Third Christian Reformed Church, Zeeland, Mich.