Gluten-free. Wheat intolerance. Buzzwords that refer to our culture’s increasing difficulties with digesting wheat-related foods. Exploring my own possible allergy to wheat, I find myself drawn to the comparisons between physical and spiritual bread.
Surely Jesus, who called himself the Bread of Life (John 6), knew that our culture would be facing this near epidemic of wheat and gluten intolerance. Jesus and bread were clearly connected in Scripture. So what does this comparison mean for us?
As I try gluten-free versions of favorite recipes to satisfy my craving, I am disappointed: the food crumbles apart in my mouth and leave a bitter aftertaste. And I wonder about those who are leaving their churches feeling misled and unfulfilled, with bitterness in their hearts. Are we offering an unsatisfying version of Christianity to those who are longing for something real? Presenting a gospel that is missing the point?
I’m learning some interesting things about the history and composition of wheat and why our bodies are beginning to reject it. Gluten—the protein in the wheat kernel that gives bread its elasticity and holds everything together in delicious chewiness—has been modified over the last century to produce fluffier, lighter bread. Unfortunately, this new gluten has an effect on our brains similar to that of crack cocaine—it provides an instant, short-lived burst of high energy but drops our blood sugar quickly, often leading us to consume large amounts of sugars to fill the craving for more. Many people have developed an allergic reaction to this substance our bodies weren’t meant to digest.
Have we done the same to Christianity? Have we taken the gospel and stripped it down to only the feel-good elements, modifying them to be so elastic and flexible, so light and fluffy, that people are left longing for more—and then become allergic to it? This is not what Jesus was referring to when he said, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry” (John 6:35).
Many people are turning to whole grains and ancient grains that still hold the original DNA of wheat, including the entire kernel—bran fiber and all. Although bread made of these grains doesn’t rise as high or look as pretty and requires our taste buds to adjust and our digestive systems to work harder, these grains provide lasting nourishment and satisfaction with fewer allergic reactions.
The parallel seems clear. We were created to consume the ancient and whole truth of God. The feel-good gospel might seem more appealing at first, but a watered-down truth soon leaves people longing for more and becomes painfully indigestible.
“Gluten-free” versions of religion are disappointing and unsatisfying. We need both the whole grain of the gospel —including the hard-to-digest truth of our sin and what Christ did to free us from it—and the elastic “gluten” of God’s grace that holds us together in community. Both give our faith the flavor and aroma that draws others to consume it and find lasting nourishment for their souls.
“Every real thing is a joy, if only you have eyes and ears to relish it, a nose and tongue to taste it.”
―Robert Farrar Capon