On Being Wasteful
One or two generations ago most people still lived very carefully with their money, with their food, with their other possessions. There was often a simple reason (although for many it was not the only reason). They did not have much money to spend. To use an old Dutch saying: they turned a dime around a number of times before spending it. Was it really necessary to buy this or that? Or should this dime be kept for a later, more necessary, expenditure? Today, in general, the situation is not so intensely tight anymore in many families, also with most of us, though there is still poverty, often endured in silence. Nevertheless, we can and should be thankful for this change, which makes life quite a bit easier.
The same holds for food. If our grandparents were to tell us about the food that was available to them and that they usually ate, we would hear that there was much less variety and that their meals were mostly very simple. I remember that an orange was a treat which we received about once a year, at Christmas. Sometimes we got an apple in the fall and winter. Pudding was on the table only on the Sunday (custard). Also this situation has changed. A look in a grocery store shows a great variety of food products. And I suppose that, although soberly, the change is reflected on most of our dinner tables as well.
The same holds again true for the things with which we surround our lives: the furniture, the adornments, the vehicles to move around with, and whatever there is more. A generation ago, when life had to be built up, everything was simple and sober. There was money only for the (most) necessary things. But in the last forty years the general picture changed. Much more money became available. The economy grew, from which practically all profited, although not without hard work. We can be thankful for this blessing, but should hope and pray, at the same time, that this blessing does not turn into a curse.
The latter is possible. Affluence often makes people forget God and His service. By nature we are selfish. We live in a consumer society that thrives on spending. The easiness with which quite large amounts of money are earned by older and by young people, provides the possibility of spending much. Buying and spending keeps our society going. But does this not also mean that there is a lot of wastefulness? I concentrate now on wasting food.
There is a wasting of large amounts of food for economic reasons: food is produced, dairy products, grains, fruits, in great quantities. When at a certain moment the price of these products drops below the cost of production because of these large quantities, much of what is produced is destroyed to keep the price high. Economists will say that this is unavoidable. Flooding the market with cheap products will ruin the producers economically. Economists do not reckon with (dependence on) God's blessing.
There is also a wasting food on a more personal level. This has to do with the affluence with which we are surrounded. People take a lunch along to the job or to school. But during lunch time they do not like to eat what they brought along. There is a shop close by or the coffee and food truck comes along, or in the school a bag of potato chips and chocolate bars can be purchased. So the lunch is discarded and ends up, perhaps, in the garbage bin. Thus not only money is spent unnecessarily, but also food goes to waste.
This is not the only way in which good food is thrown out. Lots of it goes to waste in restaurants, but also in the homes. If something is not desired anymore for whatever reason, it is just thrown out. Many do not want to eat bread that has become a little (too) old and dry and is not fresh anymore, to mention only this example. In one way or the other, we all know of this phenomenon, and perhaps have contributed to it.
Is now the old way of life better than the new? Did our grandparents act better than we do? We should not fall into the trap of this dilemma, because then we easily make the past time the norm with which we approach our own time. The time, past or present, with its way of doing things, cannot be the norm. The norm for our life is Christ: the Christ of the Scriptures, who gave His blood for the forgiveness of sins and leads us back to God, to faith in God, and to the service of God according to His Word. There is no other valid norm.
Did it ever strike you that Christ Jesus Himself, at a specific occasion, spoke against letting food go to waste? You can read this in John 6:12. Christ had just fed a crowd of five thousand men (not counting the women and children, Matthew 14:21). The Lord had done this in a miraculous way: from five small barley loaves and two fish he broke so many pieces of both bread and fish that the whole crowd was satisfied. They could eat their fill. Bread and fish means carbohydrates and proteins, the two main nutritional elements in man's food; barley bread was not luxurious food; wheat was the normal grain for human food, barley was more for animals and for the poor, cf. Revelation 6:6. Nevertheless, although simple, there was more than enough. What Christ provided was given in abundance and not scarcely.
Now, what did our Lord say to His disciples, when all had eaten and were satisfied? He said: "Gather up the pieces that are left over, that nothing may be lost." This last verb means "to destroy utterly, to lay waste, be(come) totally lost." Thus our Lord, who created the food in abundance, did not want to let any of what was left go to waste.
The text does not say what was done with it afterward. We can only guess. Perhaps the twelve baskets with leftover pieces were given to the poor. Whatever was done with it is not important. The point in this word of Christ is that nothing of the food should be wasted and perish.
We may ask which doctrine of the Scriptures is at the background of this religious and ethical instruction.
This is in the first place the teaching that is summarized in Psalm 24:1.
The earth is the LORD'S and the fulness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein;
for He has founded it upon the seas,
and established it upon the (flowing) waters.
It is in the second place that on earth man is steward over what belongs to God, see, e.g., Luke 16, especially vss.1-12, where Christ speaks the parable of the crooked steward and teaches His disciples to be faithful stewards over what is God's.
The LORD God is the Creator of everything. Therefore it is all His. Everything that man receives for his life here on earth is purely a gift of God's faithful goodness with which He cares for His creatures and provides for them. The purpose is that man now serves God and cares for the neighbour.
Is this not self-evident? If our food and everything else is gift of our Maker and Redeemer, should we then not receive and use it all to His glory? It is therefore a simple conclusion that receiving God's gifts of undeserved, even forfeited, mercy and goodness and then letting them go to waste as consequence of an attitude, a way of life, shows not only lack of appreciation and thankfulness on the part of man, but is also an offence, a sin, against God.
Wasting that which belongs to God, letting it perish because of an attitude of indifference and human arrogance, is, in fact, also in conflict with the very nature of God as the God of life and creation and care. God is the God of life. Therefore, everything that leads to, and is, decay and waste and death, is the opposite of what God is. Christ knew that. Those who believe in God and live by His Word understand this.
Therefore, following their Saviour and Redeemer from sin, those who live in faith, receive in great thankfulness not only the salvation from eternal death, from the curse of sin, but also the renewal of their life here on earth as children of God; they receive with great thankfulness the gifts of food and whatever else they need to use it in faith, carefully, and in order to honour their heavenly Father and their Saviour with the way in which they use it.
Our grandparents and their generation were careful not to waste money and food and other things. Indeed, they could not afford it. Our modern generation does not reckon with God anymore. Modern man thinks that, and lives as if, he can afford to waste (parts of) what he gets, because he considers himself the master and absolute owner over what he has worked so hard for.
However, what guided our Christian parents in the first place was not the question whether they could afford it to waste food and other things. They were led by the Word of the Lord. They lived in the awareness to be God's children who were not to waste God's gifts. They learned to be particular, also on this point. It was for them a matter of faith, of following Christ, of obeying their beloved Master in heaven.
Let us then not adapt to our modern time and its way of life, its attitude, but, in unity with our Christian fathers, live by God's Word. Let us not think and act like the world, but think and act like Christ Jesus, our Lord.