What Food Is For

Soul. Body. Soul

On Nursing Babies and the Nature of God

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Of all the memorable moments at TGCW16, probably few will stick in our minds quite as certainly as much as Jen Wilkin’s extended riff on 1 Peter 2:2 about newborn babies and their craving for milk.

Part of the reason is the probability that any of us have ever heard our pastor describe himself as a “lactation consultant” is probably close to zero.   But hopefully another part of the reason it stuck with us long after we closed in prayer and made our way home was because it’s true. And it’s the kind of true statement that has a whole lot more underneath it that’s also true (and good, and beautiful), but until Jen said it, perhaps not too many of us had ever stopped to think about it before.

I started this blog several years ago because I was increasingly gripped by the way God uses food and our dependence on it to depict our spiritual dependence on Him, and I wanted to understand how deep the metaphor might go. Four years of graduate classes in anatomy, physiology, microbiology and chemistry later, I’d only scratched the surface. The more you study the human body, the more you will be awestruck by the way every system, every organ, every cell, illustrates and amplifies God’s words about Himself, and His work in His world.

Which brings me to breastfeeding, and breasts, and what it means to be a woman made in the image of God, versus a man.

Over at my newer blog, I’ve been writing about the influence the rediscovery of imago dei has had on my understanding of what godly living as a woman looks like. My central argument is taken largely from Hannah Anderson’s book, Made For More, in which she lays out the case for how our understanding of womanhood needs to be grounded in our understanding of our being made in God’s image and being in Christ through repentance and faith in the gospel

A reader took my argument to its logical next step by asking how I would distinguish living out God’s image as a woman, contra living it out as a man. It’s a natural question, and not as easy to answer as some quarters of the Internet rabidly insist. But it seems that one place to at least begin the answer is with our bodies and what makes them unique, and what that uniqueness communicates about the character of God.

Which means we really do need to think about the meaning of breasts.

((Cue a bunch of you clicking away in horror))

And maybe even their connection to the Trinity.

((Aaand there go most of the rest of you.))

Maybe you don’t think about these things because you don’t have a house full of emerging women who are asking those kinds of questions in their adorably adolescent way. I do, so it’s part of my job to not just think about those questions, but give my girls answers from God’s Word that are as close to truth as I can find it.

One of the many questions that my girls have asked in relation to this topic is what it means to live like Jesus,who can sympathize with our weaknesses and yet was without sin when (news flash) Jesus was never a woman. Jesus didn’t have breasts, or ovaries, or a uterus. He never struggled with PMS, or any MS at all. He never suffered the humiliation of bra shopping with his mom, he never had to endure the eye-rolling conversations about modesty at youth group, and he never had to deal with creepy boys (or creepier grown men) making nasty comments about their bodies.

These are all true statements, worthy of full acceptance. But they’re not the only statements that are true. Because (second news flash) Jesus was not just a man. He was, and is, the God Man, very God of very God, begotten and not created. He was with God in the beginning when He made women, breasts and all, to display His image.

So breasts are about God. Breastfeeding is about God.

Peter understood that. So did Paul. So did the writer of Hebrews. Jesus certainly did . He reminded everyone that they shouldn’t miss His point about why He invented them.

When a woman raises her baby to her breast and gives that baby what he is begging the universe for, she is reminding that child, and herself, of  those words of Jesus, and many more. She is declaring with her body that she has come that that child may have life, and have it abundantly.

She is saying things about the nature and work of God, in her body, with her body, in a way that a man can never, ever do.

If I spend too much time trying to get my girls all excited about the glories of womanhood in a cultural vacuum, they’re not going to buy it. If my daughters think that the specifics of gender is primarily about which bathroom everyone is supposed to use, they’re going to be frustrated. But if my daughters come to understand that the glory of womanhood is directly connected to uniquely displaying the glory of the triune God, (a glory that is wrapped up in mystery and thus too great to be overly bound by excessive and culturally-derived proscriptions),

then maybe they won’t laugh so hard when someone at a conference alludes to its implications.

Maybe they’ll stop and wonder at it.

Maybe all of us should.

(For more thoughts I’ve written on what womens’ bodies are for, go here.)

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