My main thesis is simple. I can state it in the words that, according to the Hebrew Bible, Moses said to the children of Israel at the end of forty years of wandering in the wilderness and the words that Jesus, weakened after forty days of fasting in the wilderness, hurled at the Tempter in self-defense (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4): “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” The greatest of all temptations isn’t to serve false gods, as monotheists like to think. The greatest of all temptations, equally hard to resist in abundance and in want, is to believe and act as if human beings lived by bread alone, as if their entire lives should revolve around the creation, improvement, and distribution of worldly goods. Serving false gods—or turning the one true God into a mere bread provider, which amounts to the same thing—is the consequence of succumbing to this grand temptation.
When we live by bread alone, there is never enough bread, not enough even when we make so much of it that some of it rots away; when we live by bread alone, someone always goes hungry; when we live by bread alone, every bite we take leaves a bitter aftertaste, and the more we eat the more bitter the taste; when we live by bread alone, we always want more and better bread, as if the bitterness came from the bread itself and not from our living by bread alone. I could continue with the analogy, but you get my point: living by “mundane realities” and for them alone, we remain restless, and that restlessness in turn contributes to competitiveness, social injustice, and the destruction of the environment as well as constitutes a major obstacle to more just, generous, and caring personal practices and social arrangements.
Trying to live by “bread alone” kills both us and our neighbors.33 “Alone” is a key word in the biblical passage and in my thesis: bread alone (or, perhaps, bread above all). For we all live also by bread, and without bread all of us are dead. Still, without the divine Word we shrivel even when we are in overdrive, we fight and destroy, we perish. The Word is the bread of life, and it gives abundant life, as it is suggested in the Torah and written in the Gospels (Deuteronomy 8:1–20; John 6:35, 10:10).
Miroslav Volf, Flourishing : Why we need religion in a globalized world
A very beautiful analogy on the world as cosmos and the world as creation, a picture that made me smile and pounder in Miroslav Volf’s new book, Flourishing: Why we need religion in a globalized world.
Consider first the nature of the world. Christians, to stay with the example of my own faith, believe that God is the Creator: “I believe that God has made me and all the creatures,” wrote the Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546) in his Small Catechism. To claim that God made “all creatures” isn’t to dismiss on the authority of an ancient holy book the findings of modern physical cosmology and evolutionary biology; it is to relate to oneself and to the world in a certain way, as a gift, for instance, rather than merely as a particular form of matter and energy. Imagine an object you very much like, say, a well-designed and skillfully crafted fine leather wallet with a texture you can’t resist touching. Think of yourself, first, in a store examining it as you contemplate whether to purchase it and, second, holding it in your hands after receiving it as a gift from a lover to commemorate your first date. It is the same object, and yet it isn’t: the love between you and your lover is part of how you experience the object, enhancing your appreciation and enjoyment of it. The first is world as cosmos; the second is world as creation.
Miroslav Volf, Flourishing: Why we need religion in a globalized world