A theology of chocolate
I first realized that my chocolate palate was underdeveloped when I went to England in 2003. There I tried my first bona fide Cadbury chocolate bar. It was richer and creamery than anything I had ever tasted. Since then I have enjoyed the wonders of German, Swiss, Belgian, French, and more recently, Venezuelan chocolates, among others. This past week, the NY Times published a wonderful article on the greatness of Cadbury chocolate. The article notes the differences between American and British chocolate:
Mr. Smart, who has lived in the United States for 25 years, learned early on in his life here that British and American chocolate bars are different, even if they share a name and a look.In light of these differences, I would like to offer a few theses toward a theology of chocolate. As far as I know, such a project has never been undertaken before. I welcome help from others who are willing to explore the profound depths of chocolate.
“One day I was eating a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk and I thought, this has absolutely no flavor,” he said. “I looked at the label and saw it was made by Hershey. I was outraged.”
Cadbury Dairy Milk is the iconic British candy bar, the one most likely to be tucked into the suitcase of a Yankee tourist looking for an inexpensive souvenir. Versions are filled with caramel, whipped fondant, whole nuts or pellets of shortbread cookie.
It’s a different bar from the Cadbury bar available in the United States. According to the label, a British Cadbury Dairy Milk bar contains milk, sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, vegetable fat and emulsifiers. The version made by the Hershey Company, which holds the license from Cadbury-Schweppes to produce the candy in the United States under the British company’s direction, starts its ingredient list with sugar. It lists lactose and the emulsifier soy lecithin, which keeps the cocoa butter from separating from the cocoa. The American product also lists “natural and artificial flavorings.”
2. Chocolate is an event of human freedom accompanied by God (concursus dei) within the covenant of grace. Chocolate is not part of the original creation. The raw elements are found in nature, but human action had to bring these together in order to produce the glorious bar of chocolate that we now enjoy. While human autonomy often leads to the destruction and perversion of nature, chocolate is a testament to the divine accompanying of human action within the covenant of grace between God and humanity.
3. Chocolate is a christologically grounded reality. The Christ-event is an event which reconciled the world to God (2 Cor. 5:19). According to Ephesians, this event “has broken down the dividing wall” between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14); according to Galatians, all of us are now “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28); according to 2 Corinthians, “everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17). Chocolate is a manifestation of this reconciliation. Chocolate unites people from around the world in appreciation of its artistic and God-given taste; it carries on its own “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18) by resurrecting dead taste faculties and offering nougat-filled glimpses into the grace of God.
4. Chocolate is a concrete manifestation of the coming eschatological kingdom. In the coming kingdom, the Lord will reveal the new heavens and new earth in which “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Chocolate is a taste of the coming regnum dei. In anticipation of what God will accomplish for all, here and now chocolate “wipes every tear from their eyes.” Chocolate is thus a proleptic realization of the New Jerusalem, which “has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel” (Rev. 21:11). In its own small way, chocolate ushers us into the presence of the eschatological community, where we will gather around the messianic banquet table and feast together as the one people of God.