Why are humans not photosynthetic?

Legit question.

I was wondering this after an LS lecture a couple days ago. I think it was when Davin made some weird joke about what would happen if humans had chloroplasts in our skin, or something like that.

At first I just awkwardly laughed and thought it a weird idea, but then started thinking. Why don’t we perform photosynthesis? Why did God make us heterotrophs rather than autotrophs? Why not make it so that we could simply lie outside in the sun and both produce and metabolize our food?

As I considered the implications of human photosynthesis (it just so ridiculous, doesn’t it), I thought of what meeting up over a meal would be like.

“Hey, let’s grab lunch now!”

“Sure!”

-walk outside and stand in the sun-

The changes to our culture would be drastic.

Thinking further, I turned to Genesis. The beginning of Genesis. When God created the world and set the order for the universe. I found several reasons as to why we have been created as heterotrophs, and specifically heterotrophs that enjoy good food.

When God made Adam, He put him in the garden to work, to cultivate the ground and keep it (Gen 2:15). And while the garden brought forth, at God’s command, “every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food” (Gen 2:9), God’s instruction to “cultivate” implicitly gives an order to care for and maintain what had been created. God’s creation was good, and work, being a part of that creation, was good. Man was to work, and to glorify God through his work. Man is created in the image of the glorious triune God, and his intelligence, ingenuity, and creativity are all reflective of He who is far greater.

Now, plants don’t do work. Yes, they use photons from sunlight to drive their own mechanisms of sugar production, but they are very passive organisms when compared to the dynamic human species. God certainly is glorified in His own creation and design of plants: their anatomy, physiology, and even metabolic pathways. But God receives much glory when those He created with the “breath of life” (Gen 2:7) live and work in a way that reflects His own creativity.

So, consider the literally infinite potential that exists in the culinary arts. Think of all the sites like AllRecipes or FoodGawker.  Not everyone is gifted in the kitchen…. You know who you are. But the fact that God created food and made us to need food is a cause to direct much glory to Him. As we eat and enjoy good foods, we can give God glory. We’re in fact commanded to in Scripture – 1Co 10:31. As we (or other more gifted chefs) experiment in the kitchen and come up with ever new ways to create good food, the glory of God is to be what is thought of and praised in His beautiful creation of ingredients and herbs and spices and heat and water and boiling temperatures and baking temperatures and viscosity and active dry yeast.

Not to belabor the point, but consider the simple egg. The way that the proteins in an egg denature provide myriad ways for it to be cooked. God created the egg, and designed every property of it that allows it to be used in so many ways for our palates’ enjoyment.

Think also about all the Scriptural illustrations that rely on food. Granted, if we were created to be photosynthetic, God would have given different pictures to speak to speak to us. But consider Jesus, the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35). Consider Communion. Eating the bread and drinking the wine (juice) is a very physical and tangible reminder of Christ’s death for us (Mt 26:26-28).

Needing food for our survival also points us, in the same manner as sleep, to our dependence on God. We, the created, depend on God, the Creator. Our need for physical sustenance is proclaimed every time we sit down to a meal, displayed with an intensity that would be hugely diminished if we merely stood outside in the sun and produced carbohydrates. Our reliance on food for life, and on God who supplies that food, gives us the same reminder that manna gave the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex 16). God is the one who provides, in every way, and we are the ones who rely.

Basically, my wandering musings led to several observations. God, in His infinite, perfect wisdom created us both to need food and enjoy food. We were created to work, we were created to be creative, we were created to glorify God in all that we do and enjoy. Our need for food provides for many reminders of God’s supremacy and His care for His Creation, and even of the Gospel.

Think on all of this the next time you sit down to a meal, whether to a warm bowl of pasta from Covel, an all-you-can-eat serving of bulgogi, or even a simple ham and cheese sandwich. Thank God for His provision of sustenance, and thank God for His wisdom in creating us exactly the way we are.

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