On the last day of July 2021, I tested positive for COVID. The Delta variant broke through the double dose of the Moderna vaccine, and I contracted a mild case (mainly just a head cold, with waves of fatigue) and endured the 10-day quarantine.
On day five, my sense of taste and smell disappeared. At breakfast, nothing out of the ordinary. At lunch, I couldn’t taste a thing. For several days, I lived on a few snacks and some leftover meatloaf, to which, oddly, I added ketchup and mustard if only for the texture, not the flavor.
My family developed the “Skittles test,” where I’d close my eyes and they’d put two or three of the same flavor Skittles in my hand and I’d try to guess the color. I couldn’t. Lemon was the same as grape. Green apple tasted just like orange. No distinction.
The loss of taste was the weirdest part of COVID. Mealtimes lost their joy. I ate and felt sustained but didn’t enjoy good food anymore. Every morning, I made myself a cup of tea, but only out of routine since the effort was about as enjoyable as sipping hot water.
Taste and Conversion
“Taste and see that the LORD is good,” the psalmist commands us (Ps. 34:8). Before our eyes are opened to the beauty of Christ, we cannot obey this instruction. It takes a supernatural work of the Spirit to help us taste the Lord’s goodness.
It’s not enough to merely recite the truths of the Christian faith, to check off a list of doctrines, or to say we believe in Jesus. Conversion requires the igniting of our tastebuds—a new perception and sensation of the goodness of God. It’s one thing to read about the spiciness of the habanero, another thing to experience it. It’s one thing to write about Blue Bell’s “Cookie Two Step” ice cream, another to savor that delicious sweetness.
Throughout church history, pastors and theologians have reaffirmed the importance of experiencing the truth and goodness of God, not merely elucidating correct doctrine. Here’s Basil the Great:
“As the nature of honey can be described to the inexperienced not so much by speech as by the perception of it through taste, so the goodness of the heavenly Word cannot be clearly taught by doctrines, unless, examining to a greater extent the dogmas of truth, we are able to comprehend by our own experience the goodness of the Lord.”
Developing New Tastes
In life, we develop taste for various foods and drink. Very few toddlers love green, leafy vegetables. It’s hard to find a third grader who rushes to the coffee maker in the morning.
As a kid, I couldn’t stand salad (all those vegetables, tomatoes, and olives!), but I remember the moment as an adolescent I discovered by surprise my salad’s explosive combination of various vegetables (granted, it was drenched in honey mustard!). Likewise, for years I was disgusted by avocado. Today, there’s nothing I like more than chips and guacamole.
As Christians grow, we discover new tastes, including a hunger and thirst for God’s Word. “How sweet your word is to my taste—sweeter than honey in my mouth!” sings the psalmist (Ps. 119:103, CSB).
We never get over the longing for pure spiritual milk (1 Pet. 2:2–3)—the gospel basics that nourish us daily. But as we develop, our palate changes. We enjoy more and more of God through his Word.
Losing Our Taste
And yet, whether through sin or suffering, it’s possible to lose the taste you once had for the Lord and his Word.
The Christian life that begins with spiritual astonishment at the glory of the gospel and the goodness and beauty of Christian truth—the wide-eyed surprise of the infant brought into a new world of grace—can descend into a spiritual malaise. Our eyes grow heavy and our tastebuds dim.
Through the pain of suffering or the false promises of sin, we can come down with a case of Spiritual COVID. We’re fatigued and grumpy, and even worse, we can’t taste anything anymore. We eat to survive, not because the food has any taste. We become sluggish in our service, bored with the Bible, less committed to the church.
Those whose livelihoods are supported by the church or Christian ministry can be even more susceptible to this disease. The danger of serving in a Christian organization is that, over time, Jesus becomes a means to an end rather than the end itself. Before long you realize something: you’re no longer in ministry because you’re a follower of Jesus. You’re a follower of Jesus because you don’t want to lose your ministry.
Return of Taste
Thankfully, God is the great Physician who leads us to the refreshing waters of renewal and repentance. God can awaken those tastebuds again!
Three days after my sense of taste and smell were gone, I warmed up a plate of leftover spaghetti, preparing to sit down again for another meal marked by blandness. But when I opened that microwave, I caught a whiff of the tomato sauce. A glorious sensation! (Prego never smelled so good!) And that’s when I knew, it’s coming back. My sense of taste and smell were returning.
A. W. Tozer wrote:
“The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into him, that they may delight in his Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God himself in the core and center of their hearts.”
If you’re in a place today where you find it hard to taste and see that the Lord is good, don’t stop eating. Keep going to God and his Word. Eat every day, no matter how flavorless the meal.
Beg God to awaken those tastebuds again. And wait for the day when, unexpectedly, you’re jolted by the sudden smell of his grace, and the savor of his sweetness returns.
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