Of course eating is not our only need. And so fasting need not be about physical food. Anything we might become over-dependent on, over-focused on, this might be the subject of a fast.
Fasting is sacrifice. And that word: sacrifice of course has a different meaning. But here is another mystery: because when they killed an animal or burned those grains, they weren’t really so different from our modern sacrifices at all.
The sacrifice was this: proving that something that could have been consumed for our own selfishness will actually be given over to God. Various times (including through Jesus himself) we are reminded that God doesn’t want sacrifices given robotically, unthinkingly, unemotionally.
Of course nothing is deeply and truly ours. The raw materials for everything came from our creator. The talents that honed these materials came from him. The dedication to maximize these talents came from him too. The opportunity to get the thing. None of these are ours.
And so a sacrifice is giving over to God something that was his anyway. Whether it’s the slaying of a bull. Or fasting from food, or the internet, or movies, or cafienne. None of these things were ours, really at all. Giving them up to God demonstrates our peace with this reality.
And what is more, sacrifice is a golden and inexplicable opportunity to stand in solidarity with God himself. God opened himself to the possibility of suffering when he created knuckle-headed humans who possessed free will. This possibility turned into an actuality with Adam’s and Eve’s betrayal. It culminated with Christ’s suffering on the cross.
I do not believe that God wants us to whip ourselves, to have ourselves nailed to a cross. But Jesus took on suffering voluntarily, that was a completion of God’s suffering in Eden. And we can take on suffering, too, that is an echo, and a reminder of what he did for us.
Which is the greatest mystery of all: In suffering, we find the depths of God’s love.