A Christian View on Animals as Food (Part 1)

“Humanity is the one species chosen to look after the cosmic garden (Gen. 2:15) This involves having power over animals. Yet the issue is not whether we have power over animals but how we are to use it… No appeal to the power of God can be sufficient without reference to the revelation of that power exemplified in Jesus Christ…The power of God in Jesus is expressed in katabasis, humility, self-sacrifice, powerlessness. The power of God is redefined in Jesus as practical costly service extending to the diseased, the poor, the oppressed, the outcast. If humans are to claim lordship over creation, then it can only be a lordship of service. There can be no lordship without service. According to the theological doctrine of animal rights, then, humans are to be the servant species- the species given power, opportunity, and privilege to give themselves, nay sacrifice themselves, for the weaker, suffering creatures.” Animal Gospel- Andrew Linzey.

With simple observation, people can see that many animals share similar needs and features with each other and with humans. All of us need to eat, sleep and be surrounded in community, most of us have two eyes, one nose, two ears and four limbs. The secular world can see this and assume common ancestors, the Christian world can see this and know there is a common creator.  It is clear that from the beginning, we were intended to live in harmony with all creatures that God created. A world of death, suffering and eating one another was never originally intended but is a result of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Many people (including many Christians) ridicule people who choose to abstain from consuming animal products. Christians may argue that God allowed humans to eat meat, and that Jesus himself probably consumed meat. While these things are true, they do not change God’s initial intent. Following are some Biblically based points that lead my husband and I to adopt a plant based (vegan) diet.

1: It was God’s original design: Genesis 1:29-30 “Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.  And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food” and it was so” The very first chapter of the Bible makes it clear that God intended for humans and animals to be vegans. If we take Genesis as the history book that it is, then we cannot deny that God had a specific diet planned out for His creatures that never involved consuming each other or parts of each other. It wasn’t until after Noah’s flood that God allows meat eating (Gen 9:3). Even then, only after it was made clear that a dramatic change in the relationship between animals and humans was made, animals would now fear human beings (Gen 9:2). Just as our relationship to God was broken in Genesis 3, our relationship to animals was broken as well. Even though God permitted meat eating since then, Jews were highly restricted on the kinds of meat they could eat until after the events that brought in the New Covenant. In the book of Acts chapter 10, Peter has a vision where God shows him all kinds of animals both “clean” and “unclean” and tells him to eat. It wasn’t until after Christ’s work on the cross was done that He allowed the consumption of all animals. Regardless, It’s not a question of if God allows meat eating or not, He clearly does; however, just because it’s allowed doesn’t mean it was the original plan. God allows a lot of things because of the hardness of the human heart, not because He wants it that way, an example is divorce. When questioned by Pharisees on why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus clearly answered “”Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”

2: Scriptural evidence that animals are important and loved by God: While the Bible may not directly say “animals are important to God” it does say several other things that we could use to conclude that He does love and care for them. Beginning in Genesis 1, after their creation God called them good, this was said of creatures He created including birds, fish and all other land animals. When something is described as good, it is safe to assume that that object or being holds the interest and is cared for by the one calling it good. Secondly, after Noah’s flood, when God makes a covenant with Noah and his family He includes the animals. Genesis 9:8-11 says “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” This is immensely important because it implies we are not the sole benefactors of God’s promise but so are the animals. When you and I make a promise to someone, it’s usually because we care and love that person. When someone makes a promise to us, the value of that promise is usually dependent on who is the one promising. If a person I have known only a week promises me something and my mom promises me something, I will most likely hold a lot more value to my mom’s promise. If this is true, then how much more value will God’s promises hold!? An infinite amount. If God makes a promise to the animals that means He finds much value in them. To add to this, scripture describes the person who cares for the needs of their animals as righteous “The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” Proverbs 12:10. Clearly those who do good to animals are favorable in God’s eyes.

3: Animals are instrumental to the forgiveness of sins: Starting in Genesis, when Adam and Eve disobeyed and discovered they were naked, God made them garments of skins (Gen 3:21). This was the first foreshadow to the sacrifice Jesus was to make on the cross- without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin (Heb 9:22). After this, God required humans to make animal sacrifices in order to temporarily forgive their sins. These animals had to be perfect, without blemish and sacrificed in a specific way. If any part of the ritual was incorrect, it had to be done again. Some may say that because God required animals as sacrifices, it means He found no value in them and they were used as a scapegoat to cover human’s sins, however I would propose the opposite. It is because animals were so valuable to God that only they were valuable enough to be offered as sacrifices. Think of this: Our God, who is perfect has impeccable standards, His sacrifices must have been the same. Why do you think he accepted animals and not plants or other humans? Other humans obviously would never be good enough to be a sacrifice, even children are under the curse from Genesis. And plants, who were designed for food do not have the capability to be “innocent” or “blameless” in the same sense as a living creature does and does not have blood, a requirement for the forgiveness of sins, which we saw previously. This gives animals a very significant role in the history of our redemption, if it wasn’t for them, there would be no worthy sacrifices to forgive our ancestors and pave the way for Jesus to come be the final sacrifice. While animals unfortunately do suffer from the curse of Genesis 3 since they are a part of creation, they are not guilty of sin the same way that we humans are. They did not adamantly disobey God and therefore die spiritually. This makes them innocent living beings that carry the blood needed for the forgiveness of sins. Of course this doesn’t continue after Jesus died on the cross, He was infinitely perfect in all ways and was also fully human and fully God. On several occasions God in the Old Testament expressed His desire for sacrifices to end (Isa 1:11, Hosea 6:6). A finite being sacrificed can only offer finite relief, an infinite being’s sacrifice lasts infinitely. Jesus was needed to put an end to the countless animal sacrifices that were being made for our sake. Now that Jesus has forgiven our sins, there is no more need for sacrifices (Heb 10:18). Animal sacrifices continually pointed to Jesus and were the hope that people before Christ looked forward to. Christ is also referred to as the Lamb of God confirming that He was the one that all the sacrifices were pointing to.

4: Scriptural evidence that animals are conscious, rational beings: This point as well as some of the others I have already touched upon in my post “Will Your Pet See You in Heaven” but I will mention them again briefly. Animals are a part of many accounts in the Bible, these accounts not only include animals but they are key to what God was communicating in each one. They also give us a glimpse to the rational and conscious abilities of animals. Here are some examples: When Noah sent out the dove to see if there was dry land, who told the dove to return? How could it have possibly known it needed to return to Noah? Further more, how did it know it had to return with a leaf? Wouldn’t a bird just fly off and settle down if it found a tree to nest on? Why would it return? There is no way to explain this unless God gave the bird the ability to understand commands and rationally make sense of what needed to be done. A similar story is that of Elijah being fed by ravens (1 Kings 17) God specifically tells Elijah that He has directed the ravens to bring him food at the place where he is supposed to go. The ravens did just that, they brought him bread and meat twice a day until it was time for him to leave. Again, this is something completely “unnatural” for Ravens to do unless they could understand commands. Then there is my favorite and most convincing story of Balaam and his donkey found in Numbers 22:21-39. Commonly Christians will say that God spoke through the donkey, but a simple reading of the dialogue between Balaam and the donkey makes it clear that it was not God speaking through the donkey but the donkey speaking directly to Balaam. The account says that God opened the donkey’s mouth (Num 22:28) and the questions the donkey asks are applicable to itself– Why have you beat me? Am I not your own donkey?—These questions would make no sense if God was the one speaking through the donkey!! God allowed the donkey to speak its own mind! Read the account yourself for clearer details. Lastly, going back to Noah, before God makes His covenant with all of creation, He warns that He will require the blood of any human being AND of any animal who kills a human being, He says He will demand an accounting of them (Gen 9:5). If animals were completely irrational and unconscious creatures- why would God charge them guilty if they kill a human being? Scripture does not give more insight as to how He will deal with guilty animals and what the extent of their understanding is, but it definitely points to them having some sort of understanding of disobedience and justice.

5: Eating meat is not a sin- but the way the meat industry works is: As I have shown, God clearly allows humans to eat meat. I do not believe eating meat is a sin, but I do believe the way the meat industry works is. Do any light research on the subject and you’ll find that animals are treated as if they are products, not living creatures. They are exploited, living in filthy conditions that are unsanitary and unhealthy, they are given food with the sole purpose of fattening them up and are treated horrendously. This is the main and sometimes only reason that many people give up eating all animal products, because they know the atrocities that happen in industrial farming. In Genesis 1 God commands Adam and Eve, the first two people, to care and rule over the land and its creatures (Gen 1:28 Gen 2:15). The notion that this means humans can do as they please with the Earth and animals is unfounded. Regardless of the negative connotations of the words to “rule” over and have “dominion” over something, Christians cannot take this to mean “exploit” and to “treat carelessly”. I say this confidently because I rest assured by the character of Christ. If God asks us to rule over something, we can be sure that His expectations will be exceptional and will mirror the way He rules over us! How does God rule over us? Lovingly, gently, carefully, and wisely. Reflecting on God’s character, there is no room for the possibility to justify the way animals are treated in the food industry (this also goes for the senseless and selfish destruction of forests and other natural terrains; scripture makes clear that this type of demolition is not accepted Deut 20:19). Even if you believe that animals are soulless and were created for human benefit, sloppy and careless treatment of resources still does not glorify God! Even if I am harvesting rocks, I have a responsibility to represent the rock’s creator with respect! If someone gives me a gift I am likely to think of that person whenever I see the object. The value of the gift is not only tied to its cost but also to the person who gave it to me. I can receive a very expensive piece of jewelry from a rich friend and a cheap silver plated necklace from my husband. The “cheap” necklace will hold a far greater value for me because I know my husband and his love for me! Then I will treat this necklace like it’s worth a million dollars, I’ll clean it, care for it, wear it and make sure it’s kept safe. Just because the necklace is mine, it doesn’t mean I should do whatever I want with it. Sure, you could argue that I can do whatever I want with it but I wouldn’t want to treat it badly because I know who gave it to me! Same goes with creation, with the animals and the plants that God created. The way industrial farming is running is a sin because it misses the mark of how God Himself treats His creation. We care about animals because we care about God, how heartbreaking must it be for Him to see how poorly we are treating His good gifts to us. We rule with love and kindness because He rules with love and kindness. We treat our gifts not based on their monetary value but on their spiritual value- we honor the gift giver.

6: The intrinsic value of animals is consistent with Christianity: While evidence of animal cruelty can be enough to motivate both Christians and non Christians to give up eating animal products, I believe that without the foundation of a Biblical worldview, veganism, vegetarianism and the whole animal rights movement is irrational. If we begin with an evolutionary standpoint, all creatures are just struggling to survive with the fittest and most evolved in the frontline- humans. Why are animals valuable? If anything, their only value is maintaining human civilization so why not farm them like products? From an evolutionary standpoint, all creatures are the same and are left to their own devices to survive. Why should humans care about bears or lions or dolphins? Some may say that we should care because if we don’t, then the whole earth as we know it will fall apart, our exploitation is not helping humanity thrive but will eventually destroy it. True… so then what’s the reason to preserve it? Solely so we humans can continue living here? Ok, but isn’t that a selfish thing too? Wouldn’t we then be protecting animals to protect ourselves? What if we include animal survival too… we protect the earth and animals so that animals and humans can continue living. Sure, that sounds nicer but that still puts no intrinsic value on either animals or humans besides survival. Is survival really the only reason we are worth protecting? I think ultimately without God in the picture, survival is the only motivation to do anything “good” for others- to help them survive and help us survive. But God has given all His creation a much deeper intrinsic value aside from surviving. Creation is valuable because of God’s love for it. We are loved by the infinitely good, loving and just God and that gives creation a value that far surpasses survival.

A word on animal rights: Many Christians will automatically be squinty-eyed with suspicion while reading anything about animal “rights,” and I understand because I too was suspicious for a long time. Most of us tend to think that animal rights imply that animals are the same as humans, deserving the same complete set of rights that humans have. Yet, true animal rights are a little different than that. Animals and humans are clearly different; different in things like their needs, their habitats. This means that applying the same “rights” that humans have to them doesn’t really make sense. Humans in the US may have the right to a fair trial in court because they can verbally speak a common language and can explain themselves when it comes to an investigation. Animals cannot, so applying this “right” to them is nonsense. It also changes from animal to animal, a bear has different needs than a dog so you can’t just give them both the same thing and expect them to be fine. Therefore, an animal’s right is simply to have what it needs to continue being the animal God created it to be. If God created whales to live in the ocean and eat krill, then that’s their right and humans must do what they can to protect it– by keeping the oceans clean and to make sure they do not introduce pollutants that may kill the krill etc.… The reason many refuse to acknowledge animal rights is because they know that it requires them to change their current lifestyles. Here is a quote again from Animal Gospel by Andrew Linzey which helped me to change my view on animal rights language.

“To recognize animal rights is to recognize the intrinsic value of God-given life. I do not deny that the rights view involves a fundamental reorientation. This one is one of its merits. The value of living beings is not something to be determined by human beings alone. Part of the reason rights language is so controversial is that people sense from the very outset that recognizing animal rights must involve personal and social change. Whatever else animal rights means it cannot mean that we can go on consuming their flesh, destroying their habitats, and inflicting suffering. Quite disingenuously some church people say that they do not “know” what “animal rights” are. Meanwhile by steadfastly refusing to change their lifestyles, they show a precise understanding of what those rights are.”

Having said all this, I understand many people are not ready to become vegetarians (much less vegans) or are not planning to ever eliminate animal products in their life, and that’s fine. But whether you eat meat every day or once a year I’d like to propose that every time you sit down to enjoy a meal that includes any part of an animal, that you let it be a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for you. Give thanks to God for the animal as you remember that a living being had to die in order for you to have a meal today. In the past, animal sacrifices foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; today animal sacrifices should remind us of it.  Although today animals are not sacrificed to God, they are indeed still sacrificed in order to feed the demand of human consumption.

-Danae

Part Two coming soon: A Health and Environmental View on Animals as Food

Sacrificial LambAgnus Dei by Francisco De Zurbaran

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