“A society’s moral progress is best judged by its treatment of animals.”
More and more people are asking me the question, "Why are you a vegetarian?" So I've decided to write a couple blogs explaining my position. I want to remind bloggers that I am not trying to convince anyone that eating meat is sinful, for the Bible clearly allows for it. Nor am I trying to suggest that a person is in any sense more "righteous" for abstaining from eating meat. For reasons that I'll give in this and a subsequent blog, I do believe that refraining from eating meat whenever possible is most consistent with our call to manifest the Kingdom and to extend God's loving dominion over animals (Gen. 1:26-28). But Scripture explicitly forbids making this a litmus test for how righteous a person is. This is a matter that each person must wrestle with on their own, and no one is allowed to judge another.
In the last blog I shared that I'm a vegetarian because (1) God led me to make a pledge to refrain from all unnecessary violence to any living creature. This in turn has increased my capacity to (2) love and (3) experience the intrinsic worth of all living things. I now want to share a theological reason that I feel supports my pledge to refrain from all unnecessary violence.
4. The First Fruits of the Coming Non-Violent (and thus, non-carnivorous) Creation
Scripture teaches that God originally gave vegetation and fruit to “everything that has the breath of life in it” – including humans, “the beasts of the earth,” the “birds in the sky and all the creatures that move on the ground” (Gen 1:29-30). People often fail to notice that the only food God originally intended humans and all other creatures to eat was vegetation. The fact that humans now eat animals and many animals eat each other was not part of God's original plan for creation. It's rather the result of the fall.
This is confirmed when we compare God’s post-flood covenant with Noah with the Genesis 1 creation account. To Noah and his sons the Lord says:
Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it (Gen. 9: 1-4).
The command to Noah is very close to the command given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1. But now the animal kingdom has “fear and dread” towards humans and humans are for the first time allowed to eat animals instead of “green plants” alone. This implies that the fear, dread and violence that presently permeates creation was not part of the original creation that God pronounced “good” (Gen 1:31).
What also confirms this perspective is that when the Kingdom comes in fullness at the end of the age, God's original vision for a non-violent creation will be restored. In that day, Isaiah says,
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. Infants will play near the hole of the cobra; young children will put their hands into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isa 11:6-9).
Along the same lines, Hosea paints a picture of a future era when God will make a covenant of non-violence that includes the animal Kingdom:
In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety (Hosea 2:18)
There was no violence in the beginning and there will be no violence in the end. There is violence now only because humans, the landlords of the earth, rebelled against God and allowed the Powers of evil to corrupt the creation.
Now, the most fundamental job of followers of Jesus is to manifest the reign of God. I take this to mean that we're called to put on display now what the world will look like when God fully reigns over it in the future. In theological terms we're to be "the eschatological community."
One way the New Testament expresses this truth is by referring to Kingdom people as the “first fruits” of a coming harvest (2 Thess 2:13; Ja 1:18; Rev. 14:4). The “first fruits” referred to fruit that ripened and was picked before others. In the Old Testament, first fruits were consecrated (set apart) to God and were a sign that God will faithfully bring the remainder of the harvest to fruition (e.g. Ex. 23:19). In the same way, Kingdom people are consecrated to God as a sign that God will faithfully bring his Kingdom to complete fruition.
As the “first fruits” of the Kingdom, our call is to be in the present what the entire world will be in the future, when the Kingdom is fully manifested. In a world that is yet under bondage to the rebel Powers, we're to display what it looks like to live in the reign of God. Our lives are to reflect God's will being done "on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt 6:10). We're to be, as much as possible, heaven on earth and thus a window through which people can see the future into which God is leading the world.
If God's original ideal of a creation free of violence will be achieved in the future, it seems to me that the job of Kingdom people is to manifest this ideal now, as much as possible. Which to me suggests that since humans won't be killing animals and eating them in heaven, we shouldn't be killing them and eating them now.
Think about it as you enjoy a nice tasty head of lettuce. :-)