2016-06-30
Excerpted from "Good Eating" with permission of Baker Book House Company.

What does the Bible say about animals and diet? The biblical story begins and ends with a peaceful creation, but in between, God explicitly permits meat-eating after the flood, Jesus eats fish, and Paul criticizes vegetarian Christians for being weak and superstitious (Romans 14-15). Can there be a consistent biblical position on this issue? Certainly no Christian theologian can argue that the Bible absolutely condemns all meat-eating. However, there is a good case to be made that vegetarianism is a valid and valuable way of anticipating the kingdom of God by practicing what God most intends for the world. It is a sign of our trust in God's intentions for the world and our hope in God's plan for the world's ultimate redemption. The biblical narrative is about people who are all too human, full of sin and greed, and dependent on the mercies of God. Their stories are framed by an account of peaceful beginnings in Genesis and the restoration of the world in a new creation in Revelation. In between is the decisive manifestation of God in the life of Jesus Christ, the second Adam who comes to begin the restoration of the world to God's original purposes. Those original purposes did not include meat-eating, yet after the flood God did allow Noah and his descendants to eat meat, just as he later let the Israelites conduct their worship services around
animal sacrifices. The Hebrew prophets, however, often criticized these animal sacrifices, and when they talked about the end times when God's purposes would no longer be thwarted by human sin, they portrayed the world in the same harmonious terms that describe the paradise of Eden in Genesis. It seems clear to me, then, that God allows for meat-eating as something far below the ideals that God originally conceived for humankind. A carnivorous diet is a concession to human sin, not a model for what God always wanted from humanity. There is an analogy for this in our own lives. Parents often let their children do things that are less than what is best for them. Parents let children watch too much television and eat more junk food than is good for them. All parents know that they have to pick their battles with their kids by ordering priorities and setting realistic goals. Parents know that it takes years for children to internalize and fully understand what the family standards are. Maturation is a process, and what children teach parents most is the virtue of patience. God too is patient, like a loving parent who does not expect too much too soon. The question is whether the time has come for us to begin living up to God's expectations concerning diet. People in the ancient world did not have plentiful sources of non-animal protein. They were dependent on animals in order to get enough protein in their diet. Even today, there are millions of people in poorer
countries who do not have a sufficient number of protein alternatives to animal flesh, even though they eat meat rarely. But those of us who live in industrialized countries do have such alternatives, so we can now expect more of ourselves than what was possible hundreds of years ago. ... To be a Christian vegetarian is to see the world as it could be, the way God intended it, not as it now is, full of pain and strife. Christian vegetarianism, then, is one small step on the road to the new kingdom of God. It need not be meant as a sign of moral purity or a new political movement to split and divide the churches. It is not a new religion, nor is it a new path of salvation that excludes meat-eaters as irredeemably condemned. It is a very concrete way of practicing a life of hope, a hope that respects differences and boundaries even as it radiates outward with the encompassing rhythms of God's grace.

Christian vegetarianism should not make anybody feel guilty. It is a joyful diet, a diet for the new millennium, a diet that finds the love of God in every meal. Eating without inflicting pain on animals can be an expression of God's own love for the whole world, as well as God's intention to restore the world to its original peace and harmony. What better way to give witness to one's deepest hopes than to practice this less cruel diet of the future, a diet that uses fewer resources and is less demanding on our planet. Such a diet provides hope that all can be fed from the abundance of God's gifts to us, and that none need go hungry in a just and righteous world.

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