Recently, the Vegetarian Society (Singapore) launched an ad campaign hoping to encourage people to examine their meat-eating habits. The posters which appeared at City Hall MRT station had the tagline “Why love one but eat the other?”. Their message was simple. They want commuters to understand that farm animals are just as intelligent, sensitive and deserving of our empathy as those animals which are kept as pets. Their conviction is that we should not be eating either, especially given the “cruelty” that farm animals face in many of today’s farms and factories.
To be sure, I suppose more can be done with regards to ensuring that farm animals are treated humanely before ending up on our plates. However, one will soon realise that what constitutes humane treatment of livestock is not an exact science and will differ from culture to culture. After all, on what basis do we decide how much roaming space a chicken should be entitled to?
In addition, Christians should be wary about pushing this idea of treating livestock humanely to its logical conclusion. If you think about it, how humane can it be to take the life of a cow or a pig against its wishes, even if you had treated it humanely before slaughtering it? And this is precisely what many who are promoting a vegetarian lifestyle are about. In their opinion, taking the life of an animal to satisfy one’s appetite is simply not humane.
But, since God gave humanity the permission to eat meat after the flood (Genesis 9:3) and Jesus declared all food to be clean (Mark 7:19), I guess those of us who are meat-lovers can be freed from those guilt feelings about our dietary preferences. While I am not saying that Christians cannot be vegetarians, I would like to add that the Bible does say that we should not force our convictions about this issue on others or judge them by what they eat or do not eat (Romans 14:2-3). Furthermore, we are reminded that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).
Christians must also understand this truth – we simply will not be able to live without another dying for us. This is true in our physical life since whether it is a kernel of wheat or an animal, it will die the moment we embark on the process of consuming it. It does not matter if some believe plant life is of a different order of life from animals. The fact is, the plant dies and its life is taken away from it for our sustenance.
From the Old Testament, we also learn that Israel was dependent on the death of animals for her spiritual life and nation’s well-being. God in his gracious provision instituted the sacrificial system where an animal served as a substitute and died in place of the sinner so that the latter could experience forgiveness of sin. Put simply, if an animal did not shed its blood, it would be the human that would perish under God’s righteous judgment of sins.
When Jesus identified himself as the living bread and declared that this bread is his flesh which he will give for the life of the world (John 6:51), the Jews were appalled by what Jesus invited them to do (v.52). Many stopped following Jesus (Jn 6:66) not because they did not understand what Jesus meant but because they were unable to accept the truth that eternal life cannot be found apart from Him dying willingly on our behalf.
Just as the plants and animals must die if we are to survive, Jesus must die if we are to live. Unless we humble ourselves and “feed” on Jesus, there is no other way we can experience eternal life. Jesus Christ is the ultimate sacrificial lamb and until we are in Him and He is us (Jn 6:56), we are as good as dead.
As we enter into Holy Week, let us remain thankful and be humbled by how we are actually dependant on the death of other living things so that we may live. If people can be such passionate advocates for Creation, then surely Christians must be even more passionate about the Creator who graciously gave Himself for us. After all, why love one and not the Other?
April 13, 2014