God commanded us to eat fruit and seed. Am I sinning if I eat meat?
Sin can be personal or structural, meaning that an individual can commit sin and also that sin can be the result of a social structure specific to a cultural context. Slavery was a structural sin (the institution) as well as an individual one (those who participated in the institution).
At the most basic level, sin is what separates us from God. Sin keeps us broken, fractured and hurting. So, when our use of nonhuman (and human) animals subverts God’s creative intention for those sentient beings; when we willingly engage in activities or structures or traditions that cause suffering; when our desires create danger and destruction for others—yes, that is sinful.
That said, I have no intention of standing in front of my hamburger-eating friends and screaming “Repent, sinner!” While ignorance is not an excuse for continued participation in sinful structures, I think we can all afford one another a little grace and guide each other gently toward ways of living and being in the world that bring healing and hope instead of harm.
Didn’t God clothe Adam and Eve in animal skins and give animals to humans to eat after the Flood?
What happens if we read these passages as concessions to the reality of a newly broken world rather than divine permission? Because of human greed, the harmony of Eden was destroyed. People suffered and animals suffered. The peace of the earth was shattered and in its place was toil, sweat and conflict.
God made clothes of skins for Adam and Eve when He exiled them from the garden, but maybe God had to do that because they didn’t know how—maybe killing just wasn’t in their nature. And you know what Noah, the one righteous man in all the earth, did before God raised the floodwaters? He followed God’s command and saved a bunch of animals (see Genesis 6:9–21).
After the Flood, God confirmed to Noah that animals were going to experience fear and dread because of humans. But it doesn’t follow that we should go out of our way to cause fear and dread. Jesus showed us in myriad ways that we must reject the status quo. So shouldn’t we do what we can to avoid being a cause of suffering and to attempt in our small ways to restore the harmony of Eden?
Didn’t God require animal sacrifices? Doesn’t that mean we can eat them?
In a nutshell, animal sacrifices were performed back in Old Testament days because they served as a (graphic) illustration for the impending sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. As the writer of Hebrews 8 and 9 says, Jesus is the Mediator of a new covenant, which is why God no longer requires the blood of cows and goats.
In a world where millions of people are dying every year from preventable causes and without Christ, shouldn’t we focus on more important things than what we eat?
All suffering is painful and it’s all connected. Out of generosity and love, God created the whole world and shared the governance of that world with what He had created. But humans really messed up this beautiful harmony by greedily grasping for more. So now the whole world groans, waiting for reconciliation. And while I am called to make animal advocacy a priority in my life, you don’t have to. You can minister to the people in your community. You can bring the good news to your company’s boardroom. You can stand in solidarity with hungry and oppressed humans throughout the world . . . and simultaneously make choices that decrease animal suffering. It’s not an either-or choice. It’s a both-and view of the world. I care about both humans and nonhumans, because all brokenness is painful to God.
A biblical concern for animals is not a new concept. The Hebrew Scriptures pretty clearly demand that animals are not be treated as inanimate objects. Like humans, animals were to rest on the seventh day (Exodus 20:10); oxen are to be unmuzzled, so they can eat while working (Deuteronomy 25:4); and humans are instructed to assist an animal in distress, regardless of the circumstances (Exodus 23:5; Deuteronomy 22:4).
Animals are included alongside humans in the circle of God’s concern throughout the Bible, far beyond the simple call to basic welfare given in Proverbs 12:10. In many cases, animals are portrayed as responding to God in worshipful, reverent ways. Psalm 104 is one example of such a portrait and in Ecclesiastes 3:18–21, we get a glimpse of the nature of God’s spirit in animals. The whole earth responds to God, because the whole earth is created through God’s spirit.
Every month, our Bible correspondence school instructors delve into the Bible to answer some of life and Christianity’s deeper questions. This month’s questions however, are an edited extract from Animals Are Not Ours, by Sarah Withrow King (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2016). Suggest a topic at email@example.com.