“You may eat meat whenever you have the desire.”
- Deuteronomy 12:20b
Yep, that’s in the Bible. You may eat meat whenever you have the desire.
After my last blog post, my father and brother were shocked and appalled. “Jarrod has gone vegetarian!” their text messages lamented.
But let me set the record straight: I am not now, nor have I ever been, nor do I ever intend to be, a vegetarian.
I have, however, decreased my meat consumption over the last year for multiple reasons, which I am explaining across several blog posts.
I started by looking at the lack of biblical injunctions against eating meat. The closest the Bible comes to encouraging abstaining from meat consumption is 1 Corinthians 8:13, where Paul writes, “if food is a cause for [Christians’] falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to stumble.”
However, the issue Paul is addressing here is not eating meat, but how our behaviors as Christians affect others. We cannot escape the fact that we are all living in relationship with every other living thing in this world. Our choices and actions impact our fellow creatures. This includes our choice to eat meat or not.
Again, there is no biblical command preventing us from eating meat. In fact, the above quoted verse seems to give us permission to eat meat whenever we so desire. I believe, though, that Christians ought to approach eating meat differently than the world does, and my belief is rooted in Deuteronomy 12 and Leviticus 17.
With some exceptions, biblical animal sacrifice was accompanied by eating the animal that was sacrificed. The blood of the animal is poured onto the altar as the offering to God, and some of the parts of the animal are “turned into smoke” (cooked, possibly?), but most of the slaughtered animal is butchered and eaten.
Leviticus 17 declares that any who slaughter an ox, lamb or goat without bringing it to the Tabernacle as an offering, “shall be held guilty of bloodshed.” (Leviticus 17:3-4) This does not mean that the Israelites had to give their entire slaughtered animal over to the Tabernacle. The blood and a few specific cuts were given over to God, and the rest was eaten. God clarifies in Leviticus 17:7 that this is done to keep the Israelites from offering the blood to “goat demons,” which was perhaps a typical practice in Egypt.
Deuteronomy expands on this. Upon entering the Promised Land, it was not feasible for the Israelites to travel to the Tabernacle (and later, Temple) every time they slaughtered an animal. They were simply spread out too far. So, in Deuteronomy 12, God gives permission for the Israelites to slaughter animals and eat meat as they desire, without the mandate to bring every animal as an offering. They are still forbidden from eating the blood, however, and must pour the blood out on the ground.
“The blood is the life,” Deuteronomy 12:23 explains, “and you shall not eat the life with the meat.”
Leviticus 17 says similarly, emphasizing that the blood is for atonement.
We are permitted to eat meat whenever we desire, but each time we do, an animal has died.
I don’t mean that for sentimentality’s sake, but for reality’s sake.
Each time I eat meat, an animal died to feed me.
Its blood, its life, has been poured out.
When I recognize that a creature died so that I may eat, it reminds me of the One who shed his blood on the cross that I may live, the One who gave us a meal to eat in remembrance of him.
Eating meat, therefore, ought to be a sacrifice of humility and thankfulness. It doesn’t have to follow a ritualized form by any means, but the recognition of a life ended should be there, and thankfulness should be in our hearts.
Eating Meat to God’s Glory
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
- 1 Corinthians 10:31
God exults in the animalness of the animal. I believe it is pleasing and honoring to their Creator when we allow animals to be as God created them to be.
I am quite certain that the cows, pigs and chickens we endlessly chow down on in the US were not created by God to be confined, fed and slaughtered in the way we do it. I have been on intensive farms and seen how the pigs and chickens are kept, and how they behave. Likewise, I have walked amongst pigs and chickens being pasture raised. Letting the creatures have the space and freedom to follow their natural inclinations makes for calmer, healthier animals. It is much better for the environment, too.
Plus, the meat from these animals tastes a lot better.
So, do my choices of meat consumption glorify God? If I am supporting an industry that robs God’s creatures of their creatureliness, plus is renowned for its poor treatment of laborers, is God glorified? Does my desire for an endless supply of cheap beef, pork and chicken put me at odds with God’s intentions for Creation?
I believe that it does.
Therefore, I must do something about that.
How to Eat Meat
As a Christian, I have a responsibility to care for others and to live in a way that is pleasing to God. To live in such a way means standing against the norms of this world and choosing a different way.
If I choose to eat meat, which I do, I should eat it mindfully, with thankfulness.
Understanding the shortcomings of the vast meat agribusiness, I should seek out alternatives. Buying meat from local, sustainable farmers supports the local economy, benefits local families, reduces carbon emissions, helps the animals live into the creatureliness that their Creator created them for, and puts healthier (and tastier) meat on my family’s table.
Yes, it is more expensive. Yes, it takes effort on my part.
The expense and effort required are the reasons my family does not exclusively eat locally sourced, sustainably raised meat. The enormity, normalcy and convenience of our current industrial meat production model makes it very hard to be completely independent of it and still eat meat.
But we are making the effort. I think if all Christians made the effort, we would see real change.
No matter where our meat comes from, we can still eat it mindfully, with thankfulness.
Thank you for taking the time to delve into this topic with me. If you have any thoughts on the matter, share them in the comments section. If this is a conversation you think is worth having, please share this blog through social media, and come back next week for my next thoughts on the matter. The easiest way to make sure you see more is to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Facebook. Thank you for reading, and thank you for sharing.