The Fellowship of Life
A brief look at the Christian basis for vegetarianism
by Neville Heath Fowler
In November 1992, accompanied by my wife Hazel and younger son Mark I went to work as Land Drainage Engineer on a 6000 hectare subsurface drainage project in the flood plain of the River Awash in the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia. The great famine was over and the long war with Eritrea had come to a halt which sadly was to prove only temporary.
The atmosphere was tense with military patrols and checkpoints much in evidence, and news of occasional skirmishes with groups of rebels or bandits. The debris of war, shot up and burned out tanks and trucks, littered the dry stony terrain around Awash. Shortage of everything was a fact of life, as was the grinding poverty of almost everyone. And the countryside bore the marks of a still longer war that has been raging for many decades -- a war against nature. Sadly it has to be said that nature has come off worst. In the struggle to feed, clothe, and provide firewood and charcoal for a growing population, Ethiopia has lost more than 90% of the tree cover it had thirty years ago. A dry land has become even drier. There are about 46 million people and many times that number of grazing animals, especially cattle, sheep and goats. Clearance of the trees has exposed the soil to erosion. When rain does come, without sufficient vegetation to retain it, the water rushes off the land and washes soil away. The ubiquitous goats allow little opportunity for new trees to become established.
To me it seemed that Ethiopia had become a microcosm of the devastation man creates through war and the abuse of nature. In a land of immense potential for fruitful food production, the shadow of death and disaster is ever present. Looking into the smiling faces of the beautiful hopeful children, I shrank from the thought of the grim reality that probably awaited them. Surely this was not what God intended when He instructed our first parents to "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it." (Genesis 1:28). Things have gone badly wrong.
Lest you should think that it is only in places like Ethiopia that conditions are contrary to God's will and plan, let me remind you that in the west, in the USA, in Europe, in all affluent countries, many are suffering and dying prematurely. They do not die from starvation and malnutrition as Africans and Indians do.
They become ill and die because they eat too much, especially too much meat. Many of the diseases they get result from this. The main killers here are heart disease and cancers and research has shown that eating meat and milk and butter greatly increases the risk of getting these diseases. To produce and consume them the way we do is terribly wasteful of food, water and energy. Turning vegetable foods into animal products is a very inefficient process because animals turn only 10% of what they eat into meat or milk, wasting the rest. It takes more land than we have in Europe to produce all that meat. We can only do it because we buy food -- grains, beans, soy etc. -- from abroad, including places like India and even Ethiopia, to feed to our animals.
HOW DID THE PROBLEMS BEGIN?
Did God get it wrong when he told Adam and Eve that they should multiply and extend the garden of Eden to the whole wide world? He most certainly did not! It was not God, but Adam and Eve who got it wrong. How? Well, they were disobedient - they sinned. They decided to disregard God's instructions, to go it alone, to do things their own way. It might only have been a forbidden fruit they ate, but it was the symbol of God's authority and they rebelled against Him. How well their descendants have followed in the path they blazed. Their own firstborn son became the world's first murderer.
The history of the human race is the record of sin’s effects. Crime, greed, war, injustice, violence of all kinds. As Christians, people who want to please God, it should be our greatest desire to know His will in all things and to seek to do it. Let us in all things therefore be earnest in our endeavours to be obedient to our Father in Heaven. He is our loving Creator and He desires only what is for our good. With that in mind, let us examine the matter before us, the matter of man's diet, man's agriculture, and our treatment of the natural environment.
GOD OUR CREATOR, THE BIBLE HIS HANDBOOK
My friends, this world did not begin by chance as the evolutionists try to tell us! We have a very wise Creator; very wise and also very loving. He created us, men and women of all races and nationalities from the same parents, Adam and Eve. He knew best what would be the ideal food for humans to eat in order for them to stay healthy. We should take His advice.
If a man buys a new automobile he is keen to look after it properly. When he wants to know what grade of fuel to use, or how often the oil should be changed, he doesn't listen to the advice of all and sundry. He doesn't go down to the neighbourhood bar and ask the regulars who drink there what they think! He takes the advice of the manufacturer, he consults the manufacturer's handbook. We should not be surprised therefore that our Maker, our caring God, has given careful instructions about our diet in the bible. We should study what He has said and also listen to His voice within us that tells us: "This is the way: walk ye in it." Isaiah 30:21
THE ORIGINAL DIET
Right at the beginning of the bible in chapter 1 of Genesis, verse 29 we read that God said to Adam and Eve: "See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food." The food that God said Adam and Eve should eat was plants and seeds, (which includes beans, nuts, and grains) and also fruits.
Well, you might say, that was before they sinned and still lived in the Garden of Eden, the paradise garden, but what about afterwards, when God sent them out of the garden? If you turn to Genesis chapter 3 and verses 17 and 18 you will see that it tells of the punishment God pronounced upon Adam our forefather. "Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying: You shall not eat of it; Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field’."
Did God say to Adam, because you have sinned you shall now eat animals? What does it say? It says: "You shall eat of the herb (that is, the plants), of the field".
AN INCREASE IN VIOLENCE
Perhaps the descendants of Adam and Eve did soon start to eat the flesh of animals --- but if they did it was clearly in disobedience to God's instruction. In fact they soon began to do all sorts of bad things. As we have noted Adam and Eve's own son, Cain, murdered his brother Abel. The world's first murderer had been its first baby boy and the first victim had been its second.
A GREAT FLOOD
The bible tells us that by the tenth generation from Adam the people in the world had become very wicked. "Then Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually". "The earth also was corrupt before God and the earth was filled with violence." Genesis 6:5,11. Doubtless man's violence was expressed toward the animals as well as being inflicted on his own kind, and God's command for a vegan diet was being totally disregarded along with all His other instructions. Well almost totally, for there was one man who "found grace in the eyes of Jehovah". (verse 8). This man, Noah, "was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God." (verse 9). So God decided to make a fresh start for the human race, founded upon Noah. He caused an immense flood to destroy all the rest of mankind, warning Noah beforehand to build a huge ship to save himself and his immediate family and some of all the animals.
ACUTE PROBLEM - DIRE SOLUTION
When the flood subsided and Noah and his family came out of the ship after nearly eight weeks, all the vegetation was destroyed. There were no plants left. The food supply Noah had taken into the ship for himself and his family was all used up. They faced starvation. But God had foreseen the problem. His priority was the continuation of the human race and thus He allowed Noah and his family to begin killing some of the animals for food -- He allowed them to eat meat. For the first time, eating meat was done with God's permission. In Genesis chapter 9 v. 3 we read that God said to Noah: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have [now] given you all things, even as I gave you the green herbs [before]."
Does anyone imagine that it pleased God to have to send the Flood? Of course not. How could God be happy to destroy things and people He had made? If a person takes great care to make a beautiful piece of furniture and then after a while discovers that it is riddled with woodworm so that he has to destroy it, would that make him happy? Certainly not. If a keen gardener grows a prize vegetable marrow (squash), only to discover it is diseased within and has to be thrown away, does he feel good about it? And people and animals are more important and more valuable to God than furniture and vegetables are to us. Remember that Jesus said that our Father in Heaven cares even about one tiny bird that dies.
ALL BECAUSE OF SIN
Remember too that this all happened because of man's disobedience, man's SIN. The change in man's diet to include meat was also the result of man's sin. If there had not been the Flood, the change would not have been needed. And the Flood came because of man's sin. Do you think that God could have been pleased that man must now take the lives of His animals for food? Definitely not, because it was the result of sin, not as He had designed and intended. And God knew also that there was great DANGER in it.
Obviously there was a danger to the health of people who now had to eat the dead bodies of animals. God has given very detailed instructions about ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ animals, those which may and may not be eaten, in order to limit the health dangers (see Leviticus chapter 11). Generally this excludes the flesh of omnivorous and carnivorous creatures. It is bad enough to have to eat second hand protein, but to eat it at third hand is a step too far. In fact the health risk is always there when people eat meat of even the ‘permitted’ variety. But God foresaw an even more serious danger than the threat to mankind's physical health.
RESPECT FOR LIFE
If people were now allowed to kill animals for food, would they think that taking life is not so bad after all? Would they have less respect for life? Perhaps they might think that they could kill people too. That this was a real danger is demonstrated by the fact that many people who claim to be religious act in practice as if life is of little value. They not only treat animals as things and slaughter them wantonly, they treat them cruelly and kill them in the name of sport and science and medicine, they kill one another ‘en masse’ in war, and they deliberately murder their own unborn offspring by the millions. It is a logical progression and no mere chance that they are now preparing to deliberately use human babies to cannibalise for spare body transplant parts. They may call them ‘embryos’ or ‘foetuses’ but no-one can say when an embryo becomes a foetus or a foetus becomes a baby because they are all human beings whether born or unborn. These people have not understood God's teaching about the sanctity of life and they are not listening to the Holy Spirit of God.
All life, whether the life in people or in animals, comes from God. God is the source of life, the Author of life, the Giver of life; and life is the most precious thing that all living creatures receive from Him. We must have reverence for life.
How could God teach Noah and those who would come after him that life must be valued whilst allowing them to take life for food? Well He gave them a particular teaching, using a symbol to represent life. The symbol God used to represent life is BLOOD. Even now, we still recognise that blood and its circulation is the thing most essential to our life and identify one with the other. We talk about LIFEBLOOD.
THE LIFE IS IN THE BLOOD
If you look again now at Genesis chapter 9 where God gave permission to Noah to eat flesh, see what it says in verse 4. "But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood." To emphasise that He was setting strict limits to His permission to kill, God went on: (Verse 5:) "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of every man." We are responsible for any taking of life and are to be held guilty if it goes beyond the limits that God has set.
Blood is sacred to God, because it symbolises or represents life. Later, to His chosen people, the Jews, God would explain that blood had even greater significance because it represents the life of animals sacrificed in atonement for sin. (see Leviticus 17: 10-14). "For the life of the flesh is in the blood." Now that the full meaning of the animal sacrifices has been revealed through the shedding of the blood of God's real Lamb of Sacrifice, Jesus, then we should realise how abhorrent to God is the spilling of any blood, and how horrible is sin. All blood shedding is the consequence of sin.
Thank God that the sacrifice of animals is no longer a part of true religion. Christ, the real Passover Lamb, laid down His own life as the all-sufficient, and only sufficient, sacrifice for the sins of mankind. In fact, as a memorial of His sacrifice, until His coming again, he established a new festival, a vegan one of bread and wine. Before Calvary the animal sacrifices pointed forward to Christ. Since Calvary the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, the Communion, represents to us the body and blood of God's Own True Lamb, our Saviour.
Let us review what we have seen. God made people. He intended for them a vegetarian (vegan) diet. Because of sin He sent the great flood. After the flood, out of necessity, God gave permission for men to eat meat, but without the blood. Therefore when, in order to live and not to starve or suffer serious malnutrition, it is necessary to eat meat "without the blood", that is not a sin. Yet it is Second Best, made necessary by sin, not as God originally intended. Whenever possible God wants us to have the best! He wants us to live in the best possible way, turning our backs on sin and on all its consequences. What are the best foods?
THE BEST FOODS
"In order to know what are the best foods, we must study God's original plan for man's diet. He who created man and who understands his needs appointed Adam his food. ‘Behold,’ He said, ‘I have given you every herb yielding seed, . . . and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food.’ Genesis 1:29 . . . Grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables constitute the diet chosen for us by our Creator. These foods, prepared in as simple and natural a manner as possible, are the most healthful and nourishing. They impart a strength, a power of endurance, and a vigour of intellect that are not afforded by a more complex and stimulating diet." (The Ministry of Healing by E.G.White p.295).
Not only is a meatless diet healthier, provided it has a good balance of protein and carbohydrate and contains the necessary minerals and vitamins, it is also the best and most complete way of avoiding the eating of blood as commanded by God.
Remember that this instruction was not just to the Jews. It was to Noah, and therefore to all Noah's descendants, the whole human race, part of the Noachic Covenant. Long, long after the time of Noah, when the Christian church was in its infancy, a decision had to be made about what requirements applied only to Jews and what still would be in force for Gentiles (non-Jews) who became followers of Jesus. The elders of the church met in Jerusalem. The main question centred on circumcision which God had ordered for Abraham and his descendants. Their decision that they should not trouble the Gentiles, who are not physically descended from Abraham, to be circumcised is recorded in Acts chapter 15 verse 19. James, summing up the meeting said: "Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God . . ." Then he continued (verse 20) "but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, "and from blood."
The elders decided to write letters to be carried to the Gentile Christian congregations by Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. The letters were to include this paragraph: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well." (verses 28 and 29, emphasis ours). Clearly it was considered that because they still came under God's instruction to Noah, Gentiles wanting to be obedient to God must avoid eating blood.
It is of course important for me to remind you that the apostles did not believe they could be saved by keeping rules. They knew very well that they owed their eternal life to the kindness of God and His Son Jesus, and to nothing else. And so do we. We love Him because He first loved us, sinners as we are. We cannot earn His love, but having received it from Him freely we will try to serve Him faithfully and honour Him with our lives as well as with our lips. We want to be obedient.
In the New Earth, when Jesus rules, there will be no disobedience to the will of God but all will serve Him perfectly from loving hearts. There will be no violence. Man will live with man in peace, and also in peace with the animals. There will be no wars. And there will be no abattoirs.
THE PEACEABLE KINGDOM STARTS NOW
NOW is the time for God's people to give up VIOLENCE TO MEN AND TO ANIMALS, to give up BOTH WARS AND SLAUGHTERHOUSES. We do not have to wait for Jesus to come before we can start to live in peace with God's creation, any more than we have to wait for that before we can start to be honest or generous. When Jesus told us to love our enemies, he did not mean us to wait until we are in his kingdom and have no enemies! We should not wait until things are easy before we start doing what God requires. It is a test of our faith to do them when circumstances are against us.
Nevertheless God is kind and merciful and when we take one step in the right direction he makes it possible for us to take the next. That is our journey through life, a step at a time following God.
Even now He is working to make it unnecessary for people to eat animals. By providing alternative protein foods God is helping people to live cleaner, kinder, healthier and happier lives. It is our privilege to have a part in His work of telling people the good news of His coming Kingdom and letting them know that He cares about their health and happiness here and now also.
FRIENDS OF CHRIST, THE OLD VICARAGE, LLANGYNOG, CARMARTHEN SA33 5BS, WALES, UNITED KINGDOM.
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