Know Thyself

In a previous post I said I believed our young people would be better Christians if they knew where their food came from; that is, if they actually observed a cow or a chicken getting butchered. I also opined that, while there are many good reasons for being a vegetarian, becoming one simply because we’re squeamish about blood is both cowardly and unchristian. Since both claims seem rather outrageous on the face of it, allow me to defend them in this post.

If the world were normal (ie, without the corruption of sin) we would all be vegetarian and possibly vegan. But Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and as a result the corruption of sin entered into the world. In the aftermath of their sin, the first animal sacrifice was performed (Gen. 3:21).

Somewhere along the line meat eating became the new norm in this world made abnormal by corruption. One might think that eating meat in and of itself is a perversion of divine intent, but things clearly aren’t as simple as that. Eating meat, in fact, is a practice commanded by God in the case of the old covenant priests who ate part of the animals that were sacrificed to God.

So, why eat meat? While the flow of blood is, in a word, a sign of the corruption that destroys us. It is, in a more gracious word, the very thing that sustains us in our corrupt and mortal life. The very curse becomes a blessing. Earthly death gives us earthly life. And this, of course, points us toward the cross which is both the ultimate curse and the locus of the greatest blessing, where the earthly death of the God-man gives us the opportunity of eternal life.

From death comes life. That is the first thing we learn. And there is a second lesson:

Our condition is not only dire (in that we are dying), it is disgusting. The rot of corruption is not necessarily visible, for spiritual death begins as an internal rot that only reveals itself as the corruption grows. But, no matter how carefully we whitewash the tombs, the corruption remains.

It is right and proper to create beauty and surround ourselves with gracious things because the world God created was very good and beauty is a reflection both of this goodness and God’s grace. But not only do we need to remember from whence we came, we need to be reminded just what we are. Buying a whole chicken, removing the skin, cutting it into sections, and preparing those pieces for cooking is a disgusting and slimy business – especially if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen a raw chicken – but such a discipline (and I use that word purposefully) pushes the façade of life aside momentarily so that we can be reminded of creation’s corruption in which we, as sinful human beings, participate. Shooting a deer and field dressing it – turning that beautiful living animal into a pile of offal, five or six bags of meat and bone, a rolled up hide, and massive quantities of blood – is a vivid reminder or the terrible price one part of creation must pay so that another part of creation can live another day and stave off the corruption and death which inevitably creeps closer.

Sanitizing our outward lives so that we never have to witness the messy business of death that leads to sustenance only insulates us from our true condition. And when we are insulated from our true condition, it is easy to imagine that we’re not really as bad off as all that. But when faced with the disgusting starkness of death, the unavoidable creep of corruption, and our personal role in the slaughter, the glory of grace and the beauty of holiness becomes both a magnificent reality and a welcome alternative to our corrupt existence.

In short, experiencing our food from hoof to plate is a concrete way in which we can be honest and realistic about our human condition. While Christian faith is far more than just understanding our current condition and peril, without that knowledge I don’t see how Christian faith is even possible. As John Calvin says on the very first page of The Institutes of Christian Religion, “Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.”

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