I completed my hunters’ safety course this past week (when in Maine…!). I look forward to joining another church member during deer hunting season, spending some time in the woods and perhaps getting a deer.
But I don’t know how I will feel about taking an animal’s life. I have always loved animals—dogs, rabbits, chickens, snakes, turtles, even insects, rats, and any others. I have sat and been enthralled as I watched a spider weave its web with precise dimensions and craftsmanship (did you know that the distance between their threads is so even because they use the length of their body to space the threads?). When I was younger, I remember sitting for an hour or more with bird seed around me, still enough that chickadees landed on my shoulder and chirped in my ear, or chipmunks chased each other right around me—so close I could feel them brush up against my side. Have you ever wondered how a slug decides where to go as it patiently traverses the mountains of moss and twigs on the forest floor? Have you watched house sparrows taking dust baths under the juniper? Have you seen a young fawn curled up in the ferns, waiting for its mother?
The smallest housefly is far more complex and awe-inspiring than the most advanced computer. And even when we close our eyes to go to sleep, the insect choruses outside testify that there are thousands of other creatures living their lives right beside us. God created each, delights in their life, and provides for them as they are born, live, and die. And as we come to see how God delights in even the smallest of creatures, how can we not also pause and wonder and delight when we see a swallow building its nest or a gray squirrel scolding us from above?
And yet God has given us animals for food (see Genesis 9:3). How can this be? When we shape that beef burger to go on the grill, or when we take a bite of a bagel with lox, or when the turkey comes out of the oven on Thanksgiving, we realize that a living creature, beautiful in God’s design, lost its life. It had to lose its life so we could eat and live. This was not sterile or clean or nice. That ground beef did not start in a cellophane wrap with a price tag on it.
This is not an argument for vegetarianism, and I am not arguing that it’s wrong to take an animal’s life. But we do see two things: First, each life is precious and has dignity conferred by its Creator—whether that of the deer seen through a rifle’s scope, or the Canada geese flying overhead. Taking a life is no casual matter. Second, the fact that a creature has to lose its life for us to eat is a constant reminder of the price of sin, and of the grace of God.
In Leviticus 17, God forbids His people to eat blood, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (v. 11) So Scripture connects the blood spilled (if not the meat itself) with our healing and atonement.
Of course, animals’ lives can’t really cover over the price of our sin, or clean the “damned spot” off of our own hands. But the life of our Lord, and His blood poured out for us, can and does more than provide for our complete forgiveness and reconciliation.
And still, whenever we hunt, or eat a meal for which one of God’s creature’s died to provide, we are reminded of the price of sin and of God’s provision. The blood that was spilled should have been our blood, for we were the ones with blood on our hands. But the story didn’t end that way: The Son of God gave Himself for us. And just as taking even an animal’s life is no “neat” or insignificant matter, neither was the cross easy or cheap or sanitary —and yet in it He washed us clean. Yes, the price of sin was life for life…but for all who belong to Jesus, the life lost was not ours, by the grace of God.