by David Clough.
If you go to church in Advent, you hear lots of Bible passages from the prophets who look forward to a time when the Messiah will come. For Isaiah, the first sign of the new reign of the Messiah is peace. Perhaps that’s not a surprise to you. But had you realized that the first kind of peace he describes is between humans and animals? Isaiah 11 tells us that ‘a shoot will come out from the stump of Jesse’, that the ‘spirit of the lord shall rest upon him’, and that he will just the poor and meek with righteousness (vv. 1–5). And then what?
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (Is. 11.6–9)
This beautiful prophecy suggests that the first sign of the in-breaking reign of God will be peace between humans and other animals, and an end to hurt and destruction of life. For centuries, Christians have been inspired by this vision. Christmas nativity scenes portray the birth of Jesus as bringing this peace, represented in the animals around the manger.
These theological visions of how things will be when God reigns aren’t just about the future. Jesus told his disciples that the kingdom of God had come near, and that they needed to respond to it in the way they lived. One way of understanding Christian discipleship is as a witness to what life in this kingdom looks like.
So how could we witness to the peace that the Messiah brings between humans and animals? It’s not complicated. We could choose to eat foods that mean fewer of them need to suffer and be killed for our sake. We could eat more peaceably, as a practical daily act connected to our Christian beliefs about God’s care for all creatures, and the peace that the reign of God will bring for them and us. It’s striking that this small act of witness is also good for global human food and water security, good for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, good for reducing cruelty towards animals, and good for reducing a range of human disease risks. Methodists have particular reasons for recognizing the link between their faith and animals.
Many Christians I talk to warm to this idea that their faith could make a difference for what they eat, but get stuck in imagining how they could make a change. One good way is to do it together. Why not make a New Year’s resolution to run the CreatureKind course as a Lent group at your church next year? If you can’t wait that long, think about some first steps, such as substituting soy or almond milk for breakfast (there are now lots of choices in the supermarket), choosing plant-based options for lunch, or having one plant-based dinner each week. If you decide that you’d like to explore ways of eating that don’t depend on killing animals at all, there’s lots of advice around.
Most Christians have lost touch with traditions of eating that reminded us that what we eat connects us to a wider world. Paying attention to the links between what’s on our plate with the world of God’s creatures around us is not just an ethical practice, it’s a spiritual practice, too.