Longing for the Divine

Vegan in Key West and a Vegetarian View of the Biblical Sacrifices

My wife and I just returned from a trip to the Florida Keys. Given our diet restrictions as vegans, finding meals in the sport fishing capital of the world was challenging. We found some excellent places, however, and in Key West’s southernmost point, we enjoyed some really tasty vegan food. Eschewing all animal products is extra difficult when visiting new places, but we find it exciting to seek new vegan foods and vegetarian restaurants whenever we are out and about.

We found several delicious meals and desserts for two hungry vegans. If you are ever in Key West, I recommend checking out The Café on Southard Street. We found ourselves returning to this busy little restaurant, as they did a great job preparing delicious vegan food.

In case you are wondering, my decision to follow a plant-based diet comes down to how I treat God’s creation—animals, humans, and the earth. I am a plant based vegetarian because of my belief in the Bible. This might seem surprising in light of the required animal sacrifices described in the Old Testament, but I assure you that some of the reasons people made those offerings are relevant today. People offered sacrifices in the Old Testament for reasons of repenting, giving, food and showing gratitude, hospitality and respect for life. When it comes to sacrifice, we Christians tend to emphasize the shedding of blood as the predominate feature (Hebrews 9:22). Christians seem to want killings, which often project violence onto God. The offerings, however, were not about God needing blood to love or accept us. In fact, by Jesus becoming a sacrifice to ransom us, we see God suffering our sin and cruelty. As Theologian Richard Young points out, “the medium of sacrifice is love, not blood. God voluntarily condescends to lower himself to us, which should be the model of our relationship to animals. God gives up privileges in order to make possible relationships of mutual giving and growing” (On God and Dogs, 1998, p. 152).

This got me thinking about how the concept of love relates to the way the Israelites were supposed to think about the sacrifices. According to Hosea, God desired love, not the sacrifice of animals (Hosea 6:6). I don’t take this to mean that God didn’t require sacrifices but rather that love was the medium of sacrifice. Jesus informs our understanding of the sacrificial system and fulfills it, bringing it to an end. Indeed, “something greater than the Temple is here” in the person of Jesus (Matthew 1:6). In our era of no sacrifice, there remains a different kind of sacrifice. One biblical reflection is that a contrite heart is a sacrifice. We present ourselves as living sacrifices, offering the ultimate sacrifice of self, when we give up privileges for the well-being and benefit of others (Romans 12:1).

While requiring sacrifices and permitting limited meat eating, the Bible recognizes that taking the of lives of animals is wrong (Leviticus 17:11). I see God providing meaning to the sacrifices in such a way that it necessitated change and prompted human improvement so that future sacrifices would not be needed. The sacrifices were a step toward a death-free world. Evidence for this lies in the sign of the offerings, for blood is life, not death (Leviticus 17:11–14). It seems to me that the main purpose of the sacrifices is simply to replace the symbols of sin and death in the Sanctuary with the symbol of God’s sacred life. I remember reading about a rabbi who believed that humanity would be transformed to the point that animal offerings would no longer be needed. The only remaining offerings would be vegan (non-animal). 

The Israelites were to give the best portions of sacrifices to God showing that everything we have is a gift from Him and teaches us to not be greedy. God conveyed displeasure when the Israelites gorged on the flesh of animals to satisfy their gluttonous cravings (Psalm 78:29). God was also displeased when the corrupt priests misused the sacrifices and gorged on the meat that belonged to Him (1 Samuel 2:12–17). The prophet Isaiah even declared, “He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations” (Isaiah 66:3).

We might say that the psychology of sacrifice was intended to bring awareness to how people treat animals, the earth, and their fellow humans. The offerings, especially the killing of animals, might contradict our modern sensibilities, but the ancient system was about promoting life and undermining death. Even in the offerings, there is an element of restricting diet, as the sacrifices could only be taken from among the clean animals (Jiří Moskala, The Validity of the Levitical Food Laws of Clean and Unclean Animals, 2011). The burnt offerings were given entirely to God. Portions of the other animal offerings were eaten, while the grain offerings were obviously vegan. Like the offerings, our meals should express our gratitude and thanksgiving to God. As a Christian, I believe that all these offerings foreshadowed the benefits of God’s sacred life-giving grace. 

Through my readings, I have learned that the ancient purity instructions God gave the Israelites were simple—God is the God of life, not death (Mark 12:27). This idea carries vegetarian roots back to the book of Genesis, which presents the avoidance of meat in the Garden of Eden without reference to legalistic requirements (Genesis 1:29). Creation promoted the original principle that life and health are related to God’s perfect world. The pot of vegetarian manna preserved in the Ark of the Covenant within the most holy place of the Sanctuary logically suggests that a meatless diet advances God’s principles of life. Death will not be part of the perfect world that God is preparing for us—a world guided by the signs of His commitment to life and love. Like the offerings given at the altar, the tables at which we eat should be signs of the perfect world that is yet to come (Talmud, Hagigah 27a).

To be honest, I cannot find a stronger hint of God’s will to reverse death and violence than the ancient sacrificial system, which indicates how God will redeem the world from death and fill it with the glory of His compassion and love. This system points to the goal of life in God’s presence, which includes total well-being and even bodily resurrection.

Furthermore, upon examining the Old Testament’s purity regulations for diet, I cannot overlook how eating unhealthily draws one closer to death. Science has proven that eating a plant-based diet contributes to extending life and preventing disease. In Exodus 15:26, God promised the Israelites that they would be free from disease if they paid attention to His instructions for life. Might we experience a miniature version of this promise, receiving protection from many of today’s diseases? I realize that sickness and disease result from our mortality and living in a broken world, but they are often amplified by our own unhealthy eating practices. Restoring the diet of paradise will promote life by fostering healthy bodies and minds. The perfect world God is making makes no provision for death. While vegetarianism respects this creation order, a flesh-based diet is completely incompatible with a death-free afterlife.

I have found that a plant-based diet is not only the healthiest for my body but also the best practice for celebrating life. In avoiding animal products I do not see myself as promoting legalism but rather as journeying to discover how to operate within the realms of life and compassion. My plant-based diet aims to lessen suffering and death in this world, and I think that’s something worth celebrating.

Craig Ashton Jr.

2 Responses to “Vegan in Key West and a Vegetarian View of the Biblical Sacrifices”

  1. Joy

    Craig, this was wonderful to read! Anyone who has questions on vegetarianism or being a vegan their questions would be answered with what I just read. Taking the life of animals definitely will not be in heaven so why should it be here. It was a wonderful read with many explanations that I am sure people who eat me would enjoy reading …you provided a lot of answers! Keep this read safe and available to give to those with sincere questions! Good night!
    Joy

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