theological implications from the grocery store meat department

meat department

“We’re out of chicken.”

Those are my wife’s words almost every time we enter the grocery store. And so we alter our shopping path ever so slightly over to the meat department after we finish replenishing our stash of fruits and veggies. Our decision comes down to which cellophane-wrapped styrofoam board contains the biggest, juiciest-looking piece of squishy, deliciousness. We do our best to get the leanest ones that have a label promising things like “farm raised” or “wild caught.”

But something recently struck me. There is one huge thing missing from our western meat departments. And ironically, it’s the one thing all meat inevitably has in common: death. All traces of it have been strategically covered up and hidden. We may know in the back of our minds that it happened, but we certainly don’t think about it.

When was the last time you knew what that pound of hamburger looked like before it was slaughtered? Have you ever heard a goat or pig screaming out before their deaths back behind those freshly Windexed meat cases? Do the butchers ever have blood on their aprons? Are hair or feathers anywhere to be found?

Absolutely not. That’s “bad PR” now. Picking out meat at the store is made to look and feel no different than selecting our favorite box of cereal. They want us to buy the meat thinking only of the dish we’re going to make with it and not what happened to the animal for it to reach our shopping baskets. But just because it’s hidden from view doesn’t mean it didn’t still happen. Wishing it could be a clean process doesn’t make it clean. It simply means we’re catering to our own sensitivities, which I’m afraid is one of those self-fulfilling, downward spirals.

I wish I were joking, but I saw a Facebook post one time that pictured an animal being butchered, and one of the comments underneath read something along the lines of “That’s so horrible. Why don’t they just get their meat from the grocery store like the rest of us?”

Not all of us have grown so disconnected in our reasoning skills, thank God. But I do believe a large portion of us in our culture are being impacted theologically from how we’ve sterilized and removed death from our daily lives. How we view our Creator God is being influenced less and less by reality and more and more by what we want or prefer.

The Cross

It’s not uncommon at all now to hear prominent western spiritual leaders and thinkers rejecting the God of the Bible simply because they can’t fathom a God who would allow the brutal execution of Jesus as part of His purpose for sending Him. Their argument boils down to “How could a good and loving God require or allow such a thing?” But these leaders also seem like the type who have been sheltered from things like butchering their own meat. My guess is it’s always been a trip to the grocery store for them.

Thankfully, altogether denying Jesus’ existence is impossible to do and keep your scholastic credibility intact. Instead, He’s been altered into a messenger of salvation through universally-accepted virtues. This is much more preferable to our sheltered culture than the ransom our sins demand if we are to ever stand justified before a perfect God. You would think what was written by those who listened to Jesus with their own ears would carry more weight than the ideas we come up with ourselves two thousand years later. Nevertheless, for many, “following Jesus” has nothing to do with His death and more about his morality, which serves as a great model for our lives… if you ignore about seventy-five percent of the things He said and believed. Oh, and what happened to Him.

We don’t mind thinking of sitting at Jesus’ feet while He spoke eloquent things we’re predispositioned to agree with. Mary Magdalene washing His feet with her hair and tears of love– beautiful. Watching a nail get hammered through those same feet because of how challenging and backwards His teachings actually seemed to the leaders of the day– not so beautiful. In fact, it’s offensive.

Death is hidden from us. It’s censored from our society wherever possible. The effect is that blood is so gross for some people they can’t even eat meat with a hint of pink to it. Others faint if they see it. The outrage over the mere thought of animals being killed leads many to commit to a vegetarian diet. Scientists are even trying to grow synthetic meat in petri dishes now.

With this sensitivity, the worst thing God could do has become giving His permission for blood to be shed. For Him to require it for the sake of justice is worse. I even heard God described as “cruel and haughty” from an agnostic friend of mine.

What our sensitivity of death has done is removed the image of grace and mercy that Jesus’ execution represents, and replaced it with the label of “pathetic human atrocity.” By thinking of the cross as a flaw of human governance and not an act of radical salvation needed directly from God, we can easily lose sight of the severity of our sin.

The power of the cross is found precisely in acknowledging the perfect life that was offered and the blood that was spilt on it. It allowed us to witness death being literally defeated– in as real and concrete fashion as it gets. Therefore, to denounce Jesus’ death as completely unnecessary is to denounce the true destruction our sin causes and the separation it puts between ourselves and a holy God. To call it cruel and haughty removes and demeans God’s holiness, and the power of the love it actually displays. Besides, if God is cruel and haughty for demanding sacrifice and worship from us, what does that make those who refuse to submit to the Reason they have life in the first place?

Our Own Suffering

Somehow, we’ve reached a point in western culture where many believe (often subconsciously) that all God wants to do is make us happy and keep us healthy. I don’t think this view is necessarily the result of cellophane-wrapped, blood-removed, color-added meat markets, but I do think it points, again, to the danger of wanting so desperately for something to be true when it quite simply just can’t be.

No matter how clean and sterilized we make it seem, meat is the result of death. And no matter what we want to believe, every one of us will suffer through life at times. We will all die. Despite those truths, many still hold the example of suffering in the world as one of the primary evidences against God’s existence.

Classic Christianity (the kind that’s been unaltered to fit our “updated” values and ideas) is labeled as a tragic, brutal, unfair way of life and eternity. It’s painted as nothing but a historic motive for war and bloodshed. But let’s think this through: what kind of life are we really witnessing? Can we avoid tragedy? Is brutality a reality or an illusion? Is life perfectly fair? If life unavoidably seems tragic, brutal, and unfair sometimes, why is it so appalling to make sure our view of God explains our reality? I think the only way to be offended by God allowing tragedy, brutality, and unfairness is to first ignore what ninety-nine percent of the world’s humans go through every day– outside of the American illusion of what’s normal.

Regarding war and bloodshed, when do we compare the casualties of religiously-motivated wars to those of secular motives? I mean, if “fairness” is the goal, Stalin and Mao’s regimes collectively killed seventy-five million people, which are actually low estimates. Both were in the name of Communist atheism. Hitler’s added another seventeen.

Suffering has become the ultimate evil. And so we desperately remove all traces of it from public view. It’s inhumane for anyone or anything to suffer, now or in the afterlife. And so it doesn’t matter if Jesus went through suffering Himself and likewise required His followers to embrace it, we often hear people claim “the god I believe in would never allow that.”

It’s honestly more logical to believe in no god than to believe in a god who is powerless to prevent all of the universal suffering and death in our world. Considering how unavoidable it is, that doesn’t sound like a god powerful enough to be the object of anyone’s worship. Maybe that’s why no one claiming allegiance to that god ever seems more in awe of their god than they are of themselves and the rest of humanity. But since it’s also against every law of science for the universe (including our thoughts, feelings, and intelligence) to have come into existence without a cause, from nothing, we need to make sure our understanding of the Creator measures up to the reality He made and has allowed for us. The fact that we look at the most guaranteed part of life (death) and say “There’s something wrong with that” to me actually points to a higher power that made us to recognize the problem with our own existence.

Conclusion

I have no idea if this is a credible observation, but I do wonder if there is a real correlation to how widely accepted classic, unaltered Christianity is in rural areas where hunting is still common. It seems to me like the more sheltered we get from the reality that blood and death are unavoidable in our lives, the further away we tend to get from trusting that Jesus’ death should impact our lives and was actually necessary if we want a relationship with God.

Look at the rest of the world. Christianity is exploding in the countries where reality is not covered up or altogether removed from view. For most of the global Church, suffering is still an accepted part of life and meat comes from the animal in the backyard. Making that dish they’re craving means someone needs to go back there and kill it. And they have no qualms about God requiring Jesus to be crucified in order to atone for our sins.

So here’s an interesting experiment: next time you buy chicken or hamburger at the grocery store, let yourself wonder a little bit about the way your views of God have been impacted by a lifestyle that pretends to be far from death.

 

 

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