I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Biblical reality that God was more pleased with Abel’s offering to Him than He was with Cain’s offering. Many of you know at this point that I don’t consume animal products. If you’ve read THIS POST then you’ll know why.
My goal here isn’t to convict anyone about what they’re doing, but I want to write through my thought processes on things like this. I want to share why I think eating a vegan or plant based diet is completely consistent with being a devout Christian. This is one of the points that comes out very frequently when I speak with other Christians who are trying to justify, using the Bible, their consumption of animal products. I will write about those other points of contention in the future, too, so stick around if you’re interested in this topic.
First of all, no one needs to justify anything, least of all to me. Everyone has their own life to attend to, and I am certainly not the one sitting in the judgement seat. Simply, if God says to do something, then do it. I happen to believe that God is happier when those made in His image are stewarding His creation in a way that does not include the unnecessary death of other creatures, and that is one of two major factors in my decision to live the way I do, the other having to do with the practice of self-discipline. There are many other reasons that coincide with/complement those, too.
So, what about Cain and Abel? If you’re not familiar with the story, read it here. Something I hear commonly is this story proves God put animals on Earth for humans to eat. That is weak reasoning. The story of Cain and Abel is one of atoning for sin. It in no way, shape, or form condones killing animals for food. In fact, the first time that God clearly condones the killing of animals for food was after the flood when there weren’t any plant foods for humans to eat. This is evidence of the reality that God condones eating animals to preserve human life, when it is necessary, not beyond that.
Genesis 4: 2b-5 says, “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Many people say that God being more pleased with Abel’s offering than with Cain’s is evidence of God not only approving of eating meat but also evidence of God Himself liking meat to eat. Yes, that’s real. But the fact is that, as John 4:24 says, “God is Spirit…” God doesn’t consume food, because He is Spirit. So, when Genesis says God looked with favor on Abel and his offering, it isn’t referring to how much God really wants to eat it. Cain and Abel weren’t putting forth these offerings to God in an effort to feed Him dinner, they were offerings, as in a way to atone for their sin.
It is well known that animal sacrifices were a sanctioned way to atone for sin in the days of the Old Testament. In fact, taking a literal view of Genesis, the first death on Earth was that of an animal killed by God to provide skins to cover Adam and Eve after they first sinned against Him. The first death was a result of man’s sin. In Eden, animals weren’t killed and they weren’t food for either humans or other animals.
God has allowed people in history to spill the blood of animals to atone for their sins rather than spilling their own blood. It’s substitutionary atonement. Animals cannot sin, therefore an animal sacrifice is the act of taking a sinless life. It’s why Jesus died on the cross. He was the only sinless man to have ever existed, and it would could only be that death which would cover the sin of man eternally. I won’t pretend to know why it is death that atones for sin and not something else. There is a lot I don’t know for sure. We know that the wages of sin is death, according to Romans 6:23. Perhaps this means that death is simply the only thing that can cleanse or atone for sin. The why eludes me at this point, though. The fact remains, though, that this reality is very present in the Bible.
I say all that to say God was pleased that Abel had atoned for his sin. Cain did not atone for his sin with his offering for one of two possible reasons. Either plants are not a sufficient sacrifice for sin, or Cain’s heart wasn’t actually repentant to begin with so regardless of his offering God would not have looked favorably on it. Maybe it was Cain’s lack of repentance and obedience to God’s will that he actually tried to offer God vegetables in the first place, tainting the offering from the beginning. So, God looked with favor on Abel’s offering and on Cain’s He did not look with favor. Because of this Cain was angry and dejected.
Genesis 4:6-7 says, “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
The issue here was always sin and atonement, never what is acceptable for food. God warns Cain that if he does not do what is right, namely atone for his sins, then sin is there crouching at his door, waiting to take him. God says Cain must rule over it, but instead Cain does the opposite and gives in, murdering his brother.
1 John 3:12 says, “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.”
Unless you take offering plant foods as evil, we can glean from this verse that Cain commonly sinned and Abel did not. Cain was a bad guy. Abel was a good guy. Abel did what was right and atoned for his sin in the only way he could at that time. Cain did not. So, Cain’s sinful nature drove him to murder and, ultimately, banishment by God.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter for now. What do you think? It’s a rather interesting topic to me. Plant based eating is much more hotly debated than I had at first realized. I’ve talked to a lot of different Christians about this both online and off, and it’s pretty wild.
I think that it would be better for both the individual and the world if more people ate this way, but it’s not my job to convict others. That is a job for the Holy Spirit. My aim here is simply to work through these issues I’m thinking about in a concise way.
Until next time,