If a person thinks that they are righteous from what they eat, then they have fallen into error. It’s not the food that we eat that makes us unclean. However, foods these days are made in ways that don’t help us be healthy, and also animals are kept in ways which are not anything like the way animals are to be kept according to the Bible.
In the near future I will write a bit more about diet and religion, but basically the Proverb says “the righteous man hath regard for the life of his beast, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel”. Therefore cruelty, and the supporting of cruelty to animals is something that the Bible identifies with “the wicked”. When I think of battery hens and the way many other animals are handled I cannot but agree with the idea, that ignoring this is not the way of someone seeking to live in a righteous way.
When it comes to fish, we are in a different situation. Whereas we see the meat of birds and mammals conspicuous by its absence from the table of our Lord, it’s explicitly mentioned on several occasions that He ate fish, commanded people to catch fish, etc. Therefore there cannot be anything immoral about the catching and eating of fish per se. Here I wonder about the sport of angling, where fish are repeatedly caught just for fun, and wonder how righteous that is. And I also wonder how righteous modern fishing methods are which use technology so as to go after shoals which we never would have found in conventional fishing, so that the oceans are severely depleted – except of jellyfish of course, which make up the gap very quickly and assume the proportions of a near Biblical plague.
I don’t think that mass fishing methods which simply scoop up everything are biblical at all. Compare the way the Jews were commanded not even to harvest their fields to the end but leave the fringes unharvested. Nothing like that is done by the fishing industry today, which is why fish stocks are critically low. We may already never be able to get them back to what they were as the balance is now changed – the fish which will thrive the most are those which will eat the jellyfish – along of course with the plastics they contain, as they feed among the microscopic man made garbage, and we will all be eating them. We are also eating levels of mercury and other heavy metals in fish hundreds of times above what would have been the experience of Jesus in New Testament times and people should think hard before putting that in their bodies.
We’re free to eat everything. We see it in Acts 10. But freedom comes with responsibilities. We are not to judge others, but to show a good example ourselves. When it comes to fish, the Seventh Day Adventists, who do it fish but don’t accept other forms of meat, show on average life expectancies in America 7 years longer than normal Americans. So even with the eating of fish, you still get the main benefit of vegetarianism, a healthier life, if you refrain from the other sorts of meat. I’m not a fan of a number of theological points of SDA’s, but some things they are quite correct in.
And on that basis I do eat fish very occasionally. I’m eating about 10-20% of what I would have eaten before. Being non-kosher, shellfish would not have been on the plate of our Lord, and things that He would not have eaten I would also prefer not to eat. It makes a good witness to the Jews also, so when eating with them it assists matters a lot to remember that shellfish are off menu. They are also the ones in the front line for absorbing the mercury and heavy metals which sink down in the water.
God’s plan isn’t really a world in which his creatures bite and devour one another. This came into the world when sin came. And whilst it’s a tolerated reality of this world, I would rather anticipate that when Jesus comes to reign we will all be eating vegetables, even lions and tigers then will be trusted to lie down with the lamb and the gazelle. This is indeed prophesied in the Scripture and in some way it will come to pass. These creatures may be giving up willingly their milk and honey without cruelty, or maybe we will have no appetite for milk and honey either. I suspect the former will be true, as Israel, which is a prophetic form of God’s Kingdom is described as a land flowing in milk and honey. Until that time I would sooner err on the side of caution, though.
Even the consumption of vegetables can be sinful if a person eats thanklessly, so the final thought here sure be that whether a person eats flesh or just eats as Daniel did, they should in any event eat as to the Lord, and eat thankfully, with worship of the Creator in their heart.
Dietary choices don’t add to or detract from the salvation of the believer in Jesus one iota. But they can cause improvement to our health, reduce our impact on the world making more space for future people who also can become members of Jesus’ kingdom, increase our effectiveness, improve our sense of taste, give witnessing opportunities and a deeper understanding of certain Biblical issues and experiences.