Seventh-day Adventists have named themselves by two key/critical doctrines that they believe are crucial for the world in its last days. However, the far-reaching implications of these two doctrines often seem to escape us.
The seventh-day Sabbath, for example, established during the creation of the world by the great Creator, underscores that He is the God of both space and time. Yet many Seventh-day Adventists overlook the Creator’s heart and how much He loves what His own hands have made. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture reminds that the Creator has not removed Himself from this world, no matter how much humans have abused it. Evidence of His caring interest is sweeping:
1. Day five of Creation Week has the Creator directly addressing the newly created birds and sea creatures, saying, “‘Be fruitful and multiply’” (Gen. 1:22)1—with no humans around yet to whom He may have been speaking. These are the same words He will give to humans and land animals the next day. He then pronounces everything “very good” (vs. 31).
2. In Noah’s ark, animals were saved along with humans. Then afterward, the divine covenant given to Noah specifically included the animals: “Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: ‘And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth.’ . . . And God said: ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth’” (Gen. 9:8–13).
3. The Sabbath commandment includes in its blessing both humans and animals. Further divine Sabbath counsel in Exodus and Deuteronomy elaborates on this: “‘Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed’” (Ex. 23:12, italics supplied); “‘the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you’” (Deut. 5:14, italics supplied). The gracious blessed time of rest is granted to all humans—and animals.
4. When God released the tongue of Balaam’s donkey (Num. 22:28), it cried out, asking Balaam why he had been beating it—reminding him that it had faithfully served him for a long time. It obviously already had intelligence. God merely enabled it to cry out to Balaam in a language he couldn’t fail to understand.
5. Note the psalmist’s testimony: “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord” (Ps. 36:6, NRSV, italics supplied) The same word for salvation is used of both humans and animals. The modern evolutionary mind set has had the subtle effect of demeaning animals—even if one doesn’t believe in evolution. Yet biblical writers often recall the value of the animal kingdom to the Creator.
6. When many people try to imagine heaven, ideas are often restricted to harps and golden streets. But when God projects His future restoration of a perfect world, He thinks very differently—focusing on the animals: “‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious’’’ (Isa. 11:6–10).
7. Scripture climaxes with a great chorus singing praise to the Creator. Notice the voices in that choir: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!’ And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’” (Rev. 5:11–13, italics supplied)
This great worship scene is reflecting sentiments already expressed in the Old Testament. Notice the voices in the great praise chorus of Psalm 148: “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise Him in the heights! . . . all His angels; . . . all His hosts! . . . sun and moon; . . . all you stars of light! . . . Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all the depths; fire and hail, snow and clouds; stormy wind, fulfilling His word; mountains and all hills; fruitful trees and all cedars; beasts and all cattle; creeping things and flying fowl; kings of the earth and all peoples; princes and all judges of the earth; both young men and maidens; old men and children. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above the earth and heaven” (Psalm 148, italics supplied).
Curiously, the familiar Christian Doxology—“Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below”—catches this grand biblical theme, but few seem to be tuned in to the inclusive implication.
The evolutionary mindset must not be allowed to overshadow such a grand truth of Scripture: that God loves this world and all creatures He made. Moreover, more and more articles and books are being published about the intelligence of animals, whether land or sea creatures.
Ellen White already wrote about this a century ago: “The intelligence displayed by many dumb animals approaches so closely to human intelligence that it is a mystery. The animals see and hear and love and fear and suffer. They use their organs far more faithfully than many human beings use theirs. They manifest sympathy and tenderness their companions in suffering. Many animals show an affection for those who have charge of them, far superior to the affection shown by some of the human race. They form attachments for man which are not broken without great suffering to them.”2
“What man with a human heart,” she continues, “who has ever cared for domestic animals, could look into their eyes, so full of confidence and affection, and willingly give them over to the butcher's knife? How could he devour their flesh as a sweet morsel?”3
Strikingly, Ellen Write wrote on the cruelty involved with eating meat long before the dreadfully cruel modern practices of “confined animal feeding operations” (CAFO). And as my nutrition teacher at a state university said, after describing some of these dreadful practices, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
At least two issues must be dealt with here: (1) intelligent creation care that includes the land and all living creatures—after all, God even gave the land a “sabbatical” every seven years (Lev. 25:1–7); (2) intelligent abstinence from eating the dead flesh of animals—for the vegetarian diet itself is meant to be a blessing.
And here is the very heart of this study:
● Why are Seventh-day Adventists not known for their stewardship of the earth? We call attention to the Creator and His created world in our very name, yet we are slow to realize the importance of beneficial creation-care practices;
● Why are Seventh-day Adventists not known as part of the burgeoning contemporary movement to eliminate dead flesh meats from the diet—for health reasons and because of loving concern for God’s creatures?
Reversing both of these attitudes could bring such blessings to others and to ourselves. God has ever called His people to be a blessing to the world. Even Abraham was called to be a blessing: “Now the Lord had said to Abram: . . . ‘I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. . . . And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Gen. 12:1–3, italics supplied).
Seventh-day Adventists have been called to be a blessing, too—for that is what the gospel is—“good news.” Yet the preaching of the gospel is still often twisted to be a system of works that we need to do to reach enough perfection that Jesus can come, or to escape being lost. Even the counsels of Ellen White are used as a standard that Adventists must keep to be saved. When this comes to the violence-free, plant-based diet she recommends—rather than being thought of and presented as an advanced blessing God wishes His human family to have—too many still respond, “Well, I don’t have to be a vegetarian to be saved.”
This is not the point. God gave health counsels through Ellen White so that we could be blessed and also be a wondrous blessing in this dying world. And since the three angels’ messages are a very deep theological truth with complex implications that take careful thinking to understand, having one’s mind cleared by eliminating harmful foods will enable the reception of this blessing to be enhanced.
As Ellen White instructed regarding ancient Israel: “The Lord plainly told His people that every blessing would come to them if they would keep His commandments, and be a peculiar people. He warned them through Moses in the wilderness, specifying that health would be the reward of obedience. The state of the mind has largely to do with the health of the body, and especially with the health of the digestive organs. As a general thing, the Lord did not provide His people with flesh meat in the desert, because He knew that the use of this diet would create disease and insubordination. In order to modify the disposition, and bring the higher powers of the mind into active exercise, He removed from them the flesh of dead animals. He gave them angels’ food, manna from heaven.”4
And pointedly, Yahweh started the miracle manna meals before He presented the Decalogue on Mt. Sinai.
In the past decade or so, more and more studies have been published about the horrifying cruelty involved in modern animal husbandry—and the resulting harm and diseases it causes in the animals. Even before these modern trends, Ellen White noted the cruelty to animals involved in a flesh-meat diet. She even enlarged and clarified the picture by describing the close connection between physical and spiritual health:
“The moral evils of a flesh diet are not less marked than are the physical ills. Flesh food is injurious to health, and whatever affects the body has a corresponding effect on the mind and the soul. Think of the cruelty to animals that meat eating involves, and its effect on those who inflict and those who behold it. How it destroys the tenderness with which we should regard these creatures of God!”5
“The liability to take disease is increased tenfold by meat eating. The intellectual, the moral, and the physical powers are depreciated by the habitual use of flesh meats. Meat eating deranges the system, beclouds the intellect, and blunts the moral sensibilities. We say to you, dear brother and sister, your safest course is to let meat alone.”6
Presently, there are major national conferences and even cruises for vegetarians advertised with prominent health educators as speakers—but up to the present time, I have never seen a Seventh-day Adventist lecturer included. Yet we have had in our tradition a long history of knowing the benefits and blessings of a violence-free, plant-based diet. Why have we hidden our light “under a bushel” and deprived people of this great blessing that God intended to give through us? We could have been developing scientific studies for the past one hundred years to undergird the earlier counsels of Ellen White (ideas that are only now being discovered in modern science) and could have been a “light on the hill” that God has called for His followers to be: “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). He obviously wanted His people, whether in the Old Testament, New Testament, or presently to be a light and blessing amid the confusing ideas of this dying world: “The Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them” (Deut. 28:13, italics supplied).
Through the years, however, Ellen White’s advanced counsels have often been ignored, taught as a way of salvation, or thought to be outdated. What might have happened if Adventist scientists and educators had taken her materials seriously and studied ways of scientifically ungirding them and then presented them as a blessing—rather than dismissing or ignoring them for one reason or another. Our name can’t help drawing attention to the created world both through the (seventh-day) Sabbath blessing and because (Adventists believe) God has promised to come again and destroy the damage our sin has caused and then renew this beloved world.
As a devout Seventh-day Adventist, I ask:
● Why have we been so slow in proclaiming the blessing of the violence-free, plant-based diet first given in Eden to both humans and animals (Gen. 1:29–31)—and which will be restored when Jesus returns: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4, italics supplied).
● Why have we been so slow to be good stewards of this Earth, restricting our understanding of stewardship to money? Since we believe in the literal creation of our world, why haven’t we been known for our joyous care of it? Even heavenly beings condemn our destructive habits: “‘The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth’” (Rev. 11:18, italics supplied).
Jesus’ own example should inspire us, for He even notices when a sparrow falls (Luke 12:6). He also admires the lilies His own hands had designed and created (vs. 27).
Just because we believe in the literal second coming of Jesus doesn’t mean that we should be careless of—and even harmful to—this world now. Nor are we merely endeavoring to impress God that He can now save us because of our good deeds. What should really be motivating us is to be and bring a blessing to this dark world—being the “light on the hill” that God dreamed of. We are depriving the world of great blessings. A strange anomaly indeed!
NOTES AND REFERENCES
2. The Ministry of Healing, pp. 315, 316.