The law and gospel of chicken dinners

by Tim Pauls

Idaho recently made it into the national news, which usually only occurs when the major outlets are amused. In this instance, PETA had sent a letter to the mayor of Caldwell, Idaho, requesting that the name of a rural road be changed. They even offered to help pay for new signage.

The name? Chicken Dinner Road.

PETA, of course, opposes eating chicken for dinner. In the letter, a PETA VP asserted that “chickens feel pain and fear and value their own lives,” and that the road should have a name that “celebrates chickens as individuals.” I’m willing to concede that chickens feel pain, although I’m not sure how one assesses what value chickens place on their own lives. I’m also thinking that “Happy Individual Chicken Road” doesn’t have the same rural Idaho resonance.

At any rate, I’m not trying to incite some political shouting match. I’d like to talk about what the Bible says about people and animals.

They’re different, you know: God has set man apart and given him dominion over creation (Gen. 1:28). We’re called to be good stewards, to care for God’s creation and make responsible use of its resources in service of our fellow man. Among these created resources are animals, and the Lord has declared that meat is on the menu (Gen. 9:2–3). While cruelty is far from God-pleasing, killing animals for food is sanctioned in Scripture. That’s the law of chicken dinners.

And the gospel? A friend wrote a few years back that one of the reasons to pray at meals is to reflect on the meat that is served: so that we might live, something has died. In a fallen world, our physical life is sustained by sacrifice; and this reminds us that our eternal life has been won by the once-for-all sacrifice of our Lord on the cross. Borrowing a thought from Luther in a totally different context, I think it’s important to remember this: the Son of God didn’t become a chicken to save chickens. He became a man to save men.

All of creation groans under the curse of sin, and animals are fascinating examples of God’s beauty and creativity, but faith-filled wisdom will keep things in the right order. You’re worth far more than sparrows (Luke 12:6–7) or chickens: Christ values you so much that He became flesh, not fowl, to redeem you from your sin.

Tim Pauls serves at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boise, Idaho, and is probably way too attached to his dogs.

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