Having just gone through the Christmas season, I've been thinking a lot recently about how God meets us. In fact, when you consider the sinful history of mankind and God’s activity throughout the Bible, it is pretty much only Him coming to meet us. Not the other way around. If He didn’t come to where we were, we’d have no way to seek Him out.
Saying that God comes to meet us doesn’t just involve the physical. Certainly, the Incarnation is the supreme example of God coming to meet us — in the flesh. But God also "meets us" in many other ways that involve our limited understanding, culture, and present knowledge.
Leviticus 11 is a great example. Ah, the dietary laws. I’m quite familiar with these, having grown up in a religious denomination that still espouses the kosher tradition. (Taking it a step further, many people I go to church with have given up all meat entirely — the "clean" as well as the "unclean" — and have returned to a vegetarian diet.)
Why the clean and unclean animals? Why the restrictions on eating, among other things, pork and shellfish? I once asked my father (who was an incredibly reasonable man) why we still followed the Levitical instructions regarding animals but disregarded other Levitical commands, such as not touching a woman during her period. His response was that, while cultural things shift with time, our bodies remain pretty much the same. Thus, if it was harmful for Israelites to eat pork, it’s probably still harmful for us, too.
I thought that was an interesting response. It made some sense to me.
However, regardless of where you stand on the issue of eating pork, I think Leviticus 11 can tell us a lot about how God meets with us. In the immediate context, God was dealing with people who were living in wilderness/survival conditions. Sanitation was, at best, difficult. The risk for disease was sky-high.
How interesting, then, that God prohibits the people from eating animals that feed on other animals. Did you know that? The difference between the clean and unclean animals was that the clean animals were primarily herbivores, while the unclean animals were primarily carnivores and predators — animals who lived on rotting flesh. Yum.
In addition to this distinction, eating the blood of any animal was absolutely prohibited. Does that seem strange? Before you answer too quickly, does this look familiar? Warning: Consuming raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, shellfish and eggs may increase the risk of food borne-related illness. Even in today’s society (with all our modern technology), most of the animals which carry the greatest risk when eating are those which were on the "unclean" list for the Israelites. My husband, who used to work in the restaurant industry, can tell you about the strict regulations surrounding the preparation of pork products! Many diseases are carried in the blood of animals; therefore, eating undercooked meat is dangerous and can be potentially fatal.
And what about the commands not to touch dead animals? Do we think that’s so crazy? When was the last time you wanted to touch a dead, rotting animal with your hands? And if you had to, what would be the first thing you would do after that? Scrub your hands with some good, sanitizing soap — something the Israelites couldn’t do. Being commanded not to touch dead animals was sure to prevent the outbreak of diseases such as rabies.
The point is that the Israelites didn’t know anything about germs, parasites, and bacteria. They didn’t have meat thermometers or antibacterial soap. They were living in survival mode, and God communicated what they needed to know in a way they could understand and follow. He came to them, not only physically in the sanctuary, but intellectually as well, structuring safety standards that they could relate to.
Several years ago, an epidemic of Mad Cow Disease swept through England. Do you know what caused that epidemic? Cattle farmers who fed their cows a mixture of grain and dead, chopped-up animals. They turned the cows into carnivores — the very kinds of animals that God warned the Israelites not to eat — and humans became very sick and died from eating those cows.
Aren’t you glad we serve a God who knows what He’s doing and knows how to communicate what we need to know in a way we can understand? Truly, in every way, He meets us!