Editor's Note: According to Ecclesiastes 3, "There is a time for everything...." Not everything on that list, however, comes to us easily. Some items confound, others liberate, and none of them surrender to our wills entirely. The following article is part of a series that explores the complexity of these 14 poetic lines.
“Is she going to be okay, Mom?” my daughter whispered as we stood under the morning Iowa sun, while leaning against the calf pen. “She isn’t going to die, is she?”
Lydia, 10, looked at me with pooling eyes. On the other side of the pen, a weak and feverish calf groaned this long, aching moo. A veterinarian with a stethoscope checked the calf over.
I wrapped an arm around my daughter’s shoulder and pulled her close. “I think she’ll be fine, honey. I really do.” The vet drew back the plunger of a long needle, and then pushed it straight into the calf’s side. Lydia’s body tensed, and she covered her eyes. The calf shuffled. And in that single moment, the business of raising livestock got downright personal. I wiped away a tear from my cheek with the back of my hand.
It might seem foolish to cry over a sick calf. We are, after all, Iowa farmers. We raise animals in a land where livestock outnumber people by a wide margin. Eventually, this sick calf will die—probably not from illness or old age, but because it is part of a food-production industry. Nearly nine percent of the United States’ grain-fed beef comes from our state. If you ate a pork chop recently, there’s a one-in-four chance it came from Iowa.
Daily, we farmers witness how Ecclesiastes 3:3 unfolds in our own backyards: “… a time to kill and a time to heal.” There is, indeed, a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven—and in Iowa.
On that morning at the calf pen, we witnessed through tears “a time to heal.” The vet made a house call with a portable pharmacy. Within days, the calf was healed, and for a while, we could forget about this animal’s eventual fate. But on other days, the scene looks vastly different: A long trailer backs up to the livestock pens, sealing the fate of animals that will be sent to slaughter, then to your grocery store, and perhaps, to your very own dinner plate.
Our animals, while part of God’s created manifold witness, are not pets. They will be—how can I say this nicely—killed.
There’s no sugar-coating the work of a farm—nor the tears of a mother and child at the calf gate. We daily live in the uncomfortable tension of Ecclesiastes 3:3. And if you have ever stood at the glass case of a grocery-store meat counter, the tension belongs to you, too, even if you’ve never considered it. Even if you’ve never looked into the eyes of the animal, praying for its healing.
Kill is, quite simply, a hard word. Say it out loud once. Even if you try to say it sweetly, you end up sounding like a psychopath.
This ancient line is not the sort of verse you will find slapped on a coffee mug at your local Christian bookstore, but there it sits in my Bible, and I wrestle with it.
Our world and its history is pocked with the anguish of killing. I have seen it for years, in places far away from these bucolic farm fields. During my previous career as a newspaper reporter, I covered executions, murder trials and soldiers’ funerals. I drove to homicide scenes with a notebook tucked in my coat pocket, steeling myself for the ghastly results of killing, covered loosely with white sheets.
Our world is rife with the horrors of that one awful word, and there’s no escaping it for any of us. There is a time for everything. Everything. That’s the simple, complicated truth about this broken, paradoxical Earth—marked alternately by killing and healing and life and death and joy and pain and sorrow and celebration. The brokenness shatters in places like hospitals and funeral homes and battlefields. And I am left to grapple with it, while remembering that tearful moment at a calf pen, answerless except for knowing that full redemption is coming.
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The "Season for Everything" Collection
- A Time to Be Born and a Time to Die
- A Time to Plant and a Time to Uproot
- A Time to Kill and a Time to Heal
- A Time to Tear Down and a Time to Build
- A Time to Weep and a Time to Laugh