A four-year-old child and a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo. It’s quite telling that this is even a discussion. What it’s quite telling about is who we are as a culture and what we value when it comes to life. . . or better yet, what lives matter the most. The backlash, fallout, and social media frenzy is beyond belief. . . especially when we consider the fact that an individual animal wound up dead as a result of a split-second decision that resulted in the saving of a young human life. The fact that thousands of young individual human beings will perish today and we won’t hear anything at all about it. . . well, that’s quite telling too.
For those who haven’t heard, a curious four-year-old little boy on a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo wanted a better view of the gorilla exhibit. Somehow, he climbed over a fence and fell into the moat, where a gorilla grabbed him and started dragging him around. The zoo’s response team wound up shooting the gorilla to death in an effort to prevent the death of the child. Now, the zoo, the child’s mother, and who knows who or what else is being called to task. In the end, fault might be established. But in the beginning, a human life was in danger and quick-thinking along with quick-acting was necessitated and in order.
This morning I’m seeing that an animal watchdog group (the first of many, I’m sure) is calling on federal authorities to hold the Cincinnati Zoo responsible for the death of the Gorilla known as Harambe. Last night, I saw photos posted of people adding flowers, cards, notes, and candles to a growing memorial for the Gorilla. Today I’ve seen pictures of people of all ages holding protest signs calling for justice for the gorilla. Is it possible that we’ve gone from caring too little for creation to caring too much? Have we gone from ignoring stewardship of the earth to idolizing the creation over and above worship of the Creator?
As you process this in conversations, use it as a teachable moment. As I think about what this reveals about our culture, here are some initial thoughts:
First, God cares deeply for all creation, including animals. He made them all out of nothing, and declared them good. They were made by God to glorify God. If you don’t think God cares for animals you need to read about Noah and the Ark. Or, think about what Jesus said about His Father’s providential care for the birds of the air (Matthew 6:26). Animals have value. The reality is that the death of this animal should sadden us.
Second, all creation is broken and groaning. Creation has been disordered by sin from top to bottom. The lion won’t be able to peacefully lie with the lamb until all things are restored. Until then, it’s ugly. And until then, little boys aren’t going to be safe around gorillas.
Third, humanity is the crowning point of creation. Yes, we are different from the animals. In fact, we’ve been given dominion over creation. While many will criticize Christianity and equate “dominion” with the right to abuse, that’s not what dominion means. We are in fact to rule over the earth, but not abuse or fail to steward creation. Our place is above the animals. So, when little boys aren’t safe around gorillas, decisions – sometimes difficult – need to be made to keep little boys safe.
Fourth, we really don’t know what happened in Cincinnati. What we do know is that zoo officials and those who know wild animals are unanimously saying that the zoo did the right thing. This wasn’t a case of a bunch of yahoos taking random pot shots at a gorilla. That would be criminal. Regarding the four-year-old’s mother. . . are we really ready to cry “negligence” or “abuse”? If you do, you’ve never been around a curious pre-school kid. They can disappear in the second it takes to blink or turn around. Children have wills and even with consistent discipline and warning, will wander. (Doesn’t our own gnawing sin nature cause us to do the same for the duration of our adult lives?!?) What we can be sure of is that the mother didn’t say, “Sure son. Go take a closer look!” The reality is that there had to be absolute horror, first and foremost on the part of the mother. To blame this on poor parenting is nothing but speculative.
Fifth, difficult decisions sometimes need to be made in less than a moment. There was no time for a board meeting, a consultation, or a phone call to an animal rights group. A child’s life was at stake. If it was my child, my grandchild, or any child for that matter, I would have pulled the trigger. And any parent, grand-parent, or human being who would say otherwise is either not telling the truth, or has erroneously calibrated their scales that measure and assign the value of life. We say over and over in our house, “If the dog every bites anyone, that’s the end of the dog.” No, I won’t shoot the dog, but neither will the dog continue to live. We’ve loved our dog for 13 years, but human beings and their safety take first precedent. Would it be difficult? You bet. Would it be sad? Yes. Would we grieve? Absolutely. But it would be the right thing to do.
Finally, the big issue here is what we believe about life. Human life has been devalued all through history in differing measure and differing ways. Keep an eye on it, because any choice we make is about choosing sides. And the sides we choose are a clear indicator of who we are.