This past Saturday at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden a four year old boy scrambled past a protective barrier and fell about fifteen feet into the “Gorilla World” exhibit. A male gorilla named Harambe subsequently began dragging and injuring the boy. Zookeepers then responded to the scene where the gorilla was shot and killed. The animal belonged to an endangered species of gorilla. The boy was transported to a children’s hospital in Cincinnati for treatment.
The killing of the gorilla has brought widespread criticism in the days that have passed since. Many have challenged the zoo’s rapid response to the situation and called into question whether or not the animal’s execution was justified. All kinds of responses have circulated the web, from chastising the boy’s mother for negligence to protesting that, if needed, the boy should have died rather than the gorilla because human beings are not an endangered species. Some are even petitioning that charges be brought against the parents of the boy.
The Cincinnati Zoo is standing by its decision to take the life of the animal in order to save the boy. Tranquilizers, they explain, could have made the situation much worse by agitating the animal further. With a situation going from bad to worse, the zoo made the decision to end the animal’s life rather than risk the boy’s safety any further.
While it is not surprising that there are animal rights activists infuriated by this event, what is surprising is what appears to be the widespread sentiment for the executed gorilla and the scorn and disdain directed at the boy and his mother. And what is most shocking is the assertion being made by many that this boy’s life was not as valuable as that of the endangered primate. With all the publicity this story is getting, we see evidence of the societal devaluing of human life on display. It’s important that Christians remind themselves of a few key biblical truths at this point.
Humanity Holds the Privileged Position in Creation
Human beings alone were created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-28). All of God’s created order was “good,” but only after the creation of humanity could God say that it was “very good,” (Gen 1:31). As bearers of God’s image, human beings have the unique capacity among creation to display in a special way the nature and character of God in the world in which we live. Human beings were to rule over God’s creation and subdue it (v. 28), showing their place of priority over animals, birds, fish, and everything else that had been created beforehand. Humans are also in a privileged position in comparison to the angelic world, because God did not condescend to give help to angels, but sent His only, eternal Son Jesus to die on behalf of the sins of the (human) world (Heb 2:16). The animal world is a part of God’s good creation, but humanity is God’s masterpiece, and so holds a special, premier place in creation.
In light of this reality, even at four years of age, a child takes a certain priority over an endangered gorilla, even if it were the last gorilla on the planet.
Bad Parenting Wasn’t the Issue; A Sin Cursed World Is
So many have cried out against the parents of this child for not controlling their child or protecting him from harm. Yet to put the blame on the parent alone is too simplistic. Whether the blame should be on the parent, the zoo, the child, or even the gorilla is not the point. The point is that everything about the sinful world in which we are living made conditions right for this type of tragic event.
All of creation has been affected by sin. Why did the gorilla injure the boy? Even if, as some argue, his paternal instincts kicked in and he was trying to protect the boy, that protection ended up hurting rather than helping. Sin has corrupted the animal world as well. We see that before Adam and Eve sinned in the garden there was no death, no hurt, no meat-eaters (Gen 1:29-30)! Gorillas are only dangerous in a fallen world, and a story like this only makes Christians, along with all creation, groan even more for the age to come (Rom 8:18-23). Which brings us to the final point.
We Belong to a Place Where Gorillas and Boys Give Hugs
The word of God speaks of a renewed earth where Jesus reigns and sin’s curse is broken. Wolves and lions and sheep and goats and vipers and little boys all playing with no threat of death or harm of any kind (Isa 11:1-9). The animal world will no longer be affected by the curse of sin. This is the eternal home of all who trust Christ as Savior and by faith receive Him. Death undone and every tear wiped away to be replaced with endless joy, love, and glory. We can barely imagine a world such as this; it sounds like something from a dream. In Jesus Christ we are promised a future beyond our wildest imagination and more vivid than the most beautiful dream. This future has been secured for human beings through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ.
The killing of an animal to save the life of a boy reminds us of God’s love for humanity and the privileged position we occupy, the sinfulness of the world in which we live, and the longing that all creation has for the restoration of all things that will be enacted when Jesus Christ returns bodily to this earth to establish His glorious kingdom.