It started out as a day filled with eager anticipation for a 3-year-old boy going to the zoo with his mom and siblings. We can imagine the happiness of the Saturday morning scene.
But the carefree adventure quickly took an ominous turn once the family made it into the park.
By now, you’ve heard what happened. Trying to get a better look at the endangered gorillas, the youngster somehow fell 15 feet into the enclosure’s water-filled moat.
Video of the scene shows how the 400-pound Harambe initially stands over the child, in what was interpreted to be a protective stance by some onlookers.
But then the story changed.
The boy “was being dragged around. His head was banging on concrete,” described zoo director Thane Maynard in a news conference. “This was not a gentle thing.” It was “a life-threatening situation” because “the silverback gorilla is a very dangerous animal.”
Because tranquilizers would not have worked in this situation, zoo officials had no choice but to shoot the gorilla in order to save the child’s life, according to Maynard.
And for the last five days, the response from the public has been overwhelming – and polarized.
At the heart of the controversy is the underlying assumption behind the decision to shoot the gorilla. Specifically, that a human life is of more value and worth than an animal’s life.
To be clear, I wholeheartedly believe there is a fundamental difference between human and animals. Zoo officials did the right thing.
At the same time, there is no glee in Harambe’s death. As Christians, we can certainly mourn the loss of Harambe, for his life had value. The Bible tells us in the Proverbs “the righteous care for the needs of their animals” (12:10) And many of you have known firsthand the love and devotion of a pet.
But is the life of that pet … of Harambe … of any animal on earth worth more than a human life?
No! Human life alone is sacred.
The Bible establishes the principle in Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Carrie Earll, who heads our public policy department and serves as our in-house expert on bioethics, writes:
To be created in the likeness of God means that each human bears His image and with it, a value beyond our unique characteristics or individual attributes. Nothing else in God’s created order has the distinction of reflecting His image; it’s a privileged status reserved only for humankind.
This is a bit of a mystery as God’s image in us isn’t something tangible we can see, taste or feel; yet it establishes our significance and worth at the highest level. The Bible says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)…
Contrary to cultural messages, our value isn’t determined by our ethnicity, race or gender; nor by our age, ability or location. It’s our divine membership in the human family that sets each of us apart as sacred.”
That means that no matter how intelligent, majestic or curious Harambe was, his life is not on the same plane as that of human life.
That so many in today’s culture questions that fact shows how far we’ve strayed from a Christian worldview.
As believers, how do we respond to such a controversy? I suggest three ways.
1. By thinking deeply on cultural issues.
When it comes to the news, there is usually a worldview issue at play. How we think, form opinions and engage effectively for the glory of God depends largely on how we view the world, and how we apply biblical truths to current events.
2. By asking questions.
Our friends at Breakpoint have some good advice on engaging winsomely on tough topics and fostering constructive dialogue. Simple questions like, “What do you mean by that?”, “How do you know that is true?” and “How did you come to this conclusion?” will help you engage thoughtfully on important issues.
3. By sharing truth.
Many of the people who are saying Harambe’s life was worth “at least as much” as the boy’s are operating out of a sincere, but misguided, way of thinking. Instead of shaking our heads and turning away, we need to engage with our neighbors, friends and family.
For the Christian, how we engage is also of great importance. We must share biblical perspectives lovingly, compassionately and without compromise. When we engage in a way that treats people like the image-bearers they are, we give a powerful witness to a watching world.
I’d like to hear from you. What do you think about the story of the boy and the gorilla? What do you think about the reaction to zoo officials prioritizing human life? Please let me know in the comments section.