In his 17 years of life, Harambe no doubt taught us much about animal nature.
But in his death at the Cincinnati Zoo, the gorilla has taught us much more about human nature – and the lessons are far from flattering:
This ought to make humans blush with embarrassment. Regrettably, for too many of us, it does not.
In case you missed it, Harambe’s life ended this way: a 4-year-old boy somehow got into the gorilla’s enclosure, was grabbed, then violently dragged by the 450-pound animal before zookeepers shot it dead.
The salient point: On May 28 in Ohio a little boy’s life was spared.
But you wouldn’t know that from much of the human reaction to the boy’s rescue. Too many headlines emphasized that a gorilla had been killed, not that a boy had been snatched from death’s hands.
A social media campaign to blame and relentlessly shame the boy’s mother for negligence has drawn hundreds of thousands of participants.
By now this all should be old news, but unfortunately it isn’t: As of this writing, more than half a million people have signed an online petition crying “Justice for Harambe.”
And the signature count keeps rising.
I’ve no need to force a discussion of God’s role in all of this; the boy’s mother has already done so. On her Facebook page, Michelle Gregg expressed thanks for “God being the awesome God that he is.”
Inherent in her brief remarks are truths well worth our acquaintance:
God graciously and powerfully intercedes in this world gone wrong, a once-perfect world tainted by sin. Sin corrupts not only human experience, but the natural order itself. In short, neither people nor the planet function by God’s flawless design.
That’s why children are prone to wander; parents are prone to be imperfect; and all of us are prone to condemn others for the same flaws we ought to see in ourselves.
Knowing this should lead us to accept that sometimes very bad things happen and no one needs to be blamed or made to pay up.
Knowing this should lead us to accept that shaming someone for an accident exhibits the worst of human nature.
Also inherit in the grateful mother’s thanks toward God is an increasingly unpopular truth: yes, a human life really is more precious than the life of an animal, even that of a beloved gorilla.
People are made in the image of God. Animals are not. Human worth is not an acquired characteristic, but is based on our being created with the potential to enter into relationship with God, our Creator.
God is so gracious that the very people whose nature spoils his creation are offered forgiveness, restoration, and ultimate rescue from our dreadful condition. Neither animals, nor even angels, will know the grace God offers to sinful people through Jesus Christ.
What happened at the Cincinnati Zoo is not inconsequential; in fact, it’s tragic. That western lowland gorillas are an endangered species magnifies the tragedy.
But the sorry event would have been immeasurably more tragic if it had ended with the death of a child.
To insist otherwise – as some do – gives evidence that humans with common sense could also become an endangered species.
May God give us grace to change course.
Steve Massey is pastor of Hayden Bible Church (www.haydenbible.org). He can be reached at (208) 772-2511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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