Human Life, Gorillas, and the Imago Dei

A four year old boy managed to crawl under the railing of a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo on Saturday afternoon (May 28th, 2016), reports Cincinnati WLTL news. He subsequently fell into a moat in the gorilla encounter. Two females were called out of the enclosure, but 17 year old Harambe ignored trainer's commands and remained in the yard. Although not attacking the boy, the western lowland gorilla was carrying, dragging, and throwing the boy.

Due to the agitated state of the gorilla, the decision was made to shoot to kill rather than utilize tranquilizers. Zoo director Thayne Maynard is quoted as saying "They made a tough choice and they made the right choice, because they saved that little boy's life."

In today's secular world where humans are often seen as nothing more than animals, who have simply reached a different stage in the evolutionary process, we have to wonder why everyone looking on at this tragic turn of events instinctively understands that this was indeed the right choice. There may be some fringe statements by extreme groups who claim that the boy's life should have been forfeited to save this endangered species. Furthermore, there will certainly be questions as to whether or not more could have been done, and whose fault it was that the boy made it into the enclosure in the first place. However, unlike the nearly universal outrage over the killing of Cecil the Lion, this incident is unlikely to cause much more than a slight perturbance.

The reason for this is that people instinctively know that there is a difference between humans and the animals. While it is true that humans ought to respect and care for animals, not seeking to cause them undue harm, when an animal endangers a human we all recognize that the human is to be valued over the animal. This is simply another case where this is made clear.

While we should mourn for the unnecessary loss and suffering of Harambe the Gorilla, that mourning should quickly turn to joy and praise that the young boy was rescued. On Saturday, a boy made in the image of God, whose purpose is to glorify God, was rescued from death. And that is a good thing indeed.


Tony Arsenal

Tony Arsenal (MA Church History, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; MA Theology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is a Reformed historian, theologian, and blogger. He currently lives in the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire with his wife Ashley, where he works at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center as the Living Kidney Donor Program Assistant. He also blogs for and at his own site, The views expressed in Tony's articles are his own and do not reflect the views of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center or any other organization that Tony is affiliated with.

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