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Cincinnati Zoo Outrage: Are Animals Made in the Image of God?

  • Ryan Duncan What topic related to Christianity, faith, and the Bible is trending online and in social media today?
  • Updated May 31, 2016

Scripture tells us God made the world in six days (Genesis 1). First, he separated light from darkness, and set the land, seas, and sky into place. When this was finished, He brought forth animals of every kind; the waters teemed with fish, birds flew across the vault of the sky, and beasts roamed the empty ground. Only once these were complete did God create man, and after each day, God looked and saw that it was good. God loves all of His workmanship, but are only humans created in His image?

This question came jarringly into focus last Saturday, when a 3-year old boy climbed into a Gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. Faced with the prospect of losing the child, Zookeepers made the difficult choice to shoot and kill a rare gorilla which had cornered the boy. The gorilla’s death sparked a massive outcry from environmentalists and animal rights activists, but many believe the Zookeepers made the right call. In particular, Denny Burk, of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has stated that a human life ultimately trumps animal rights. Burk supports his case by arguing that only man is made in God’s image, a fact he feels mainstream society has ignored,

One of the vices of the Ninevites of old was that they didn’t know the moral difference between people and animals (Jonah 3:8; 4:11). It was a sign that as a civilization they did not know that human beings alone are created in God’s image and as such have a superior value and dignity over all other creatures. The Ninevites were pagans, and they did not retain the knowledge that God made mankind alone in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27). It is an ominous sign of the times that the error of pagan Nineveh has overtaken the American mainstream.

Many Christian scholars would agree with Burk’s assessment. Once, when pondering the nature of dogs, Dr. Roger Barrier concluded that animals lack distinct, spiritual qualities recorded in the Bible. As evidence, he quoted Psalm 49:12-20, where mankind is set apart from beasts due to their body, soul, and spirit. He writes,

Notice the phrase, ‘like the beasts that perish.’ This verse implies that there is no life after death for animals. God designed man with three parts: body, soul, and spirit. Materialists are compared to animals who have bodies and souls, but no spirit. The Bible teaches that the spirit is eternal. If animals have no spirit, then they are incapable of living on into the next life—neither are rich materialists.

It’s hard to deny the Zookeepers made the right decision. A child was in danger, and thanks to their efforts, his life was saved. It’s also difficult to argue with Burk. Christ came to redeem mankind, not save the trees. However, if we could take a step back and consider a broader picture, this incident should not remind us of our superiority, but rather our failures.

God made humanity to be stewards of His creation (Genesis 2:15), and we failed. We squandered His trust by killing reefs, destroying forests, and pushing creatures to the brink of extinction. Being made in the image of God is a gift and privilege, but it is also a responsibility. As caretakers for God's creation, it's important that we protect the planet from abuse. The Zookeepers made the right choice, a child is more important than a gorilla, but killing the animal was still a tragedy. Let's work together to ensure it wasn't in vain.   

What do you think? 

What about you? What are your thoughts about animals and humans? Do you know you were made in the image of God? Leave a comment below!

*Published 5/31/2016

**Ryan Duncan is an Editor for