This past weekend a child fell into pit with a gorilla. To protect the child, the animal had to be killed, a tragic but necessary outcome. The reaction to the news, though, has been unbalanced and excessive. While no one (that I’ve seen) thinks it would be better for the child to have died than the ape be killed, hundreds of thousands of people have expressed their outrage on social media.
In many ways, this likely reflects the distorted values of our society. But the grief and anger also reveal a natural, in some cases Biblical, concern for the welfare of animals.
Although Christians are, according to God, more valuable than animals (Matthew 10:31), we do have a responsibility to care other creatures. Philosopher Douglas Groothuis even argues that “ordinary Christians can be pastors to animals.” He offers several “principles for how Christians can show pastoral concern to animals, whether or not they interact with them regularly and directly.”
First, animals deserve prayer. As God’s creatures, we should desire their well-being in relation to our own flourishing. Sometimes animals must be sacrificed for human good. The Creator gave us dominion over them (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8) and they do not have rights equal to our own. Yet the dog, the horse, the pig, the lion, the elephant are part of the company of the living.