More Than Animals?

March 15, 2013

The Copenhagen Zoo’s exhibit of homo sapiens lasted only a few weeks in 1996. In a glass-walled cage located in the primate house, a pair of homo sapiens were on display. The zookeeper touted the exhibit as a way of forcing people to “confront their origins” and accept that “we are all primates.”

Humans and apes share 98.5 percent of the same chromosomes. Are we merely animals—the end of an evolutionary chain that began in the primordial soup and is merely the product of chance? Or are humans created in the image of God—are we more than animals?

The test of any worldview is how does it work in the real world, which brings us back to the homo sapien exhibit. The other inhabitants of the primate house, swung from bars, eliminated waste, and mated in full view of visitors. The homo sapiens needed privacy, and when asked if they would engage in intimate behavior in public, protested “That’s not interesting.” As the monkeys picked lice off each other’s pelts, the homo sapiens read books, checked their email, and worked on a motorcycle. They could adjust the air conditioning in their quarters or go out for a movie and dinner.1

Did the exhibit prove the zookeepers contention that we should just accept that we are merely primates, or did the exhibit’s failure suggest that homo sapiens are more than animals?

Genesis chapter one gives an explanation of why we are like the animals yet different. We are like the animals because we have the same Designer and are made from the same kind of material. We are different because “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27, NASB). Millard Erickson observes, “The image is the powers of personality which make man, like God, a being capable of interacting with other persons, of thinking and reflecting, and of willing freely.”2

This view sanctifies human life. It rules as out of bounds abortion and euthanasia. It also teaches that all people should be treated with dignity. Properly understood, it eliminates all forms of elitism because we are all subject to the same Lord. It also suggests that there is meaning beyond the material world. Our greatest purpose is to be in a relationship with our Creator. As Augustine observed centuries ago, “You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.” Humanity’s freedom of will grants the capacity for great nobility and extreme cruelty. The result often depends on whether we think we are “merely animals” or “created in the image of God.”


1Steve Weizman, “Copenhagen Zoo Displays the Most Dangerous Animals,” 12 September 1996, on-line Reuters North American Wire as cited in Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live?, pp. 129-130.

2Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 513.

The Upward Call

November 24, 2012

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12–14, ESV).

I find Paul’s statement encouraging. I’m glad that Paul admits to not being perfect. He is on a journey and has yet to arrive (at the time he writes this). By the way, we do not pull ourselves up by pulling Paul (or anyone else) down. Paul would want our comparisons made with Christ, which is where we recognize our lack as well as find our help.

Paul’s admission, however, reminds us that everyone needs grace. Everyone needs to grow and mature in Christ. Everyone needs sanctification — the process of becoming more holy and Christlike. It is easy to have a Sunday morning facade if we are not careful. Paul’s honesty encourages our own.

I find Paul’s statement challenging. I want you to notice the phrases that communicate effort and purpose: “I press on,” “But one thing I do,” “straining forward,” and “I press on.” Paul does not approach the Christian faith in a lackadaisical manner. By Paul’s own admission “Christ had made me his own.” The person who belongs to Christ has no higher commitment. God and Christ come first.

I can’t earn or merit my salvation, but we can’t read Paul and say that eliminates any effort in Christian living. Paul will admit that he’s not relying on just his own strength later in the letter: “For all things I have strength, in Christ’s strengthening me” (Philippians 4:13, Young’s Literal). But the need for strength means there are things that challenge and tax our strength. Paul was a tireless worker for Christ who challenges me to be about the Lord’s business.

I find Paul’s statement inviting. Paul has a destination to his life. The perfect that he has not yet attained lies ahead. I’m reminded of Paul’s own blessing, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely” (1 Thessalonians 5:23a, ESV). I long for that.

Look again at Paul’s terms: “what lies ahead,” goal, prize, and the upward call. God’s upward call is to be in his presence for eternity, and the only way we can have a hope of such a thing is in Christ. He has paid the price. Paul is inviting us to live a Christian life of purpose, because life in Christ has a goal, a wondrous destination — the upward call.

The Goal of Life

November 28, 2011

On July 4, 1952, Florence Chadwick attempted to swim the channel from Catalina Island to California. She was no new comer to long distance swimming. She was the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. The conditions that day were challenging. The water was numbing cold. Sharks were driven away by rifle fire. But the greatest challenge was the fog. The fog was so thick that you could barely see the boats that accompanied her. For 15 hours, she swam before asking to be taken out of the water. Her trainer attempted to urge her on, but to no avail. She quit only to find herself one mile from land. In an interview she said, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land I might have made it.” The fog obscuring her view of the goal had defeated her.

Do we see our goal or does the “fog” of busyness and daily living obscure our sight and discourage us? One thing is certain—Christian living is goal oriented. Listen to the Apostle Paul.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:7-14, ESV

Paul clearly sees his goal. He realizes that he has not yet attained it. He is willing to sacrifice everything to attain “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Such goal oriented language is not unusual in scripture (see also 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Matthew 6:33, Matthew 22:37, and Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Two months after Florence Chadwick’s failed attempt, she again stepped into the waters off Catalina. She swam the distance setting a new speed record for the swim. The difference—this time she could see her goal. The fog had lifted.

Is there a fog obscuring your sight of the goal of life? May we with Paul say, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14, ESV).