Lions, Babies and the Imago Dei

This past week, like many of you, I witnessed a lot of outrage over the death of a lion named Cecil. Granted, he wasn’t just any lion. He had a name and a lot of fans. I have to admit I was disgusted by the photographs and by the story of how Cecil had been lured, shot, and tracked. I’m no hunter, and I’m not particularly inclined to kill animals (if we don’t count bugs!), so the indignation struck me as understandable, albeit excessive. What struck me as really interesting, though, was not so much the indignation over Cecil, but what seems to me like a relative lack of indignation over other ongoing injustices that are far more deserving of our attention and concern.

For example, Brian Pellot wrote a recent opinion piece on some of the atrocities that continue to be experienced by people in Zimbabwe, Cecil’s home nation. His commentary might make you wonder how Zimbabweans feel about the international attention afforded a dead lion!

What Outrages Us?

Reports of Cecil’s death came during a pretty eventful news week. Footage of the death of Samuel Dubose—an unarmed man killed by a University of Cincinnati Police Officer—was also making the rounds at the same time that video exposés about aborted children and the apparent selling of their body parts were streaming online.

It’s those undercover interviews with Planned Parenthood staff that particularly captured my attention. They left me sickened, troubled, and confused about how to respond. And I was further troubled by the fact that they didn’t seem to garner nearly the same amount of coverage or attention as Cecil.

This got me asking an obvious question. Maybe you’ve asked the same question:

Why are we, as a society, more indignant about a slain lion than about the death of millions of nameless discarded children?

I don’t have any certain answers, but I have some ideas. Is it just easier to grieve over a dead animal, especially when we don’t feel complicit in its death? Is it because Cecil had a name, and aborted babies don’t? Is it a lack of understanding or regard for what personhood means? Is it because we all watched "The Lion King?" Do you have answers? Help me out, please.

What I do know for sure is that, whatever the reasons, the unbalance in outrage is telling.  It’s a sign of confusion and lost-ness. It’s sadly and inexcusably grievous. And here’s why: the imago Dei.

Status and the IMAGO DEI

Imago Dei is an old Latin term that means, simply, the image of God, and it’s what makes the lives of nameless children infinitely more valuable than that of any beast.

This past Sunday we learned that in the community of Christ’s people, we are called to esteem one another as co-heirs (Galatians 3:27-29). Regardless of social status, we are brothers and sisters of equal worth before God. So to show partiality based on class, or any other distinction, is to act in opposition to the gospel (James 2:1).

What we didn’t talk much about on Sunday is how this principle extends beyond the borders of the church. Because we have been saved by grace by a God who does not view us in terms of social class or relative importance, we must not show partiality to anyone anywhere.

Without exception, people—unlike lions, dogs, or even red pandas (my daughter’s number one favorite animal in the whole wide world!)—reflect their Creator’s glory in a way that no other creature can and are endowed with inestimable worth and beauty by God.

This not only applies to all people inside and outside the church; it applies to all people inside or outside the womb.

Nameless Children and the Esteem of the Creator

The children described in the recent Planned Parenthood videos in terms of the tissue they have to offer for research—the children whose body parts are spoken of in terms of dollars and demand—are unknown to us, but they are intimately known by the God who carefully and lovingly made them.

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. 
Psalm 139:13-16

The call to affirm the worth of all people extends to those of lowest rank, those with the least influence, those with the least power. It extends to the nameless and the unborn. Their beauty may not be perceived by some; the intricacy of their frames may not be appreciated; their partially formed substance may be viewed only in terms of monetary or scientific value. But the one who formed them knows they are fearfully and wonderfully made. He loves them, and so must we.

Loving the Nameless and Unborn

But how can we love them? It’s another question I’ve been wrestling with. Outrage isn’t enough, is it? Certainly we must cherish the unborn children we have in our community. Certainly we need to pray for the safety and rescue of all unborn kids. As a church we need to find ways to welcome and serve single and at-risk mothers. We need to educate future moms and dads in our community about the value of human life. We can lobby our representatives in an effort to effect legislative changes. We can adopt and love unwanted children.

This is already a lot. But is there more we can do to care for and advocate for the lowliest? What else can we do? What else must we do?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

— Pastor Rob