A Eulogy for Harambe

Jun 02, 2016


On Saturday, May 28th, a three-year-old child slipped into Harambe’s gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo and fell 15 feet into the moat that separated the humans outside from the animals inside.

As panicked onlookers watched, Harambe (the dominant male gorilla) caught the boy and held on to him - perhaps to keep him safe, but what does “safe” mean to a gorilla? The frightened crowd agitated Harambe, who began dragging the boy through the water in the moat at high speeds - perfectly harmless for a gorilla, surely, but terrifyingly dangerous for a fragile human child.

The zookeepers tried to call the gorillas back; most obeyed, but Harambe did not. A child’s life was in danger, and there was only one thing they could do.

In what was surely a heartbreaking moment for the zoo staff who had cared for and come to love the gorillas, Harambe was shot.

And the Internet exploded.

Justice for Harambe

The universal opinion was that someone, somewhere, had done wrong. Many, at first, blamed the zookeepers: There was no need to shoot the poor gorilla, they cried! He was a gentle animal! He wouldn’t have hurt the boy!

(To which the experts on the subject replied “Here, O font of wisdom, take my degree, for thou surely knowest more about it than I.”)

They then turned their rage towards the mother, because (never having been mothers themselves) they could not conceive of how a mother could ever lose sight of her child for a moment unless she were grossly negligent.

(To which all mothers and babysitters replied “Ha!” while trying to avoid the gaze of the self-proclaimed experts.)

Finally they turned their blame towards the zoo itself, for having inadequate protection. Zoos ought to be child-proof, they said, based on no experience with actually child proofing anything. Clearly this one wasn’t. Therefore the zoo must be at fault!

(Zoo officials pointed out, to no avail, that this exhibit had been open for 38 years with no child-safety incidents and had passed its safety inspections.)

But no one could accept that it might just have been a tragic misfortune. They just knew that someone must be to blame.

Tragedy in a Fallen World

We all want justice. We want to hold someone accountable for tragedy. Where there are humans nearby, we hold them responsible; where there aren’t, we blame God. But this demand is, itself, unjust.

Often, when tragedy strikes, no one is culpable. This is the nature of our fallen world. Bad things don’t just happen to bad people, and they don’t just happen because of bad people either.

This is not what a secular world wants to hear. They want to believe that the world is inherently a good place, and bad things only happen because a bad person does something wrong. This is easy to believe when you live in a civilized first-world nation, but much harder to believe when you’re living in the African wilds with little separating you from the wild lions that roam the area. Sometimes bad things are no one’s fault.

Nature is, as Tennyson puts it, “red in tooth and claw,” and, we might add, in thorn and stone. We build our layers of civilization over it to protect ourselves from this reality, but it reasserts itself time and again to prove that we have not conquered it.

A Creation Set Free

But we are not left without hope:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
(Romans 8:19-23 ESV)

Christ has come to save sinners, and to do what civilization has failed to accomplish: to set free the whole scope of Creation from the Curse which has bound it.

For, ultimately, the world was not created to be “red in tooth and claw.” Man was created to tend the garden and all the animals in peaceful cohabitation. His sin destroyed that primal Utopia, but it will be remade by Christ. We will, one day, enjoy that created harmony again.

In the mean time, we maintain a fragile truce, fulfilling - to the best of our ability - our responsibility as stewards of a dangerous and broken world.