What is the human “animal?” That’s actually how we’re referred to scientifically; we’re categorized as mammals because we give birth to live young who nurse outside the womb. Specifically we are of the kingdom Animalia, phylum Chordata, class Mammalia, order Primates, family Hominidae, genus Homo, and species Homo Sapiens. But who are human beings? What defines us? And how do we differ from the rest of all other living creatures–or, do we?
“God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature, so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human beings; he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”” (Genesis 1:26-28 MSG)
There are places the Bible refers to every living being in the animal kingdom as “all flesh.” That’s an older translation, of course; these days we would simply say “all animals.” Yet it is accurate, because as human beings we are certainly part of what can be described as “all flesh.” Yet even though we share similarities with animals–more so with some than others–we are, nonetheless, different from every other animal, even those we are most genetically related to. But are we really, or is this just our desire to feel superior so we can disregard their needs, or even abuse them? And if we are different, how are we? What is it that specifically distinguishes humans from the rest of the animal kingdom?
It is not arrogance, nor an excuse to disregard their needs, to state that human beings differ categorically from all other animals–it is simply the way it is. God created everything, but to humans He gave specific duties and privileges. Of every animal, only we were created in God’s image, like Him, reflecting His nature. What does that mean?
God is creative; He creates. Animals can and do make their homes and nests, but every species tends to make them the same way. Every robin’s nest will look more or less like every other robin’s nest. Every beaver dam will be a beaver dam. There will be variation, of course, but none of the other animals will exhibit what can genuinely be called creativity or ingenuity or invention–yet to us God has given the unique ability not only to create something genuinely different, but also to learn and comprehend and advance our collective knowledge from generation to generation.
Human beings alone have the gift of written language. Animals communicate, certainly, but they cannot record knowledge acquired by one to share with another, or with future generations. We, on the other hand, learn from and further build upon the discoveries and inventions of those who came before; each generation does not need to figuratively or literally reinvent the wheel. Because of this, humans today are not what humans were two thousand years ago–not in terms of intellect, but in acquired collective knowledge and technology: our world today is different from what it was then as a result, while the animal world remains as it was from the beginning, (except as we have impacted it). It is as God told Daniel, that our, “…knowledge will increase.”” Daniel 12:4 NLT)
God gave us not only creativity, and written language, and the ability to build upon the knowledge of previous generations, but also the capacity for abstract reasoning. We can think and plan and imagine. We can create hypothetical scenarios in our mind; we can conceive “what if?”
We also have self-awareness and can contemplate our own existence. We can comprehend the concept and possibility of that which exists beyond what we physically experience–apart from what we see, hear, taste, smell or feel in the present moment. God gave us this ability so we can know Him, not just be a physical animal existing in the here and now.
Yet while we retain many aspects of how we were originally created, we lost the capacity to be genuinely good because of sin, and not only did it hurt us and our relationship with God, it also tainted how we relate to the rest of the animal and plant kingdom. Now, instead of governing the created world for good as we were intended to, we act harshly, or are greedy for financial profit, or are thoughtless. Instead of rightly governing them; instead of reflecting the character–the goodness and love–of God to those we’ve been created to oversee; instead of acting with gentleness and concern towards them; we cause them to suffer, and it is not good. In fact, we’re told that:
“Everything God made is waiting with excitement for God to show his children’s glory completely. Everything God made was changed to become useless, not by its own wish but because God wanted it and because all along there was this hope: that everything God made would be set free from ruin to have the freedom and glory that belong to God’s children. We know that everything God made has been waiting until now in pain, like a woman ready to give birth.” (Romans 8:19-22 NCV)
Our lack of holiness–our failure to reflect God’s character and goodness to those around us–is what was lost because of sin, and what caused others to suffer. Yet it is also what Jesus Christ gives back to us when we believe in Him; when are born again into God’s family through genuine faith.
Now, we can again see with God’s eyes and reflect His character; we can sense the suffering of others around us and care and adjust our behavior; we can be agents of good and kindness and love, instead of selfishness and self-serving and greed. Most importantly, we can know our Creator Father God and Jesus Christ our Savior, as we were meant to!
Dear Lord God,
Give me faith in You they I may be born again into Your family; so I can see the needs of those around me–people, and even the other living beings You made us to look out for and be good to; so I can reflect Your goodness–who You are–to them. Amen.