David Attenborough today named the ten endangered species he would take onto a modern ark. He overlooked the well known endangered animals – tigers, polar bears, gorillas – for lesser known but equally spectacular ones. Two that strike me as quite amazing are the Olm Salamander and the Darwin frog. Like a creature drawn from the annals of science fiction the Olm Salamander lives to a hundred years of age, can go ten years without food and lives in almost complete darkness. Not to be outdone in strangeness, the male Darwin frog is the one who gives birth, receiving the eggs into it’s mouth and nurturing them in its vocal sack before spewing the young frogs out of its mouth!
Scientists estimate we are losing species at 100 to 1,000 times the rate than would otherwise be expected were it not for human intrusion on their habitats. As a Christian this gives me pause for thought. According to Genesis 1, we were created in God’s image and given responsibility to rule over the animals. Old Testament scholars report that the background to this was the habit of ancient Mesopotamian kings to place images of themselves throughout their realm. The images represented the king and all he stood for. In the same way we humans are the representatives of God.
So if God is loving, kind, just and good toward his subjects, so we ought be towards ours. And our ‘subjects’ according to Genesis 1 are the animals. Our responsibility then is surely to seek their welfare and protect their interests, which, as the extinction rate shows, is the exact opposite of what we are doing now.
What’s more, to rule over the animals is one of just two commands given to humankind at the beginning. It is thus established as one of the key components of our calling as human beings. The other command, by the way, is to multiply and fill the earth. So while we have succeeded spectacularly at one, we are failing dismally at the other.
John Stott once wrote that every generation has moral blind spots. Surely this is one of ours. It’s time we heard more about this issue in our churches. Maybe, just maybe, the church can create the tipping point that will see concern for animals become mainstream.