What I learned about God at the zoo…

I went to the zoo with family yesterday. The day was crisp, sunny, and pleasant and our troop of excited kids rushed around exploring and making discoveries. Watching them was by far my favorite part.

I liked seeing the animals too, of course. I’m fascinated by how much the physical characteristics and manners of certain animals seem to mimic or even mock human personalities and behaviors. Some animals look lazy or unintelligent. Some seem to be pretentious or snobby. Others appear bright, clever, or mischievous. Human/animal parallels are not surprising since we all have the same maker, but I do wonder if some of the similarities weren’t meant to help us take ourselves a little less seriously.

Of course, there is great diversity in the animal world as well. I feel like I get to know God a little better—and at the same time, find him a greater mystery—when I take the time to really consider his creation. What sort of a mind makes the mandrill monkey, the giraffe, the elephant, the anteater, the bower bird, and the polar bear? What does he enjoy or appreciate about each one? Upon what sorts of criteria did he base his creative decisions? What was the experience of creation like for him?

When I look at a great work of art, I know that there is much more to the masterpiece than skill or technique. The artist had a purpose, a message to communicate, and a whole host of experiences, ideals, thoughts, and emotions informing his or her project from start to finish. And the artist experiences the completed work in a different and more intimate way than any other observer.

I have to think that God’s creative process includes these elements—with an intricacy and complexity beyond my imagination. But I can imagine. And I can ask. And sometimes he tells me a bit about himself through a bat or a lion.

However, there are some things about the zoo that I don’t enjoy at all. One of the polar bears we saw had responded to captivity by performing a mindless, repetitive dance daily for years. It looked so strange—funny at first, but then sort of disturbing. Similarly, an elephant paced his inadequate space in a predictable pattern, making eye contact with onlookers each time he passed the viewing area. Have you ever looked into an elephant’s eyes? I don’t know what the pachyderm was thinking about, but those giant, soulful eyes sure looked sad to me.

Isn’t that the way it is in this world—under the current order of things? We are surrounded by the glory of God, by innumerable reflections of his goodness, beauty, and power. And, at the same time, we experience the consequences of thousands of years of accumulated sin. There’s a question…what is it like for God to see his creation in this state? Everywhere remnants of the original perfection, and everywhere marred by the effects of sin.

I know one thing. He looks forward to making everything right and new. I look forward to that too.

And all that from one trip to the zoo.

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6 thoughts on “What I learned about God at the zoo…”

  1. Crystal your description of the polar bear and elephant got my eyes all glassed over. You have missed your calling – you make a great advocate for freeing all the animals as I think God intended them to be.

  2. Over the last 3 years or so, God has been letting me see Him more and more through nature. I love to see God’s expression of Himself in that way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Crystal. It was a great zoo day!

  3. We always enjoy our trips to the zoo. The confinement is (more than) a bit sad but I try not to think about it too much… I can also relate to Cara’s comment, as it is one of my primary reasons for acceptance of the Christian faith.

    1. I can appreciate that. Before I understood anything about the Christian faith, what I observed in nature was enough to convince me that there was at least a Creator. It’s part of what kept me looking till I found Christ.

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