Chapter 6: Save the Polar Bear

 

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”
—Robert Swan

When I was a kid, we always brought a bag of marshmallows when we visited Brookfield Zoo just outside Chicago.

Back then, it was common practice—even encouraged by zookeepers—to toss marshmallows through the fence to the eager polar bears who sometimes caught the sweet treats in their mouth. The crowd loved it. The bears loved it. It was all part of the show.

Please don’t judge. It was a different era. As soon as zoo dieticians and veterinarians realized that gelatinous sugary confections were not healthy options for giant carnivorous beasts, the practice was halted. Today, the “Great Bear Wilderness” exhibit at Brookfield Zoo features polar bears whose mostly meat diet is carefully monitored. It’s not as much fun, but keeping the bears healthy is the better choice.

In 2004, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums instituted the “Polar Bear Species Survival Plan” to balance genetic, demographic, and husbandry concerns including maintaining closed populations, which further protects the integrity of polar bears in captivity and in the wild. Plus, zoos like Brookfield lead research efforts, fill in knowledge gaps, cosponsor environmental protection efforts, and serve as ambassadors for vulnerable species like polar bears.

Having seen these animals up close, I can’t imagine a world without polar bears. Efforts to save polar bears and any other endangered species should be applauded. God certainly approves.

After all, the very first chapter of the Bible tells us that humankind was given responsibility to look after all animals, whether in captivity or the wild. “Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground’” (Genesis 1:26).

THE REVELATION OF WILDLIFE

Safeguarding all animals—including polar bears—is a box worth checking for so many reasons.

ANIMALS CAN BE A SOURCE OF KNOWLEDGE

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you” (Job 12:7–8).

THE PRESENCE OF ANIMALS CONFIRMS GOD’S PROVISION

“Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 12:24).

ANIMALS HELP US INTERPRET SCRIPTURE

From ants to donkeys to leviathans, the Bible incorporates animals in scores of memorable lessons. In Mark 10:25, Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for some- one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

ANIMALS POINT TO THE GLORY OF GOD

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord”  (Psalm 150:6).

Theologians frequently point to the majesty of a starry night as proof of a Creator. Psalm 19:1 affirms, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” But an even better case for God’s unpredictable creativity might be the diversity of the animal kingdom: the stripes on a zebra, the structure of a beehive, the slithering of a cobra, the colors of a peacock, and the splash of a humpback whale.

Let’s all agree we need to save the polar bears, black rhinos, monarch butterflies, pygmy three-toed sloth, and every vulnerable or endangered species so that future generations can fully appreciate the glory of our God.

PERFECT DESIGN, PERFECTLY BALANCED

On an even broader scale, making the world a better place requires us to be responsible caretakers of all creation—both of the creatures themselves and of the places they call home. God has intricately designed all parts of His creation to work together in a perfectly balanced ecosystem. Consider how animals and humans take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, for example, while trees and plants do the opposite. Or think about the variety of animals in the food chain that we all learned about back in grade school.

Achieving the Great Commission—making disciples of all nations—presupposes a planet that can first sustain healthy life. Clean water is essential to survival. Advancements in scientific research and medicine are fueled by biodiversity. And a sustainable worldwide economy needs the foundation of a healthy planet.

When Christians demonstrate concern—and even accountability—for the natural world, it opens the door for the gospel to go forth.

CHECKING THE BOX

The idea that Christians and environmentalists would ever disagree about the importance of caring for natural resources and the health of our planet should be preposterous. Agreeing on the worthy goal of protecting wildlife would seem to be an easy conversation starter that could ultimately lead to even more in-depth sharing and collaboration toward making the world a better place.

TO PONDER OR SHARE…

□ 1. How does nature point to God?

□ 2. Do you recall other animals referenced in the Bible? For example, hyrax, locust, grasshopper, behemoth, stork, wolf, lion, a talking donkey, a lost sheep, or the cattle on a thousand hills?

□ 3. Setting politics aside, do you generally agree with those who are aggressively focused on being environmentally responsible?

□ 4. Why are Christians sometimes accused of being envi- ronmentally negligent? How can we reverse that reputation?

□ 5. Next time you take a kid (or a friend) to the zoo, how can you use that time to share the gospel?

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