Harambe: how Jesus helps us sort through mixed motives

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Last week my Facebook feed was full of debate about the horrible circumstance of a child falling into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. Since everything is documented these days, we got to watch the frightening scene last week. The zoo’s response team killed Harambe, a lowland silverback gorilla. Jack Hanna defended their decision. Jane Goodall thought that gorilla was protecting the child, but offered sympathy to the zookeeper who has to make a nearly impossible decision. It’s so easy to dichotomize the issue and pick sides.

My friend Dylan reminded me of Mr. Burns’ song when this was all going on and it reminded me that we do kind of think of things as simply “bad” or “good.” And when we approach something as complicated as this, it can be easier to simplify the issue, but the issue at hand is not simplistic. As a parent of a three-year-old, watching the video was terrifying for me, and I think I know what I would’ve have wanted done. But that’s just my perspective from my vantage point. There are people who think that the gorilla shouldn’t have been killed. There are others who think the parents themselves should be prosecuted. And others that still think that the zoo should be held responsible. (And there are others that might want to have a larger discussion about the ethics of zoos, here too.) I think we are all glad that the child is OK.

Nothing is simple. Blame isn’t easy to distribute and motives are complex, but we love to try to figure it all out. Life is more than policy and our thoughts more than sides of a debate, and our feelings, maybe above all, are much more than just one thing or another.

Oftentimes our own mixed motives keep us from acting and doing. We are waiting for the moment to become pure and blameless before we actually make a plunge. We want to be perfectly authentic so as to protect ourselves from a world that so freely, usually via Twitter, dissects our very motives and circumstances. Wouldn’t it be great to be above reproach in everything we do? Perfectly blameless and without fault? Then we could really follow Jesus. (Rest assured, you probably have motives you don’t even know about.)

We probably won’t achieve that kind of perfection following Jesus. We can strive for it, but we might not get there. I think that’s where Jesus comes in. He doesn’t simplify matters and give us dictums to live by (although some seem to want to make him into a bunch of slogans), but he redeems us and uses us even when our motives are less-than-pure and we can potentially be blamed for something. We can act and follow Jesus without hesitation because, despite our complexity, Jesus can still use us.

In a world that wants to take sides and assign blame, I cling to Jesus and his love. And I turn to prayer. And I pray for the zookeepers, the parents, the child, and even for the gorillas, that they may feel the love of their creator too. I pray for all of the people raging on social media: blaming the zoo, the parents, and maybe even the concept of captivity. I hope we find some unity in our love for this child, and let Jesus keep us together working toward something commonly good. I think our community actually offers us a place to work out that common good and to experience the redemption of Jesus regardless of how we blame ourselves or what motives we may exercise.

Comments(2)

  1. Art says

    This is really good advice to let our mixed motives be ok, so long as we’re still encouraging getting God and what God wants into the mix, too (and of course I know you do). Otherwise our own sense of idealism, or our own needs and wants are left to drive us around. I’m not presuming that what God wants is always at odds with what we want for ourselves, but we can at least pray and ask, right? Will God let me do or have what I want to do or have for myself? I don’t know, maybe, if it’s important enough than ask God about it and try to pay attention to what God might want. Christians do that sort of thing and expect God to lead them. If we talk about our motives for doing something without referencing God at all than maybe God really wasn’t involved in the decision. But it’s never to late to let God take the lead.

  2. Jonathan Ziegler says

    I can’t help but think of this book for a little comic relief on the topic!

    https://www.amazon.com/GOOD-NIGHT-GORILLA-Picture-Puffins/dp/0698116496

    One of my daughter’s favorites when she was 1yr old. If you really think about it, the book could speak into some of the deeper questions on this issue too (zoo captivity, mixed motives…).

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