A Man is Not a Dog

by Brandon Sutton

Recently, my family and I took home a six-year-old pug named Barney. Of course, my daughter and I were thrilled. We had been talking about getting a dog, and growing up, I had a pug that looked just like Barney. So, it was an exciting day. 


Unfortunately, things didn’t work out so well. Before living with us, Barney was used as a breeding dog, kept penned up, and received no attention from people. So, when we had to put him in his pen before going to work, he couldn’t take it. Thankfully, his previous owner, who showed him a lot of care, was happy to take him back. 


Barney is not the first creature my wife and I have taken into our home. Almost seven years ago, we brought home a different kind of creature that was about half the size of Barney. This creature made worse messes, cost more money, cried about its condition, has since taken absolute dominion over our house, and cost my wife and me countless hours of sleep. If you didn’t guess by now, this creature is my daughter, and she still lives with us. We didn’t give her back. We never even considered it. 


Why would we be so quick to give back a dog but not even consider giving back our daughter? The answer is simple; my daughter is not a dog. The dog is not a child. That might sound obvious, but sadly, it isn’t so evident to many in our world. 


In an interview, Harvard professor Christine Korsgaard said, “Some people think that humans are just plain more important than other animals. I ask: More important to whom?” Korsgaard, and many like her, see no reason to assign more value to a human being over animals. It’s this kind of thinking that led the founder of PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, to remark, “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.” 


Everyone has a worldview, and worldviews matter. At the heart of every worldview is how we answer the question: What is a human being? How you answer that question will shape everything you believe and do in this life.


God’s Perspective (Genesis 1-2)


After the Lord made the heavens and earth, he declared His creation good, and man, created in God’s image, was very good. We only see God say something isn’t good when the man is alone (2:18). That is not good, and the Lord wants Adam to see that. 


God, in his wisdom, creates for Adam a helper fit for him - a woman.  The Lord simply could have made the woman and brought her to the man. Instead, God brings the animals to the man to name (2:19). As Adam does this, he notices that none of these animals are like him. Man is unique. 


How exactly is man different? Here are five ways. (Note: I owe these thoughts to Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Ch.32. Second Edition.)


  1. Human beings are created in God’s image. No other creature in the entire world has been made in the image of God. Therefore, man has unique value, dignity, and worth. 
  2. Human beings are moral creatures. Men are morally accountable to God. When a human being kills another human being, that’s called murder.  However, we don’t call it murder when a lion kills and eats a gazelle. Rather, it’s called lunch. God won’t judge a lion, but he will judge humans for their sin. Human beings also have a sense of right and wrong. You say, “so does my dog. He knows it’s wrong to pee on the floor.” No, he knows you don’t like it, and he feels ashamed when he gets caught. But he has no concept of what’s morally right and morally wrong. He’s not a moral creature. 
  3. Human beings are spiritual creatures. Human beings have been created with a body and a soul. Animals have not. God made animals with the breath of life, yet nothing in Scripture explicitly teaches us that animals have souls or that each animal will live eternally (although there will be animals in the New Heavens and New Earth). Consider the idea that what man does with his physical body also affects his soul. For example, when humans are sexually promiscuous, it damages the soul. Conversely, animals aren’t harmed when they have multiple sexual partners. 
  4. Human beings have superior mental faculties. Human beings can reason, think logically and learn. This is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. There are, of course, some very intelligent animals. Chimpanzees solve puzzles. Parrots understand cause and effect. Rodents colonize. But they can’t work through abstract ideas or engage in reasoning. You will never see a group of raccoons sitting around discussing whether it’s moral or not to steal human food or eat worms. 
  5. Human beings are relational creatures. Animals show incredible community involvement and even relational characteristics, but it is nothing compared to people. Men and women marry, have children, attend church and build friendships. These attributes are not only what make us distinct from animals. but also the angels, who do not marry or have families. Most importantly, human beings can have a relationship with God. We can know God personally and have intimate fellowship with him. Animals cannot. 


A few years ago, a three-year-old boy fell into the gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. The child was immediately seized by a 500-pound gorilla named Harambe. Harambe played with the boy and held him close. He didn’t harm the boy, nor did he appear to desire to do so. But authorities couldn’t take any chances. They knew tranquilizers wouldn’t work fast enough, and any rescue opportunity might jeopardize the boy’s life. So, the only option was to kill Harambe to save the boy. 


Many people were outraged and couldn’t understand why Harambe’s life wasn’t considered as important as the boy’s. But for those of us who understand and believe what scripture says about God’s special creation, humans, we know that the boy has been made in the image of the Creator. Therefore, his life has intrinsically more value than that of the animal. 


Your life has value too. No matter what your life looks like now, and no matter who you used to be, you matter to God. More so than even all the other living beings in His creation. Your life has meaning and value because you were made in the image of your Heavenly Father. God desires for you to be with Him eternally. “God so loved the (human beings of) the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). 


Brandon is the Associate Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN and leads the Recovery & Redemption ministry for the church. Brandon is married to Sherrie and has a daugher, Emma.


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