Watching Extinction

By Paul Koch

On Tuesday, I read news that the last male northern white rhino had died. Named Sudan, the rhino is survived by two females, and while scientists have hope for in vitro fertilization to save the species, the outlook isn’t very promising. The head of the wildlife conservancy that was caring for Sudan had this to say, “It’s very sad to lose Sudan because it shows clearly the extent of human greed and what sort of impact humans beings can have on nature. If we don’t take care of what we have, we will definitely continue to lose it, particularly lose other species that are currently endangered.”

To be honest, I had never thought much about northern white rhinos, nor did I have any clue that they were about to die out. I suppose I probably just didn’t care that much in the first place, or at least I was happy enough in my ignorance. Sure, I’m no fan of poaching and think the slaughtering of such animals for their horns is despicable. And while I get the value of virtue signaling my outrage to enhance my standing, I don’t think many would buy it.

However, I couldn’t shake the profound sadness that fell upon me when I realized that we were all watching the extinction of a species (a sub species, to be exact). When Sudan died, it brought the inevitable end of the northern white rhino. And while we can certainly blame humanity and their greed as the root problem, this only illuminates the deeper depravity of a world bound in sin. When we watch an extinction, we are watching a world governed by survival of the fittest and narcissistic brutality, not grace and mercy.

It is deeply disturbing to watch an extinction, and rightly so. To think that this creature created by the grand artistry of our God is now fading from our experience of this creation ought to be unsettling. It is another reminder of the brokenness of our world. As St. Paul declared, “

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:19-22).

When we watch an extinction, we watch a model of what we are—an image, if you will, of our own sin and depravity. There is no future for any part of this creation on its current trajectory. We will all go the way of the northern white rhino. The weaker will be destroyed by the stronger. The more resilient will crush the fragile. And greed and selfishness will have the last say as one species after another goes extinct. No amount of self-generated fake outrage will change this.

And yet, we are given something beyond this dying age, a promise of something greater that breathes new hope into our present reality. We are given the words and life of Christ—the promise that his death and resurrection give life, not only for condemned sinners like you and me but also hope and promise for the whole of creation. The grief of watching an extinction can be turned into the faithful longing of a restoration—a turning from despair to patient endurance for the new heavens and new earth.

I’ve always loved a little line found in Mark’s gospel, as he briefly tells of our Lords temptation in the wilderness. Mark simply and eloquently says, “And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angles were ministering to him” (Mark 1:13). He was with the wild animals. It’s like a little reminder as we see another species go extinct that God has not forgotten his creation, that the one who overcomes Satan will make all things new. In the end, God’s creation will not go extinct. Sin, death, and the devil will end, but in Christ you will live on. And you will live with the wild animals—perhaps even northern white rhinos.