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Penguins visit an art museum: Caring for creation and honoring the Creator

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Penguins visit an art museum: Caring for creation and honoring the Creator
Marie and Pino look at a penguin wearing glasses in the all-weather zoo on May 5, 2020. The all-weather zoo has opened its doors to visitors for the first time since the spread of the coronavirus.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, has been closed to visitors because of the pandemic. Human visitors, that is.

A group of penguins living in the Kansas City Zoo has been missing “visitors coming up to see them” during the shutdown, according to the zoo’s executive director. “We’re always looking for ways to enrich their lives and stimulate their days,” he added.

So several of the penguins took a field trip to the art museum.

In a video capturing their visit, the Humboldt penguins are seen tottering up and down the halls of the museum. At times they pause to gaze up at the art around them. According to the museum’s director, the penguins appeared to “appreciate art history.”

However, he added that the birds “seemed definitely to react much better to Caravaggio than to Monet.”

Caring for creation and honoring the Creator

When I taught philosophy of religion, my seminary students and I explored art history and aesthetic theory. We did not discuss penguins as interpreters of artistic meaning.

However, the connections between humans and animals go far beyond the HuffPost story.

When the Creator “formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens,” he then “brought them to the man to see what he would call them” (Genesis 2:19). As a result, “the man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field” (v. 20).

The English Standard Version Study Bible notes: “By naming the animals, the man demonstrates his authority over all the other creatures.” However, this authority was to be exercised with care and compassion: Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (v. 15).

Work” translates the Hebrew “abad,” meaning to “cultivate” or “improve.” “Keep” translates “shamar,” meaning to “guard” or “preserve.” Taken together, these mandates call us to develop God’s creation while we protect it as his possession.

One positive amidst the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic is the way it demonstrates our global connectiveness. Natural diseases and disasters threaten humans and animals daily. The more we develop and protect God’s creation, the more we honor him and serve each other as well.

This mandate extends to personal development. Clint Hurdle, a successful Major League Baseball manager and motivator, writes: “Live your life by design. While we live in a culture of instant gratification, there is no overnight success formula for sustainable personal growth.

“Cultivating excellence is not a quick process. It is a daily grind of meticulous preparation and repetition. Comparing yourself and where you are to anyone else’s journey robs you of your inner peace. We must define our own standards of greatness while discovering and re-discovering what in life makes us feel authentically human.”

What “standards of greatness” will you define for yourself and God’s world today?