It is strange when a lion becomes a sympathetic picture. The picture of many people of a lion is not far off from what Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Lions are, of course, the supposed kings of the jungle and savannah, with their loud roars, their ferocious attacks, their ability to stalk prey. Most of the time, unless one has been spending too much time watching Disney movies like “The Lion King,” lions are not particularly sympathetic creatures at all. They are predators, and extremely proficient ones, and predatory beings in general do not tend to be viewed sympathetically by those who are potential prey. Yet the past few days have seen a great outpouring of sympathy on one Cecil the lion, whose status as a local celebrity of sorts in Zimbabwe was turned into the status of martyrdom thanks to the hunting prowess of one American dentist named Walter Palmer.
Normally speaking, a dentist would not appear to be a fitting predator of a fearsome African lion in his native territory. At least, a dentist without any kind of technology or resources would not generally be considered a fitting foe for a lion. Yet this was no harmless and unassuming dentist, but rather a dentist with a desire to be like Theodore Roosevelt or Juan Carlos II of Spain , a dentist with the skill and the cash to obtain a native guide skilled in the ways of flushing out lions, as well as the ability to persuade a local landowner to look the other way and allow the hunt to take place on his property outside of a nature reserve where Cecil held sway over his feline kingdom . Better yet, this dentist had a strategy to go along with his skills in logistics and his fearsome hunting technology, and even better yet, he had a total disregard for the laws that governed hunting and fishing. For Walter Palmer was a hunter whose desire to bag a big kill led him to commit felonious acts of hunting outside of his range and lying about where he killed a bear some years before, which could have ended him in prison for five years. He was able to get a plea deal on that, on top of his small fry punishments for fishing without a license and paying to settle a sexual harassment case by a former employee . An uncharitable person like myself might comment that such a dentist seems to have boundary problems and also more than a little bit of misplaced machismo in trying to be a badass dentist.
What was he thinking? Clearly, without putting too bad a spin on it, we may say that Walter Palmer was a predator, who enjoyed hunting and killing dangerous animals as a way of boosting his own belief in his virility or manhood or whatever one wants to call it. Presumably he had done this several times and he expected that killing a lion would neither be too difficult a challenge and also that it would be done in a low-key enough manner to be the subject of bragging on the part of the hunter and his circle of friends and associates, who no doubt would think him a particularly brave hunter for bringing down a famed lion in Africa, but it appears that like many people, his trust in his obscure identity did not hold as soon as his deed became worthy of international outrage, with Zimbabwe and the United States taking dibs on what course of action to take to get rid of this notorious predator. For just as a lion is a fearsome predator in its own domain, but vulnerable once it is on private land, so too Palmer is fearsome when it comes to hunting said lion, but is driven to ground and behaves as prey when it comes to dealing with the far more fearsome predatory power of the contemporary nation-state, even a nation as shambolic as Zimbabwe.
For we must not forget that our governments are themselves fearsome predators, and that if our small time predation or should receive significant attention, then we too will become the prey of such governments. We may be small-town dentists looking for a big hunt only to find our behavior creates an international scandal. We may be bloggers in Thailand making $1 a day, only to become painfully aware that our writings are attracting the scrutiny of royalty and their security apparatus. We may be plain pitchmen for tasty subway sandwiches only to find that an unfortunate predilection for underage young women attracts legal trouble as well as a threat to our economic and personal well-being. We may easily be focused on a small sphere of activities, maybe even only the narrow area around our personal lives, and be unaware that we too must take into account larger realities and the fact that more powerful entities than we ourselves may have an interest in acting against us to appear macho and virile and strong in the eyes of others. We must never be so overly focused on our own games that we forget the larger situation and context of which we are all but a small part.
Yet even here the levels do not end. While on this earth nations are certainly mighty predators, viewing themselves as the kings of the jungle, they too are but dust on the scales in comparison to the power of our Lord and Creator. For in the face of the predation of the wealthy and powerful, the rulers of this present earth, prayers for many millennia have gone up to God seeking justice against the rapacious cruelty of those who rule over our world. As it is written in Psalm 110:1-7: “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies! Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power; in the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth. The Lord has sworn and will not relent, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” The Lord is at Your right hand; He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath. He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill the places with dead bodies, He shall execute the heads of many countries. He shall drink of the brook by the wayside; therefore He shall lift up the head.” At some point God too will go hunting, and the rulers of the nations who resist him will be no more able to withstand him than Walter Palmer is able to withstand the power of the United States government, or that the late Cecil the lion was able to withstand the hunting prowess of Walter Palmer, or that the poor helpless population of Zimbabwean herbivores were able to withstand the hunting prowess of the late Cecil the lion and his pride. Let us live so that no one lifts their hands to heaven and prays for God to put an end to our predation, but rather let us live so that we may be a light to others, and bring joy and encouragement to them.
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