The famed Amos Alonzo Stagg coached at the University of Chicago until he was seventy years of age. In fact, in some form or another he coached football teams until finally retiring at the age of ninety-one. Although he sensed a call to the ministry early in life, he soon came to the conviction that he was not suited to the pulpit, and that God had called him to impact the young men of America through sports.
As a good Presbyterian, Coach Stagg never used profanity. The worst word he ever used was “jackass”. If a player dropped the ball, he got called a “jackass.” If he really messed up, he would be called a “double jackass.” If he really, really messed up the player was called a “triple jackass.” In extreme cases some players got labeled, “the king of jackasses.” His players humorously stated, “He never left the practice field with humans on it. He always left the entire squad grazing.”
On a more serious note, each of us has the capacity to act beastly, to descend to behavior that is beneath that of someone created in the image of God. Sin unimpeded can have a dehumanizing effect on man whereby he acts more like an animal than like a human being. A classic example of this is the story of King Nebuchadnezzar, whose gross pride ran headlong into the judgment of God (Dan. 4:28-33). His failure to acknowledge God’s goodness and greatness, and his failure to recognize that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, caused this supposed “superman” to become sub-human. Under a strange delusion, Nebuchadnezzar began to act like an animal, he ate grass like an ox, his hair grew like an eagle’s feathers, and his nails like a bird’s claws. Here is a Babylonian royal reduced to the likeness of the animal world. This horrible condition lasted for seven years until the king came to his senses and bowed before the sovereign God of heaven and earth. Sin promises to make gods of us when in reality it makes beasts of us.
Developing this thought, I am struck by how many times the Bible likens people to certain animals. All mankind in their lostness are likened to sheep in Isaiah 53:6; Asaph, in questioning God’s righteous rule in a wicked world, compares himself to a hippopotamus in Psalm 73:22; the young man seduced by an immoral woman is described as an ox going to the slaughter in Proverbs 7:22; conniving King Herod is likened to a fox in Luke 13:32; stubborn and unteachable believers are described as horses and mules in Psalm 32:9; false Judaizing teachers are called dogs in Philippians 3:2; and religious and theological apostates are likened to pigs in 2 Peter 2:22.
You and I, and people like us, are the only creatures in all of God’s creation who can choose what kind of creature we want to be. Animals cannot ascend to the behavior of human beings, but human beings can descend to the level of animals. Let us fight the dehumanizing power of sin within life (Titus 1:12; 2:11-14). Let us remind ourselves that God made us in His likeness, for fellowship with Him. Therefore let us wait on Him, that we might soar like eagles to new heights of conformity to and intimacy with Him (Isa. 4:31)