I’ve recently been intrigued by the intellectual capacities of humans and animals. In my brief research, I stumbled on excerpts from an academic paper last week, and the author pointed out that humans can think about various things and are motivated by instinct, intellect and logic. On the other hand, animals are motivated by instincts alone. Instincts are innate responses or behaviour patterns to stimuli usually associated with our primary needs like food, water and security. We share these with animals. For instance, when we’re frightened, we fight or flee. However, while scientists continue to research and debate the cognitive potential of animals, it’s clear that the ability of human beings to reason is far superior to other living creatures. Why is this the case?
As a Christian, I believe that our world and the universe were created by God [Genesis 1], and He intentionally gave humans a superior intellect to animals and the ability to reason. So, Adam in Genesis 2 could cultivate and maintain the Garden of Eden [v15], receive a prohibition [v16-17], name the animals [v19-20] and demonstrate discernment [v21-23]. Later, we read of Adam’s descendants building tents and keeping livestock, inventing musical instruments and forging bronze and iron tools [Genesis 5:20-22]. Those same cognitive abilities have driven advances in civilisation and innovation which have evolved medicine, technology, and education since the dawn of humankind. It’s why I can write this blog, and you can read and understand my words and then decide if they make sense – something no other creature on Earth can do. But is that the primary reason God gave us the ability to think and learn?
In the creation account, Scripture says God created humankind in His image and likeness [Genesis 1:26]. No living thing, not even angels, is given this privilege. That fact also implies an insurmountable gap between humans and other living things on Earth. We find one of the reasons God made us in His image and likeness two verses later: to have dominion over fish, birds and every living creature on Earth [Genesis 1:28]. Elsewhere, we read that God is sovereign over the universe, but He has given the Earth to humankind. In other words, we’re God’s regents responsible for the planet [Psalm 115:16]. Those two verses imply that we are to govern the Earth as God governs, that is, do things His way on Earth [Psalm 89:14]. But that said, our ability to act like God depends on how well we know Him – something God takes seriously [Jeremiah 4:22, 1 Peter 1:16]. However, we cannot know God without our intellect.
I assert that the fundamental purpose for our superior cognitive abilities is to know God and understand His ways so that we can fulfil the purpose for which He created us and bring Him glory [Isaiah 43:7]. Of course, our intellect enables us to do more. Yet, we’ll go astray if our thoughts, words and actions aren’t grounded in our knowledge of God and our desire to do His will. As someone once said: “What we think of God is the most important thing about us” because it dictates our choices and the eventual outcomes of our lives. One of the greatest blessings of our intellect is realising just how much God loves us and the unimaginable price He paid to redeem us from death. Animals don’t have that privilege. As such, they can’t have fellowship with God like us. That relationship is God’s ultimate desire. He wants to share His kingdom with us. One of the most beautiful scenes in Scripture awaits us at the end of history when God will come down to dwell with humankind on the new Earth [Revelation 21-22]. What love! The Creator of the universe is looking forward to spending eternity with us.
How much do you desire intimacy with God [Psalm 42:1-2]? What lengths are you willing to go to know Him? Generally, when we’re interested in a subject, we go to significant lengths to learn and master it. Often, we’re motivated by the potential rewards or our innate thirst for knowledge, but sometimes, we do so because of our disdain for ignorance. While we could never exhaust all there is to know about God, are we zealous enough to explore the knowledge available? Sadly, even devout Christians can be content with the little they know because we often fail to appreciate the value of pressing for more. Contrast that disposition with Paul’s, who, approximately 30 years after his dramatic encounter with Jesus, said: ”I want to know Christ…” [Philippians 3:10-13]. If we’ve tasted and seen that God is good indeed [Psalm 34:8], why would we stop pressing for more?
Other creatures on Earth can’t explore the delights of knowing their Creator, but humans can. We have His word, the ultimate source of knowledge, and access to the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, our Helper who leads us into all truth [Ephesians 1:17, John 16:13]. Furthermore, despite many false teachers amongst us, there are still genuine ministers of God’s word graced to equip and build us up into the likeness of Jesus [Ephesians 4:11-13] if we submit ourselves to learn. Their writings and teachings are easily accessible, often free of charge. So, there’s no excuse for ignorance [Romans 1:20], which is very costly [Psalm 82:5-7, Ephesians 4:18].
Lastly, I must stress that getting to know God is only profitable if we do what He says [Matthew 7:24-27]. If the primary purpose for our cognitive abilities is to know God and be in a relationship with Him, then obeying Him is a non-negotiable, irrespective of how intelligent we consider ourselves [Jeremiah 9:23-24, John 14:15]. Our obedience with understanding is the path to the peace, success, contentment and prosperity in body and soul God has promised us [3 John 1:2].