It has been over a year since an unnamed three-year old fell into the pit of the great apes in Brookfield, Ill. I was so taken by the face of Binti Jua, the gorilla, as she tenderly lifted the little boy and carried him through the dark forms that surrounded her in the pit and laid him at the caretaker's gate. Some attendants sprayed high pressure water on the other gorillas to keep them at bay while Binti Jua (Swahili for Daughter of Sunshine) completed her simian (and I beg to use the word humanitarian) rescue. I didn't see Binti Jua's rescue as proof that we are descended from her ilk. In fact, she seems almost an argument against the descent of humankind. Hath not the monkey's poet written, "Man descended the ornery cuss, but he sure didn't descend from us."
Still, the survival of the fittest sometimes bows its savage form to something beneficent in nature — like Eden, like Balaam's ass, like Shamu, like Lassie. Yes, here and there, nature says of itself, "See, this is how things were when Eden was in flower."
I toured the famous Healsville Wilderness Park in Australia, and the curator was walking a pair of Dingo dogs, those howling jackals of destruction. I stopped in front of the feral beasts and said to the curator, "May I pet these dogs?" (I have the insane notion that anything with fur is to be petted). "Well, mate, help yur'self, but these are wild animals, you know."
I knelt down and began petting the beast and he licked me on the face. At that precise moment my wife took my picture and I treasure it. Eden was born again. Twice, now, I've cuddled Koalas, ever amazed that these tiny marsupials behave as if all their lives they were waiting to hug me. On Rottsnest Island in the Indian Ocean, I have found myself surrounded by a horde of quokkas, begging Fritos. A horse I hardly knew, recently galloped to a fence I had leaped on and it started begging sugar cubes. A giraffe in the Arbuckle Wilderness stuck his four-foot head in my car to get a very old Tootsie Roll.
So I believe in Eden. To be sure, there's Jaws, Kodiaks, and Cobras and Black Mambas (snakes get a lot of attention on my anti-Eden side). Still, there's a gorilla in Brookfield that awakens in me something wonderful. Something pristine. Something gentle, yet aboriginal. And when I looked into the tender eyes of this creature, I didn't see Darwin, I didn't see something making its way up the tooth and claw chain. I saw a mother I might have met at our family reunion (we have a lot of funny people who show up there).
But Binti Jua makes me believe Eden must have been a wonderful place before the Fall. In such a world a lion might lie down with a lamb, a child play over the cockatrice den, or a gorilla be hired for a babysitter. In the meantime, God, in Romans, has given us the assurance that Paradise is on the way back. Isaiah's peaceable kingdom is coming again. Then lions and lambs will lie down together. Till then the whole creation must groan in travail as a woman in childbirth. But no matter. Eden is on the way back.