Jaws: The Middle-Aged Shark & the Difference Between Man & Beast

Jaws turns forty-two today. I was born a couple years after the debut of the shark epic. I guess we’re both middle-aged. The continued popularity of this film highlights our fascination with the animal world in contrast to the premium value we place on human life.

Current events regularly remind us of this important point like last summer when a boy fell into a gorilla pit or the tragedy of the child taken by an alligator at the Disney Resort. Whether it’s a movie or real-life news, we intuitively recognize the difference in significance between man and beast.

Somebody might be so brash as to cheer for Jaws while they are munching on theater popcorn, but in real life only a sociopath would wish for a shark to overcome a swimmer. Why? Because we instinctively understand humans have a different and greater value humans than animals.

The Christian account of reality demonstrates that man is made higher than the animals and entrusted with a cultural mandate to cultivate creation and exert dominion over it (Genesis 1, Psalm 8). Man is created in the image of God and has intrinsic worth. We are simultaneously the dust of the ground and the breath of God, material and immaterial, body and soul.

This worth seems to even rub off on the animals we love. Drive down the street and see a deer that has been hit and I bet you won’t think twice. But a golden retriever lying on the side of the road will evoke a very different emotional response. The closer animals are to humans the more we esteem them, which I think further illustrates humanity’s importance.

So happy birthday Jaws. Thank you for reminding us that if we have to choose between animal life and human life the decision is easy. This kind of clarity makes perfect sense from a Christian understanding of humanity as God’s image bearer. I’m not sure other worldviews fair nearly as well. In fact, I think they fall dreadfully short.