I had a conversation with someone last week and something that was said completely disturbed me.
We were talking about God and suffering and I said that I absolutely do not believe for one minute that God puts suffering/sickness on us to “teach us a lesson” or to discipline us. Aside from the fact that it is unscriptural (please do NOT mention Job’s boils or Paul’s thorn), it is out of God’s character to do such a thing. The person I was talking to disagreed with me wholeheartedly and believed that He does do that. After some back and forth, this person then tells me that they once heard a pastor (well-known) do a sermon on Psalm 23, the shepherd and His sheep. I’ve personally read “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller (highly recommended) and couldn’t imagine where they were going with this.
They said that this pastor said sheep are inherently stupid, that they needed to be disciplined (i.e. the rod, of which this person also mentioned the “spare the rod, spoil the child” verse, etc). This pastor then went on to say that to keep the sheep safe that the shepherd would BREAK THE LEGS of a wayward sheep to keep it from running away from the flock and into danger then he would carry it on his shoulders until it was healed and it would be dependent on the shepherd and never stray again.
I’m sorry…..WHAT? I was so incensed by this statement because it’s so out of God’s character but I mean… is this what His people are really saying and believing about Him? Of course I went and researched this statement to see if any of it was true. Nope. Not true. It’s an anecdote pastor’s use. (To keep this short I’ll paste one of the article links here http://pulpitandpen.org/2014/06/27/the-shepherd-breaking-his-sheeps-legs-myths-thatll-preach/ ).
But let’s say that human shepherds actually DID do that? What does that say about God? Would that in any way reflect how Jesus treats us as His sheep? We have to measure everything against His Word so what does scripture say about the sheep (us) and the shepherds (pastors or God/Jesus Himself)?
First of all, there is a scathing judgment on the “shepherds” of Israel by God Himself in Ezekiel 34. The first four verses read:
“And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.” (Read all of this chapter, very telling)
Sorry, but to me, breaking someone’s bones to “keep them safe” is forceful, cruel and abusive. Causing disease and suffering to “work something out” in people’s lives and character is forceful, cruel and abusive. Let me ask you this: would YOU do that to someone you love to teach them a lesson? When children are harmed or beat in the natural, it’s considered ABUSE right? Well, have you ever thought that maybe their parents are trying to work out some character flaw in them? I mean, isn’t that what we’re saying about God? Imagine this: maybe you see your child is going astray, making poor decisions or acting in ways that are “sinful,” ways that are going to bring more harm to them in some way….so based on this “logic”, maybe you should afflict them physically, inject them with poison or a disease so that you can “keep them safe” or strengthen their character, teach them a valuable lesson. And not only that, but then they will come to depend on you as caretaker and parent and it will draw them closer to you. Then, ultimately you get to decide when they are ready to be healed and restored, if at all.
Ridiculous, isn’t it? Doesn’t that make you mad?
That would be considered a “captive audience” and God is the Liberator, not the Captor. How many times does the Word say He came to set the captives free? “And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity.” (Jeremiah 29:14A) And not only that, but God does not force Himself on anyone, He does not work against someone’s will. We have free will, we make our own decisions and God cannot and will not go against anyone’s will.
Does that above scenario sound loving to you? So how can people say that God is love and in the same breath say that God gave them cancer? Or that He killed someone they love because “He needed them?” They say it because that’s what they are taught.
Back to scripture. What about Jesus? What does HE say about sheep (us) and being the Good Shepherd?
Matthew 12:9-14 – “And when He was departed thence, He went into their synagogue: And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked Him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse Him. And He said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. Then saith He to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And He stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other. Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against Him, how they might destroy Him.” Notice: first, the man in the parable did not break the sheep’s legs to teach it to not stray, nor did he leave it in that condition, he went and SAVED IT. Second, Jesus was talking about HEALING, healing the man, who is better than the sheep!
Luke 15:4-6 – “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.” There is rejoicing over the one found. Not anger or punishment. He left all the rest of his flock to go and rescue the one who was lost. Do we not all get lost at times? Do we not all go astray? Are we always perfect and obedient? No. But God comes through LOVE, His Word, and His Spirit to bring us back to Him. It’s the LOVE of God that brings people to repentance.
In John 10, Jesus talks extensively about the Shepherd and the sheep. He says that He goes before the sheep and the sheep follow because they KNOW HIS VOICE. When He speaks, they hear, they listen. How does He speak to us today? Through His Word and His Spirit. He teaches us to heed His voice only, so that all He has to do is speak and we will listen. He draws us in through love and trust. And if the sheep (us) do not listen, if we do stray, we suffer the consequences of our poor decision to leave the safety of our Shepherd’s watch and care. He doesn’t need to inflict harm on us, we do it to ourselves. And we have an enemy who will take full advantage of our disobedience.
V:10-11 – “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”
He came to GIVE us life, not take it from us. That’s Satan’s job and for people to lay blame on God for OUR sickness and suffering is blasphemy. And if God “uses Satan” to teach us lessons (as some teach), then Satan is not a thief because he’s only doing what he is told and given permission to do. If he has permission, it’s not robbery.
Jesus gave His life. He took our punishment; the price was already paid for our sins! If we need to be continually made to suffer punishment for our wrong doings, then there was no reason at all for what Jesus did. All the scourging and suffering He endured was all for nothing.
God is love. Love does no harm.
He mends, He does not break.