Does God hurt us to heal us?
The April 22nd lectionary text included John 10:11-18, Jesus the Good Shepherd. In the children’s sermon, which is always a significant motif continued into the sermon, I was speaking on how it could be possible for a shepherd to perform a safekeeping measure to realign a sheep that perpetually wanders.
In my research, I found a long-ago practice. A shepherd might break the leg of a wandering sheep and then carry the healing treasure over his/her shoulders until the sheep learns its master’s voice.
The kids responded calmly. (There was much more reaction from them when I shared earlier that if sheep are kept in the same area over a period of time they’d eat the grass down to dirt, and then they’d eat their own poop. Yes. I said poop. In church.)
But let me get back to the point. This ancient leg-breaking practice is a graphic, painful image, even if you’re NOT an animal activist.
Now Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Out of His love for us, I said to the children that He will do what He can to keep us safe and close so that we learn His voice.
An awesome, academically gifted pastor and friend from seminary was a guest that Sunday. My respect for her is great. After worship, we talked theologically.
“Hey Will,” she said privately, “I’m not sure a children’s sermon is the place to share how the shepherd could break the leg of a sheep.” Going further, she posed, “I’m not sure Jesus would do this violent act.”
That conversation stayed with me all day. What had I done? What terrible images filled the minds of the children that day and perhaps for the rest of their lives?
I did not sleep well Sunday night.
Scripture this past Sunday, April 29th, is also in John. In John 15, Jesus says He is the true grapevine. He continues saying His Father, the gardener, cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit.
Cutting a vine is far different than breaking a leg, but the ideology is significant nevertheless. Does God correct us when we stray, and, if so, what is the measure of the correction? The greater (broader) question is, “Does God hurt us to help us?”
Here is a third question. Is this God’s punishment or our own consequence? John speaks to this again when he says, “God is love (1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16).” God is love. God always loves us. In this love, God will always take actions that enable us to love Him.
What we should consider when our leg (or our heart) is broken is not if God did this; our correct response is where is God in this. When we open ourselves to knowing God’s voice, and trust me, this is a lifelong process, we learn and learn again that God is always with us, never against us.
Let me say this differently. God does not intentionally send harm to us. This is not God’s nature. Our hurts are brought on by our freewill, or they are brought on by the freewill or choices of others. Rather than find fault, engage faith. How? Understand each day that we have a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son, our Savior, who paid in full the price of our sin and wrongdoing.
Sleep tight tonight. Know the Good Shepherd will continually send ways for us to know Him personally, even if He needs to carry us over His shoulders as this happens.
The blog first appeared as a column in The Independent on May 5, 2018.