Yesterday, continuing his theme of addressing the sort of evil that believers have to deal with, our pastor talked about predators. My own thoughts about such things are immensely complicated, as they usually are, by my own personal experience. Nevertheless, the sermon was powerful and thought-provoking and clearly designed to warn members to equip them to be watchful and wary about such matters, and I thought it would be worthwhile to frame the discussion of predators within a parable that was once used by the late Harry Jaffa to discuss the political philosophy of Abraham Lincoln which divided humanity into sheep, wolves, and shepherds. Intriguingly enough, this mirrored the discussion that our pastor gave yesterday, which looked at most people as shepherd, predators as obvious wolves, and the pastor himself (and those who write about such matters with authority) as shepherds seeking to protect the vulnerable from predation.
It is easy to see why most people are sheep. To be sure, people do not like to be considered as sheep. Sheep are not very bright animals, after all, and are somewhat dependent and need to be taken care of. As the pastor was keen on telling us, people are not well equipped to recognize liars, and the awkwardness that people rely on to judge the character of others is not generally present in those who have no empathy and have cultivated a facade of concern and respectability to hide the darkness of their wicked hearts. There is no shame in not being a wise and discerning person and in having a lack of wisdom and insight. After all, to recognize that we are not wise means that we do not have to protect a self-regard of wisdom that is contrary to the truth, and we are free to seek insight where it might be found from others. Yet most of us are not willing to admit that we are not wise and to thus be freed from the burden of deceiving ourselves and trying to deceive others that we are discerning. Most of us, myself included, are no great judges of the character of others and subject to being deceived and taken advantage of, and that is the common lot of mankind, and not something we should be ashamed about. The truth is the truth, after all.
It is easy to understand sheep, as that is the common lot of mankind. It is also easy, if not very pleasant, to understand wolves. Wolves fancy themselves as being more clever and talented than sheep, and being able to disobey the rules and gratify their own selfish lusts without fear of being held to account for it. Wolves look down on sheep because the predator views himself as superior to the prey, valuing those qualities that allow them to gain an ascendancy over others through understanding the psychology of others and in exploiting them for personal benefit. Yet if sheep are vulnerable because of their needs and longings, as we are as human beings, so too wolves are enslaved to their base desires and no more able to rise above their baser nature than sheep are. And if we are inclined to root for the underdog, then it is easy to have compassion for sheep because they are vulnerable and thus worthy of protection, while only the wicked have sympathy for wolves who prey on others to gratify their own appetites, seeing themselves as similar.
If sheep are to be protected from wolves, physically or metaphorically, shepherds are necessary. It is little surprise, given the comparison of ordinary people like ourselves with sheep, that the Bible is consistently positive towards shepherds even if ancient societies like Second Temple Judaism or ancient Egypt were often hostile towards them. Both David and Jesus were consistently viewed as shepherds, and it was David’s own experience as a loving and protective shepherd that allowed him to be vulnerable to the prophet Nathan’s exposure of his own predation of Bathsheba and Uriah . The good shepherd is willing to give his life for the sheep, while the hireling will run away to save his own skin. David himself fought of a lion and a bear–classic predators both–to save sheep from predation. Pastors in particular and civil and religious leaders in general are viewed as shepherds with the responsibility of protecting ordinary humanity from evildoers. It is for this reason that in Romans 13 civil authorities are given the power of the sword and why pastors jealously protect the right of disfellowshipment or the same power under a different name to protect the flock from threats. The shepherd’s self-sacrificial spirit and willingness to use strength to defend the weak rather than to take advantage of them is incomprehensible to both the sheep, who are in awe of it, and the wolves, who loathe it. Yet the good has always been incomprehensible to both the foolish and the wicked. The question is always where do we fit, and what do we do about it if we happen not to like where we are?
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