The Good Shepherd
One of the truths about God which is so difficult for us to comprehend is just how utterly short all language falls of being able to truly communicate God’s nature through word and through speech. It is so difficult that throughout the centuries, Christian leaders in prayer and in connection with God have said that the best way to communicate with and about God is through the practice of silence. It is in silence that all speech is born. It is in silence that our world lay dormant until the words of God the Creator spoke this universe into existence. And, even though we don’t like it, it is from silence that our understanding of God comes forth.
Take a few moments to be silent. During these few seconds, simply focus on being. There will undoubtedly be other noises that might distract, but let them be for these few moments.
It is also true that we are social beings. When we read in Genesis about the creation of Adam and Eve, it takes less than 2 chapters for God to pronounce that it isn’t good for humans to be alone. And so, human relationship and intimacy are born and created by God as a gift to humanity. Out of the silence of the cosmos, God speaks and creates, and out of the silence of humanity, God creates relationship and interaction, and, I think it safe to assume, conversation.
And so, we come back to words, back to language. A gift from God. Useful, but in the ultimate sense, when trying to communicate about God: sub-optimal.
So, how are we to talk about God? We have no other choice (that I am aware of) than to use words. (Of course, we can also use image, but we must be careful not to then worship the image as if it were God.) So, we use words, knowing that they are incomplete. Insufficient.
While that is certainly true, they are also helpful. I certainly hope that up to this point, I have not said or written anything that you didn’t already know, or couldn’t figure out for yourself. However, as the title of this blog suggests, there is still more to come.
All throughout the Bible, there are various images, metaphors, analogies, stories, themes, poems, anecdotes, and so much more used to describe God and our relationship with the divine. One such image is that of Good Shepherd. This image of God shows up all throughout both Old and New Testaments, with the most significant coming in places such as Psalm 23, the ideas of the true Kingship of Israel being closely associated with David (a shepherd by trade), John 10, and the parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15.
All of these can be seen in Ezekiel 34. In this passage (which, feel free to take a moment to read it first), God speaks through Ezekiel to say that Judah’s shepherds (even though they are already in exile at this time) have led the sheep of Israel astray. They have failed to care for the sheep in the way which God desires: with justice and love. Rather, they have exploited and even slaughtered the sheep out right.
God’s word comes to Ezekiel, and the message is clear: no more. From now on, God will shepherd the flock (Ezekiel 34:11ff). God will rescue the sheep; God will deliver them from harm; God will provide and care for their well-being.
And so, when we arrive at the story of Jesus, in places like John 10 where Jesus declares that he is the Good Shepherd, we begin to see just how this may be good news. That in Jesus, we will once again be delivered to the Good Shepherd. That in Jesus, God reconfirms the promises and covenant that God had made all those many years before with the likes of Abraham, Moses, and David. That in Jesus, we are known by God fully, and we can know this God for whom words fall utterly short.
This week, reflect on the idea of God as the Good Shepherd. Read the passages referenced here (Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34:1-31, Luke 15:1-7, John 10:1-21) and be encouraged to know that even during this time, God is caring for each and everyone of us, for we are his sheep, and He is our Shepherd.