“I AM The Good Shepherd; . . . and I lay down my LIFE for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10 v 14-16).
We ended (Part One) with the thought that, if the tender loving care of Jesus for His followers can be adequately described in terms of the care of a good shepherd for his sheep, then BOTH sides of the analogy must be considered. If ever humankind’s concern for sheep, or for animals generally, were to disappear, then this analogy would become pointless. And, not only this, but humankind would be denying their vocation to love and care for the animal creation, a vocation which is implied in the use of this analogy.
Denial Of Vocation
There is plenty of evidence of this denial of vocation. As I have mentioned in a previous post, billions of animals are today suffering their own kind of holocaust in systems such as factory farming, vivisection, bloodsports, fur and skin trading, entertainment etc. Harmless creatures are beaten, bludgeoned, boiled, burned, ground or skinned alive; continually forced to perform or work; de-hydrated; dragged by their ears or tails; electrocuted; exposed to extreme weather conditions; extracted of bile (bears); hanged; hunted; imprisoned and unable to turn around; inflicted with disease; kicked; physically or psychologically tortured; poisoned; punched; repeatedly force-fed or plucked of their feathers or fur; slaughtered without effective pre-stunning; starved; torn away from their family; trapped in agony for hours – the list goes on and on!
Some people seem to ease their conscience by assuming that animal pain is not comparable to human pain. There is however, scientific evidence showing that all mammals have the same nervous system as human beings for transmitting pain sensations. It would, therefore, be surprising if this did not produce similar results in animals to those in humans. If we add to this the fact that animals show obvious signs of pain, and also of mental distress, it becomes difficult to believe that all this evidence of pain can be discounted, especially when we remember that its purpose is to provide a signal of danger to life.
It has been said that animal suffering is probably increased, as ours often is, by fear and terror. Also, there is enough evidence to suggest that animals can both remember the past and fear the future; that the interests and activities of animals are linked with awareness and feelings in the same way as our own, and may be just as vivid.
There is no doubt that the factory farming of animals today causes horrific suffering and distress. Here are just a few examples:-
- Chickens spend their entire lives with up to twelve at a time crammed into sixteen-inch cages, stacked up to five high, unable to spread their wings.
- Chickens, turkeys and, sometimes, ducks are ‘de-beaked’, using a searing hot blade, cutting through bone, cartilage, soft tissue and nerves, in order to prevent them from plucking each other to death in these stressful conditions.
- Pigs are castrated, have their ears and tails cut and their teeth pulled out, all without the use of any anesthesia. This causes them to shriek with pain. It has been revealed that pigs are one of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom.
- Pigs are kept in narrow stalls for their entire lives, unable to turn around. They are more intelligent than most dogs and, because of this, they often go insane in these confinements and gnaw at their own limbs. Unnatural growth is stimulated by pumping them full of hormones and many get where their legs won’t support their body weight any longer. They are then dragged to slaughter.
- Pigs are packed so tightly into trucks when transported, that many are crushed to death. The slaughtering process is often ineffective, and some are still conscious when they are scalded in boiling water to have their hair removed.
- Cattle are, again without the use of painkillers, castrated, have their horns cut off and are branded with a searing hot iron. Their movement is controlled by electric prods that send painful, electric shocks through their body during auction and transporting.
- Cattle slaughtering is not always efficient, because of the speed with which it must be carried out. Consequently, some are still conscious when they’re dismembered.
- Dairy cows spend most of their lives in crammed conditions, attached to milk machines. In order to keep milk production going, they are impregnated each year and have their calves taken from them almost immediately after birth, which traumatises both the calf and its mother.
- Calves, in some countries, are kept in tiny crates, where they are unable to turn around or lay down properly. To produce veal, male calves are kept almost anaemic by feeding them an unnatural diet. At just seven months old, they are slaughtered.
When animals are handed over to machines and treated as machines, we are at the opposite end of the scale from the personal care described in the good shepherd analogy.
Numerous studies on the assessment of pain and distress in animals show that there is no doubt that all animals with whom the farmer is concerned have a pain sense similar to that of humans, and that the disrupting of their social life, constitutes a serious deprivation. Severely restricted conditions lead to physical deformity and to restrain an animal for its entire life, so that it cannot use any of its normal behaviour patterns, is extremely cruel.
If an animal welfarist were to compare Jesus with a modern day shepherd or factory farmer, they would understandably resent this picture. Yet, if they were to compare Him with a good shepherd from biblical times, they would see a totally different picture, as beautifully illustrated in this excerpt from an article written by May Tripp in ‘Animal Welfare: Through The Cross‘ (book, by Roslyne Smith).
‘The Lord Is My Shepherd, I Shall Not Want’ (Psalm 23)
. . . In this psalm, David describes how the Shepherd fulfills all the needs of His sheep, finding them green pastures, not an easy task in that biblical terrain; and finding, or creating for them, still pools of water by the fast rushing and intimidating hillside streams. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters”. He describes how the shepherd leads his sheep on the, “paths of righteousness for His name’s sake”. The Biblical shepherd always led his sheep so that he might guide the flock safely and so that he might be the first to face any oncoming danger. It was a matter of conscience and honour for him to do this.
Whilst crossing the narrow and dangerous valleys where wild animals threatened, the shepherd would use the safer mountain trails and lead his sheep single file. His rod was a weapon to ward off enemies, but it was also a comfort to his sheep who brought up the rear, for as the shepherd walked he would strike the dry walls of the valley and the ringing sound reassured and guided his flock. His staff, or his crook, now adopted by the Church as one of the insignia of a bishop to signify his pastoral ministry, was so shaped that it could be gently used to pull back a straying sheep: “For thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me”.
Another of the shepherd’s weapons, not mentioned in this psalm of David, was his sling. This will be well remembered as David’s weapon when, as a small shepherd boy, he conquered the mighty Goliath. The good shepherd was very skilled in the use of a sling in the defense of his sheep, but this was useful also for guiding them. In the sling, a small stone could be placed and this could be gently lobbed just ahead of, or to the side of, a straying sheep to warn it back on to a safe course.
The rod, weapon and comforter in the valley, also had another use. At night, the shepherd would find a sheepfold where his flock could rest together in warmth and safety. The sheepfold was a dry stone construction, having only a gap for entrance. Here the shepherd would count his sheep into the fold to ascertain that they were all safe. As he held his rod across the gap, one by one the sheep would pass beneath it. The good shepherd would examine each sheep for thorns or injuries and he would assess its needs. Any sheep obviously suffering from thirst would be given a drink from the shepherd’s own water bottle: “my cup runneth over”; and any sheep which needed relief or protection from the ravages of the blistering sun would be treated with oil: “thou anointest my head with oil”.
Once all were inside for the night, the shepherd would lie down across the gap, thus closing the sheepfold. He himself would become the door and any threat to the sheep would first of all be faced by the shepherd, even at the risk of his own life . . . “I AM the door of the sheepfold” (John 10) . . .”
Looking back to where we began, with the relationship of mutual trust between humans and animals – Jesus’ words about the good shepherd imply that His care for us is immensely deep and personal. They also imply that that care can be adequately described in terms of the care of a shepherd for his sheep. Our task then is to see that this analogy does not collapse entirely, by ensuring that our concern for the animal kingdom is not de-valued, either by active cruelty or by allowing scientific developments to continue turning animals into machines.
Surely, the comparison of Jesus with a good shepherd, must be the greatest image we have of Him. In fact, it is the image which He most frequently used of Himself. The resurrected Jesus’ last vital request of Peter, who was to become the head of His Church, was “Feed my lambs . . . Take care of my sheep . . . Feed my sheep” (John 21 v 15-17).
Thank you for reading and following our blog! Your comments are always welcome! ~Ros