You cannot be what you cannot see. Since our creation, we have been tempted to look away from who we were meant to become, fully human and made in God’s image. In Genesis 3:1-5, Satan drove a wedge between the Creator and the Created by insinuating God didn’t have the best interests of his newly formed Image-Bearers at heart. Rather than look to the God with whom they walked in Paradise, they looked at the serpent and the fruit that he offered. The glass through which they perceived their Father grew clouded and dim. The results of this new blindness were shame, fear, deception, and division from God and one another, losing the image of who they were meant to become.
This Sunday, Good Shepherd Sunday, reminds us that we are sheep. Like the elders and priests of Israel, however, Christians are not meant to be just sheep; they, too, are called to follow the Good Shepherd that they may grow into maturity to become shepherds themselves. In the commissioning of St. Peter after the Resurrection, Christ tells him to, “Feed my sheep.” Peter is no less a sheep himself, but after this commission he becomes both sheep and shepherd. This is why who we follow, the images we fix our eyes upon, is so important. We are called to look at the Shepherd and follow in his steps in order to lead.
But the truth is that we cannot follow who we cannot see, and often, the Good Shepherd is obscured from our sight. A.W. Tozer wrote in his book, The Knowledge of the Holy: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The images we have of Him as Master, Father, Shepherd, and Friend color the way we pray, how we read Scripture, and how we treat our family and our neighbors. However, we often view God as one who is distant, angry, passive, or retributive, in sum, anything other than the God found in the Scriptures, anything other than a Good Shepherd.
Christian musician, Misty Edwards, wrote a song called All Men are Broken which says, “All men are broken, and broken men break their children who grow up to be broken men…” This brokenness comes from the broken glass that obscures our perception of God, and we, in turn, break those who look to us to show them what God is like. There are a lot of badshepherds in our lives, and we are often wounded by them and become like them.
As Christians, these wounds can drive us towards satisfying unmet needs in unhealthy ways. Addictions built on childhood anxieties can grow. We can be overly driven, seeking approval through work or people. We can be passive and refuse to take up our authority and our place as leaders in our families, as true shepherds meant to bring the next generation of sheep into leadership. We accept an orphan heart rather than a heart of sonship, and we can resist many of the comforts offered to us by Jesus Christ and God the Father.
So, how do we heal from these wounds and begin following Christ the Good Shepherd to become good shepherds ourselves? We begin to gaze intently at him, through the eyes of our soul and our bodies: in Scripture, through the Church’s worship, in the spiritual disciplines, and in healthy men and women of God.
- On the day God has called Today, commit your life once again to Jesus Christ and ask that the Good Shepherd make you into a good sheep by his abundant grace through the Holy Spirit.
- In partnership with a healthy spiritual mentor and in community, begin to read and pray through the Scriptures. Meditate and talk about who God is as revealed in the Bible and who we are meant to be in light of who He is.
- Press into the process of forgiveness towards others. Some need to release God from perceived wrongs and undue resentment held towards him for our suffering and pain.
- Receive prayer and counsel from trusted friends and/or spiritual mentors. Some may need to think about seeing a Christian therapist.
- Actively pray for God restore his image in you as a father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter, or however else that image is being reflected in the relationships around you.
In Jeremiah 31:31-34, God promises a time when he will heal our inability to perceive him well, when we will all know him, even as we are known. The beginning of healing our image of God comes through believing that God is present and that he wants to be known. Then through prayer, fellowship, the Word of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can grow into a deeper knowledge of who God is, especially as a Good Shepherd. We will then begin to reflect his glory as sheep walking towards a restored Paradise but, at the same time, learning how to stand upright ourselves as we learn to lead those behind us on that same path.
Francis Capitanio is the Communications Director for the American Anglican Council and served in the same role for the Anglican Diocese in New England (ADNE) for almost six years. Before working in the ADNE, Francis worked as a fisheries biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he got a lot of time to read and write books while floating out at sea on fishing boats. His first novel, Mariner’s Hollow, was published in 2014 and won the Benjamin Franklin Award for Young Adult Fiction.