The best thing ever written on spiritual abuse is a poem about sheep. I haven’t got many sheep in my neighborhood—the picture here is one we took in Ireland—but every word in this poem is so true it aches.
Someone once asked me, when you hear stories of spiritual abuse—horrible cruel things done by well-intentioned religious people—where do you think the Lord’s heart is in all of it? My answer, of course, was “Don’t ask me; ask the Lord.” Fortunately, the Lord already told us: He wrote a poem about sheep.
It starts with a bit about shepherds who mistreat sheep. Bear in mind that this was written a few thousand years before anybody ever heard the term “spiritual abuse.” Some shepherds take a while to learn, even though the Lord keeps on saying “This is what the LORD says!” Then it goes to a bit about sheep who mistreat other sheep. That happens too; you don’t need authority to be an abuser.
In between and after and throughout and all around, it tells us exactly where the Lord’s heart is. Toward the end it even becomes outright Messianic. And it speaks for itself so clearly that it doesn’t need me to speak for it anymore. Here’s what the Lord says about spiritual abuse, and about sheep.
he word of the LORD came to me:
“Son of man,
prophesy against the shepherds of Israel;
prophesy and say to them:
‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who only take care of themselves!
Should not shepherds take care of the flock?
You eat the curds,
clothe yourselves with the wool
and slaughter the choice animals,
but you do not take care of the flock.
You have not strengthened the weak
or healed the sick
or bound up the injured.
You have not brought back the strays
or searched for the lost.
You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
So they were scattered
because there was no shepherd,
and when they were scattered
they became food for all the wild animals.
My sheep wandered
over all the mountains
and on every high hill.
They were scattered over the whole earth,
and no one searched or looked for them.
“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD,
because my flock lacks a shepherd
and so has been plundered
and has become food for all the wild animals,
and because my shepherds did not search for my flock
but cared for themselves rather than for my flock,
therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:
This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
I am against the shepherds
and will hold them accountable for my flock.
I will remove them from tending the flock
so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves.
I will rescue my flock from their mouths,
and it will no longer be food for them.
“‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.
As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock
when he is with them,
so will I look after my sheep.
I will rescue them
from all the places where they were scattered
on a day of clouds and darkness.
I will bring them out from the nations
and gather them from the countries,
and I will bring them into their own land.
I will pasture them
on the mountains of Israel,
in the ravines
and in all the settlements in the land.
I will tend them in a good pasture,
and the mountain heights of Israel
will be their grazing land.
There they will lie down in good grazing land,
and there they will feed in a rich pasture
on the mountains of Israel.
I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,
declares the Sovereign LORD.
I will search for the lost
and bring back the strays.
I will bind up the injured
and strengthen the weak,
but the sleek and the strong
I will destroy.
I will shepherd the flock with justice.
“‘As for you, my flock,
this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
I will judge between one sheep and another,
and between rams and goats.
Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture?
Must you also trample
the rest of your pasture with your feet?
Is it not enough for you to drink clear water?
Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?
Must my flock feed on what you have trampled
and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them:
See, I myself will judge
between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.
Because you shove with flank and shoulder,
butting all the weak sheep with your horns
until you have driven them away,
I will save my flock,
and they will no longer be plundered.
I will judge between one sheep and another.
I will place over them one shepherd,
my servant David,
and he will tend them;
he will tend them
and be their shepherd.
I the LORD will be their God,
and my servant David will be prince among them.
I the LORD have spoken.
“‘I will make a covenant of peace with them
and rid the land of wild beasts
so that they may live in the desert
and sleep in the forests in safety.
I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill.
will send down showers in season;
there will be showers of blessing.
The trees of the field will yield their fruit
and the ground will yield its crops;
the people will be secure in their land.
They will know that I am the LORD,
when I break the bars of their yoke
and rescue them
from the hands of those who enslaved them.
They will no longer be plundered by the nations,
nor will wild animals devour them.
They will live in safety,
and no one will make them afraid.
I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops,
and they will no longer be victims
of famine in the land
or bear the scorn of the nations.
Then they will know that I,
the LORD their God,
am with them
and that they, the house of Israel, are my people,
declares the Sovereign LORD.
You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people,
and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.’”
Eric M. Pazdziora lives in Chicago, which is sorely lacking in sheep. He works as a freelance composer, editor, writer, and husband (the latter to Carrie). Information about his new CD of hymns about grace, "New Creation," is available from his website at ericpazdziora.com.