A tender trap

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I  have never thought of myself as an escapist, but I confess to switching to the animal channels when the news gets too heavy to bear and the movies too banal to bother with.

There’s something really therapeutic about watching game wardens capturing wild animals when necessary, sometimes to give medical attention, and sometimes to move whole herds to another area where the environment is to their benefit. Often these guardians of the wild put their own lives at risk, anaesthetising lions, hippos and even rhinos. Of course they work in teams, and every move is planned and provided with the necessary equipment. But sometimes it’s touch and go as to whether the operation is successful.

One program I remember was particularly well planned and successful. A team of experts set a ‘trap’ for a herd of eland, which had to be moved to a different area. This was to effect better grazing and better genetic blend with another herd. But what really caught my attention was to see how they managed to coax a herd of strong, wild, fast running animals into a couple of waiting trucks. They did this by erecting barriers of canvass held together by poles and slowly closing in on the animals until they were all gently forced into the waiting trucks. A few of them proved difficult to catch, but the men persisted until they were all safely in the truck. The rewarding part was when they were released into the designated area, free to live a better life, even though they were unaware of this.

I couldn’t help seeing the similarity between the men saving these animals and how our Creator gently guides us in the way of His perfect, eternal salvation. But unlike the eland in the game reserve, we are fully aware of God’s blessings in this life as well as the promise of eternal life.

The prophet Isaiah laments the ignorance of God’s people in the first chapter of his book. The ox, he says, knows its master, and the donkey his owner’s manger, but God’s own people do not know or understand (Isaiah 1:3). Perhaps this is why the Bible so often refers to us as sheep, and sheep it seems, are not the most intelligent of animals. They often wander off on their own, seeking better pastures, while the shepherd, who knows best, takes them to the best grazing.  Some sheep apparently choose a comfortable soft spot to lie down, even hollowing the ground and then getting stuck there, unable to get up on their feet. No wonder the same prophet says in chapter 53:6, “We all like sheep have gone astray...”

Exactly What We Need

Jesus refers to Himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’ in John 10:11, 14. In the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15) He pictures the shepherd returning with lost sheep on his shoulders, rejoicing in the recovery. Our Good Shepherd doesn’t pounce on us when we do sheep-like things, but by the firm gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit, brings us back on track.

How merciful He was to Peter, who denied Him three times. “Feed my lambs,” He said, and “feed my sheep.” He invited Thomas, the doubting disciple, to “put your finger here; see my hands...stop doubting and believe.” No sharp words or scolding, just a gesture of forgiveness, plus irrefutable proof of His resurrection. That was exactly what Thomas needed.

The same Good Shepherd knows exactly what we need to stay in His good pasture and He forgives us over and over when we make the same silly mistakes. He loves us no matter where we wander, but allows us to learn the lessons we desperately need. Sometimes the lessons are painful, but He never gives up on us.

In the beginning of creation, God intended for humans to have dominion over all the animal life on the planet (Genesis 1:26). But as we know, our first parents chose their own way, so we do not yet see everything under human control (Hebrews 2:8)

When Jesus returns to restore all things, humans will have the control God intended in the first place.

The game wardens in the TV program had a genuine desire to improve the life of those wild animals. It took some ingenuity to find a way of rounding them up without harming them, and the obvious joy and satisfaction they experienced when the operation was over, showed in their smiles and handshakes.

But can this compare to the joy and sheer happiness when Jesus, the Good Shepherd completes ‘Operation Salvation’ in His Kingdom?  Can the rehabilitation of a few eland for a few years ever compare to the saving of zillions of humans for all eternity? No way!