Attacking the Wounded
I enjoy nature videos. Of course, it would be even more exciting to be able to be there in person and enjoy all the sensory stimulation that is missed in only seeing things through a sterile TV screen, but it is still very helpful and informative to watch well-made videos of the many things that God has created that we have never seen before.
But along with the wonderful insights that can be learned from seeing how God designed nature to operate, there can also be seen the effects of sin on nature. The killing, stalking, pain and tragedies involved in nature are unavoidable. Also the weaving into the narration of the videos of the blatantly false ideas of evolution is often a source of irritation. But there are many videos that are not deeply infected with this disease.
One thing that came to my mind yesterday morning as I was driving to work was the common theme that is seen among animals who tend to prey on other animals for their food. Particularly the inbuilt actions of herd type animals when they are confronted with predators is what was impressed on me. I suppose it came from a comment in a sermon I was listening to and suddenly it became clear to me that there are some very important lessons for us in observing these behaviors.
Who is it that tends to accelerate their attacks on one who is already wounded, suffering and weakening? Who is it that tends to ignore the strong and becomes obsessed with making life difficult for the weak? Obviously it is the predators. That is just the nature of predators generally. They watch a group of animals that they prey on and look for the straying, the ones who do not stick close to the herd or the ones who appear weak and more vulnerable. They watch that one and then may even take actions to try to further separate them from the others to make them even more vulnerable. Then they close in for the final attack intensifying their vicious behavior until the weak and separated one is overcome by the ferocious methods of their enemies.
Also consider the general behavior of herd-type animals when they become aware of the presence of an attacker. What do they generally do just by instinct? They pull together tighter and tighter. They also often intentionally surround the weak, the young or the vulnerable and the stronger ones place themselves on the outside where they can defend the weaker ones from being attacked by the enemy. Some animals like sheep or buffalo will press their heads toward the center of a tight circle and only expose their hind quarters in order to not only protect the vulnerable among them but to minimize the ability of the attackers to reach their own most vulnerable parts. With their rear legs they might be able to kick at the attackers to ward them off and this arrangement very often helps to prevent serious damage to the herd or at least keep the attackers at bay until greater help may arrive if possible.
As I thought about this a saying came to my mind that is very sad but unfortunately is all too true. “The people who tend to shoot their wounded often are in the church.” As we look around and think about the way we too often treat the hurting, the ones who make mistakes or are overcome by temptations, too often this saying reflects the way they are treated by others in the church. It is so easy to criticize, to point out faults, to condemn and withdraw and isolate those who find themselves wounded, deceived or victimized in some way by the enemy.
But as I thought about the examples in nature of how animals relate to each other when under attack by a predator it became obvious to me that something is terribly wrong with what I see happening too often within the body of Christ. Why is it that we so easily pull back from those who find themselves under attack from the enemy? Why is it that we suddenly find all sorts of plausible excuses to not “interfere” in their lives, to withdraw from them socially, to not speak to them as freely, to create an atmosphere of suspicion and even to begin talking about them behind their backs? What underlies this kind of behavior and causes us to act more in line with predatory behavior than with herd mentality? What can we learn from nature that we seem so ignorant of while claiming to be Christians?
Maybe part of the problem is in how we view them. We tend to see them as sinners instead of as victims. We often have the feeling that maybe they are somehow just inherently bad people that might contaminate our family. But in reality we are viewing them, not through the eyes of heaven but through the eyes of a predator.
Maybe we think that isolation will drive them to repent, that condemning them will somehow invoke a response of wanting to change. But condemnation produces discouragement, not hope. Fault-finding actually amplifies the very things we focus on, not only in those criticized but even more in ourselves. Instead of having the humility of the mind of Christ, when we do this we reflect much more the mentality of a predator who seeks to eliminate the weak by amping up attacks on them. But we piously think that if we use “truth” in our attacks that somehow that will justify what we do and vindicate us before God and others.
We tend to view the weak as intentional sinners instead of victims of deception. Because we don't believe that internal lies are behind why we sin we cannot believe that other sinners have reasons for why they sin. We say things like, “If there was a reason for sin then it wouldn't be sin!” But behind most of our sins is a subtle belief that causes us to indulge in it even when we know it is wrong. There is an assumed payoff somewhere in there that we believe strongly enough will reward us to take great risks in sinning hoping that we will feel better in the short-term.
When we begin to see sin as attached to lies believed in the heart instead of inherent badness then it will be far easier for us to see others through the eyes of heaven with sympathy and compassion instead of censure and criticism.
Why is it so hard to see this kind of thinking in ourselves? We forget that we are sheep and start thinking like a predator. We are not listening to the voice of the Shepherd even though we believe we are. We may know our Bible backwards and forwards and have theology down to a science, but if we do not really love each other then John says that we do not know God. Jesus said that His sheep know His voice. The more we get to really know God and know His voice the easier it is going to become to act like sheep instead of like wolves or lions.
How does this apply practically? What situations do I know of where I need to see with the eyes of heaven instead of through sinful human feelings? When a couple splits up we tend to take sides or look for someone to blame. When someone commits adultery how do we treat them? When someone embezzles money what do we say and think about it? When someone teaches things that we believe are heresy, how do we treat them? When someone comes to church less and less, what do we say about them? When we hear about some who have not attended in years but still do not want their names removed from the books, what is our attitude toward them?
How often do we find ourselves looking for someone to blame instead of looking for some way to bring about healing? How often am I looking for someone else to instruct about spiritual things and failing to apply truth first to my own heart? I want God to implant in me the spirit of coming close to others instead of pulling away from them when things get rough. I want to protect my brothers and sisters from predators instead of treating them like a predator myself. I want to remember to live and interact like a sheep instead of like a wolf in sheep's clothing. I want to listen carefully to the voice of the true Shepherd and to live in sympathy with all the other sheep under His protection and guidance.