What If God Is a Shepherd?How good is your imagination? Let’s find out: imagine you’re a sheep. A wooly, four-footed critter, hanging out in a high-country meadow with ninety-nine other sheep all preoccupied, like you, with munching grass. Your shepherd always leads you to the best, and the stuff on this hillside is primo.
But hey, what’s that? Over by those rock outcroppings on the edge of the pasture? More grass, and it looks great. You go to check it out.
It’s excellent. And now you see more, so off you wander, meandering up increasingly steep slopes past big boulders and large trees and through thickets, enticed by thoughts of more lush, undiscovered forage. The grass is actually getting sparser with every step, but still you persist, following your nose, wandering and wandering and wandering, until by and by a thought pops into your fuzzy little head:
Hey, where is everybody?
Panic-stricken—sheep excel at panic—you bolt off in what you hope is the direction you came from. An hour later, reality sinks in. You haven’t a clue where you are. The sun is lowering behind the peaks. And this is a horrible place for a sheep to be lost. There are cougars and bears and . . . and coyotes. Yes, coyotes—like those three trotting toward you past that juniper, eyeballing you and licking their chops. Oh no! Your wooly little knees start to knock.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, there’s your shepherd. Leaping off a rock, he starts cracking coyote skulls with his rod until, yelping in terror and disappointed rage, your would-be attackers race off into the trees. Your shepherd walks up to you, gazes at you for a second with a look of relief and gladness that he’s found you, then picks you up, lays you across his shoulder, and carries you safely back to the flock.
He came for you. You. He left your ninety-nine comrades there in the pasture to come scouring the wild hillsides searching for foolish, wandering, terrified you. You’re that valuable. You matter that much to him.
What if that’s how God sees you? What if that’s what he does in your life?
What if God is a shepherd—your shepherd?
Among the many ways God is portrayed in Scripture, the image of a shepherd is persistent, gentle, and reassuring. Jacob spoke of “the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day” (Genesis 48:15). Psalm 80 calls God the Shepherd of Israel (v.1). David, the shepherd-king, begins the beloved Twenty-Third Psalm by declaring, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
And Jesus, the Son of David, surely had his earthly ancestor’s psalm in mind, with all the care, gentleness, provision, guidance, and protection it describes, when he called himself the Good Shepherd. Our Lord knows his sheep, and they know him, and he’ll lay down his life for them. Indeed, he has done so.
What do the qualities of a shepherd tell us about God and how he relates to you and me? Entire books have been written on the subject,3 but here, I think, is the sum of it: God is watchful, involved, and devoted. He cares for us at all times. That doesn’t mean we won’t experience hardship and grief; “In the world you will have tribulation,” Jesus assured his disciples, and we are no exception. It does mean, though, that our Shepherd is there, present, the One who will never leave nor forsake us. In all things, through the best and worst of days, we live our lives under his watchful care.
To the brokenhearted, the abused, those wounded by the world, he is gentle and kind.
He makes us lie down in green pastures.He leads us beside cool waters.He restores our soul.
Our Shepherd knows us thoroughly and sees us deeply. The rod of his protection and the staff of his guidance are a profound reassurance and comfort. For those who are humble in heart, his ever-watchful eye is that of a healer and a lover of the sheep, so that, like David, we too can say,
Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives,and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
2 See John 10:14–15.3
Tim Keller’s bestseller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, is a classic