Tags: Dorothy Sayers, Good Shepherd, Holy Scripture, Imagination
Since my childhood the good shepherd has always been a reassuring and comforting image of the love of God through Jesus Christ. I think it must have to do with the hymn, “The King of love my shepherd is…(whose goodness faileth never; I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever.)” which I remember from a just-old-enough- to-read age.
Besides repeating the 23 Psalm – probably the most famous and used of all 150 (or 151, depending on whose counting), it’s the tune, as much as the text, that helped make the reassurance, comfort, peaceful freedom feelings the image gives me. The tune is really a folk tune that, like a love-song- lullaby, comforts and eases the weary and/or grateful soul.
I have often heard it said that many of the images, so frequently used in Holy Scripture, have no – or diminished -meaning for modern day folk. The Good Shepherd is one example. How many shepherds do YOU know? The argument is we have no experience with shepherds, or lots of other Biblical standards like wise men, disciples, slaves, covenants, yokes, sacrifice and such, so these images don’t make any impact on us. Sometimes I think that’s just an excuse to let folks off the hook. It neither encourages nor challenges those who reverently and intentionally bring themselves before Scripture with an exercise of the imagination or the model of respectful willingness to listen across the ages to experience the exercise of reason and will by learning about biblical culture and history. Sometimes we can hear from across the ages the witness of those who have taken from their own life and culture, descriptions of who God was for them and who they were for God.
I don’t need to understand a biblical image just like a first century – or earlier- person did in order to have an experience with the Holy and how it’s revealed in either the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures.
Dorothy Sayers, mystery novelist and Anglican theologian says it better: “Imagination and metaphor, the making of truth or story into verbal pictures rather than propositional prose statements, is the methodology consistently called upon in the imagery of Scripture – the teaching tool on which God seems to have set the imprint of his approval by constant use.
One-third of Scripture is poetry, and a great deal of its prose is salted with vivid imagery. Rather than teach through abstractions or doctrinal statements, the Bible show us through myth, story, parable, vision, poetry, illustration, dream…all of which opens us up to understanding and meaning. And imagery does not need to be explained. An image prints itself on the mind and sometime, perhaps years, later, a spiritual connection is made.”
We have the Good Shepherd (which would have been an oxymoron among many first century Palestinians and residents of Judea & just goes to show God has a very dry sense of humor) as an image that reassures us of God’s love for us, protection of us, saving of us, goodness, mercy and abundance desired for us. What contemporary image does the same?