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Tue, Feb 13, 2024

 

Man’s best friend, they said.

You tell that to the birds, I was not buying.

Every time I saw a dog, I involuntarily stiffened, clenched my fists and tried to hold down my threatening-to-burst-out-of-my-chest hard-pounding heart. It was all I could do not to break into a run. The well-meaning folk would advise me – you must not allow fear, the dogs will smell it and come after you. But where was the dial to turn it off?

And then a few years ago, our daughters and their father done gone and adopted Sandy. She arrived as a cute ball, all paws and fur, but quickly morphed into a loud, happy giant of a dog. This excitable, eager-to-hug-and-shake canine has somewhat cured me of that instinctive fear, but I can’t quite erase the stories I have read of dogs that turn on their owners, mauling even to death.

Last year, two rottweilers turned on their Australian owner and savagely attacked and killed her. Much like the preacher, an African household name recently exposed by BBC, who would physically and sexually assault his followers who were supposedly in missionary training.

But this is where my analogy breaks down.

For the men and women who shared their stories, this was not a matter of a pet turning rogue. They were profiled, lured with false promises, isolated and bound to secrecy, subjected to fits of rage and physical assault, sexually abused, forced into abortions and other freaky rituals. This was a supposed shepherd turned into a butcher.

The preacher was styled as a Christian, and so were his followers. Christ, in whose name he claimed to act, warned his followers of fake shepherds, explaining that they do not use the gate to enter the sheep pen but climb over other ways. With their voice, they try to entice the sheep, but the sheep know better. They will not follow just any voice because they know the voice of their shepherd.

One voice that I am very familiar with is that of my husband-dearest. I don’t need the caller ID when he calls to know who is on the other side. Some days, beyond the words, I hear the hints of a tease, and I tease him right back, “What is the emergency,” I ask pointedly since we rarely call each other in the middle of a workday. On other days, I know to go right into business when I hear the almost curt and straight-to-the-point tone that tells me the day is not going down well, and he has probably darted out of a meeting.

Even a baby, at birth, can recognise mummy’s voice, a voice they become familiar with in the womb. Indeed, infants quickly turn to that voice and show increased attentiveness. They associate this voice with comfort, security, and nurturing.

Christ likened himself to a shepherd, a metaphor of care and protection, and said that his followers, the sheep, listen to his voice. He goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.

The idea of voice seems to carry more than the pitch, rhythm, accent, or volume and further to the character of the one speaking. When my mother calls me Waithiegeni (that is my baptismal name, by the way), the processor in my brain quickly runs a log of all my possible infractions – have I been late in paying the chama (investment group) money again, or has it been too long since I last called? From our life-long relationship, I know that she has no patience for tardiness and has not given up on keeping me on the straight and narrow.

To know someone’s voice is to know their character.

And to know someone’s character, you must spend enough time with them. This allows you to get familiar with their intonations, understand what they mean and how you can expect them to behave. Like any other relationship, the way to know the good shepherd is to spend enough time with him and get familiar with his words, his passion, and his character, which he has revealed in his Word; a library of stories, teachings, poems, proverbs, and songs.

The Word of God reveals his character in all its facets, showing how his different, sometimes seemingly contradictory, attributes relate to the other. For example, how does a God of love judge sin? And yet he does not leave sin unpunished. You have to read on to know that, in his wisdom, he pays the price, becoming both the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. How about his sovereignty? Doesn’t that take away my free will? And yet, we are given and are responsible for our choices! How can one make sense of all this?

I dare say you cannot if you cherry-pick his Word, choosing and taking only what seems immediately beneficial or profitable. A verse here, a verse there, despising the feast, nibbling on the edges when you are invited to chew whole chunks consistently, over and over? This is the only way to train your ears to know enough of his truth to reject false shepherds and wrong thinking.

But O, the Bible is too long, contradictory in some places, and too hard to understand.

Jen Wilken, a Bible teacher, says, that the most under-utilised tool of Bible literacy is to read repetitively, entire books of the Bible, from start to finish. The scriptures read under the illumination of the author, the Holy Spirit, read in community with other believers and with the support of God’s gift of teachers, give you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. Indeed, every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word, we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

When Christ-followers in Galatia were being woed to a different way that pretended to be the Good News; being fooled by those who deliberately twisted the truth concerning Christ, Apostle Paul did not mince his words. Let God’s curse fall on the preachers; even if it was Paul himself or an angel, let that person be cursed. Those manipulative and lying voices? Voices that instil fear and hunker under a shroud of secrecy, separating seekers from their families and friends, taking away their freedom, mistreating, assaulting, raping, and setting them against each other. We know them by their fruits. Theirs is by no means the voice of the good shepherd. They are preachers of a different gospel.

Jesus himself was no stranger to these voices. Honeyed and dripping with promises, be relevant, solve all your problems in one go, worship me I will give you all the kingdoms of the world … voices that assault us every which way we turn, even (especially) in the more popular of our pulpits… voices that promise comfort, quick wins, solution to all our problems… that make us want to do anything they ask so that we get what they have promised. Jesus’ response, however, demonstrated the voice to which he always listened, the voice of his father which he quoted once, and again, and again, saying, “It is written.”

To know the good shepherd’s voice is to be protected from thieves and robbers. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, something the BBC series demonstrated well. However, the good shepherd, the one who gives his life for the sheep, came so that we may have life and have it in full. How well do you know his voice?

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