Sunday, November 20, 2005

But Where Do They Put the Cattle?

Strange, the things you remember...

For example, I remember Chris Dykhoff objecting to the sheer injustice that goats go to hell while sheep go to heaven.

Given that today's Gospel was the one from which this idea is taken, I'd been reflecting on this idea a lot today. Not so much the "goats are screwed, sheep are lucky" idea, more the "Chris seemed to have trouble with this" idea. And I don't know if he really had trouble with it or he just objected because it's potentially objectionable (Chris, you want to clear this up for us?), but he might have a point.

You can't really help it if you're born a goat. Or a sheep. The natural response is just that the parable means something else - that people are separated into two groups, the good/saved/blessed and the bad/damned/cursed. And it has nothing to do with what you were born as, you get to choose, by accepting God's Grace, which group you fall into.

But how true is that? Doesn't our birth really change who we are? Doesn't being born into a certain time, place, and family alter our possibility for accepting Grace? How many people are born into non-Christian families and become Christian? How many goats have a fair chance to become sheep?

I think there are probably lots of people who go the other way around, from Christian to non. But that seems easier to do. Or at least more of a distinct choice. Those people are more distinctly rejecting God, or at least we can think they are. But they're probably hindered by their birth too.

And even those who try hard to be sheep but fail. Sure, they might be making individual choices which fall far short of their "sheeply" call to live a life free of sin. But how much are those choices affected by things beyond their control?

I do want to say that I'm not a determinist. Heck, I'm anti-determinist. I think people can and do make choices. But those choices may be limited. It's hard for a goat to become a sheep.

And maybe Chris was right. Maybe there's something a bit unfair in the whole equation. Of course, fair in our eyes is certainly different than it is in Gods (i.e. Job, The Prodigal Son, etc.).

I'm not really sure how to tie this up. Anyone have thoughts? Some of you studying theology? Some of you who lean agnostic/atheistic? What are those takes on this question? How much room is there for a sheep to become a goat? For a goat to become a sheep? And how do we react to the realization that our birth affects the opportunities in front of us?

The barber can give you a haircut


Eric Michael Peterson said...

i firmly believe that status as a goat or as a sheep is something that can happen regardless of opportunity. if the Christian god is a merciful god then why would s/he condemn anyone for the life they were born to? i firmly believe that people from all walks of life can receive gods mercy and go to heaven, regardless of whether or not they make claim to being "saved".

so i guess my thing is that it does not matter if you are a sheep or a goat by birth... it is all about how you live your life as a sheep or a goat. so i guess i believe in good goats and bad sheep (and visa versa of course).

todays verification word = rnefm

Matthew B. Novak said...

Why is everyone posting their verification word? I don't understand!

Lady said...

I am not a philosphoy/theology/anything major
but i am a christian
and as such i have certain responsiblities.
one of these is to bring others closer to Christ. See that's a large part of the problem i think, Christians often forgot that there are two parts to their job. They need to be good people and do good things (go to church, listen to their rents) but they also need to evangilize.
It is our jobs as Christians to go out and spread His word. HOw else does one get sheep into the flock?
which reminds me of the other parable in which Jesus talks about this. The shepard who had 100 sheep and one was lost. He left the other 99 sheep all alone, jsut to go and find this one sheep and bring him home. That is what Jesus did and that is also what we need to do.
The first thing is a reponsiblity to yourself, you need to know where you stand with God and what He means to you, you can consiously reject God, you can also do it w/o a thought by not making a choice.
Once you've begun to get a handle on it, it is your job to helop the rest of "the flock" you are accountable now to help fellow Christians stay on the path and where they belong
YOu also need to go out there and find all the other "goats" and help them "become" sheep. SO many people don't know of Christ's love and mercy. But really who's fault is that?
i for one think it is ours. That as Christians we so often get caught up in what type of sheep is better, that we forget about those he don't even know the greatness of being sheep.
IN theroy everyone should have an equal chance at becoming sheep or rejecting the idea and chosing the life of a goat. It does not always work out that way but you know what nothing ever really does.
that's why it's our job just to try and do what we can with the help of our Lord, because through Him all things are possible

joel. said...

I've always believed something like this...

While we should do our very best to be what God wants us to be, we're going to inevitably fail and will live a sinful life. However, God is an all-loving, merciful god who forgives unconditionally, no matter what. As a result, what we are born is of no consequence to our salvation—be it sheep, goat... or, hell, centaur. Even further, those who were not fortunate enough to find God, those who have lost God even if they wish not to do so, and those who have rejected God are all looked upon by God not with scorn but with love.

Wait, you say, that doesn't work at all with the "cast the wicked into the fires of hell" parable that we heard this weekend. I realize this and it's something that is very difficult to think through. It becomes even more confusing and difficult when we consider so many of Christ's other parables that seem to work contrary to this one: the father forgiving the "bad son" who scorned him and wasted his inheritance, Christ forgiving and socializing with countless social rejects, from tax collectors to prostitutes to murderers and thieves to the greedy rich, the rich landowner who forgives the tenants who murder his son.

We hear tales of a God with boundless love and unwavering forgiveness...but who casts the goats into the fire of hell? It's a difficult juxtaposition that is excruciatingly hard to understand and comprehend. Frankly, I don't know how to decipher the complexity of it all. Perhaps this is the key: despite all the world's sin, despite all the "goats shall be cast into hell" sermonizing, despite our inevitable failure to live up to what God expects of us, we know without fail that God will continue to forgive at all costs. How? Christ, nailed to a cross to die the most horrible of deaths, is our proof

My point is this: not everyone is fortunate to be born a sheep. In fact, most people to take a breath on this planet would qualify as "goats". And while we are taught—and should strive—to be sheep, God will ultimately love and forgive us all, whether we "deserve" it or not.

Eric Michael Peterson said...

it might be too late to throw this point in... but maybe we are thinking about the the whole goat sheep thing from too early of a standpoint.... i mean at somepoint most people would say that it is possible to go to hell... maybe those who have lived their lives poorly and are going to hell are given that title at that point and time? so maybe it is not whether they are born as a goat or not, it is whether they die as a goat.