MORE THAN CONQUERORS
Temple Grandin is a scientist who has been profiled by numerous media outlets, even having a movie made about her life by HBO. What has made her famous is that despite being autistic, she has become one of the world’s leading experts on livestock behavior. As a professor at Colorado State University, Dr. Grandin spent years researching what scares or stresses livestock. It turns out that her research had great practical applications, and the beef industry was willing to pay a lot of money for this information. Some of the largest corporations in the world hired her to visit their meat plants and help them implement her findings, as high-stress levels in the animals cause hormones that can degrade the quality of the meat.
When these companies brought Dr. Grandin in, she explained that novelty distresses cows. Therefore, a slaughterhouse should do everything it can to keep the cows relaxed. This meant removing from sight anything that the animals weren’t used to seeing. For examples, the workers at the slaughterhouse should dress the same way as those who worked feeding and raising the cows. Workers should never yell at cows or use cattle prods, because these practices surprise the animals, raising their stress. As long as you keep them comfortable and contented, don’t unnerve them or hurt them, cows will calmly go wherever you lead them.
To make this teaching a reality, Dr. Grandin designed a new technology. Cows are led in silence onto a ramp where they go through a “squeeze shoot,” which is a gentle pressure device that mimics a mother’s muzzling touch. They then continue on down a path with no sudden turns. As they mosey on down that path, they don’t even notice when their hooves are no longer touching the ground, when a conveyer belt slowly and gently lifts them upward, and when, in a blink of an eye, they are struck by a blunt instrument right between the eyes. They go from being livestock to meat, and the entire time they are never aware enough of the process to be alarmed by any of it.
Long before Dr. Grandin and the beef industry figured it out, Jesus knew that livestock are better led by voice than by a cattle prod. Jesus knew that the voice must be familiar, not novel and gentle, not harsh. Jesus also knew that these principles apply to us as human beings. This is why he referred to us as sheep who need to listen to the right voice, and to himself as the Great Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep so that they may listen to his voice (John 10:11–18).
Jesus also warned us that there would be competing voices. That there would those who instead of shepherding us toward life as he does, they would do their best to shepherd us toward death. The Bible often uses the language of a predator and its prey to describe the relationship between the tempting voices and those being tempted. As human beings we are not only being tracked down by those who would hurt us, we are being cultivated. In line with the analogy above, the Bible describes those headed for eternal judgment as “lambs led to the slaughter” (Ps 44:22; Rom 8:36; cf. Jer 5:26; 50:17). James warns the rich and self-indulgent people of his day that they had fattened their hearts for a day of slaughter (5:5).
As fallen creatures, we are in constant temptation of being lured gradually into sin, and from sin carried along into death (cf. James 1:13–15). You are being tempted to sin right now, and so am I, and a lot of the time we don’t even know it. The sheer animal force of temptation ought to remind us that this universe is demon-haunted. There are beings at work to tempt us and enslave us in sin and to keep us from experiencing the blessings of life and of knowing God in Christ through his Spirit.
Praise God, however, that our Great Shepherd wrestled with the demons and prevailed. Praise God that through him we can achieve victory over temptation, sin, and death. This is why Jesus, driven by the Holy Spirit, went out into the wilderness and spent 40 days being tempted by Satan. He completely resisted that temptation, gaining victory over our tempter. He did this for us so that as we follow him, we too would overcome temptation and sin and experience victory. When we listen to our Savior’s voice, we too find life instead of death as a beloved son or daughter of God. In Jesus, we who were regarded as sheep to be slaughtered can become more than conquerors through him who loved us (Rom 8:36–37).