Lost, seeking, finding, rescue

Lost Sheep

The belief that God created human beings, who then wandered away from their relationship with him by disobeying him, is central to the story which runs through the Old Testament of the Bible. Because sheep were a common part of life in the Middle East at the time, it is natural for writers of the Bible to compare straying sinners to sheep Lost sheepwho have wandered away. For example, in Psalms 119:10, the writer laments his own sin (see Big ideas: Sin) and asks to be kept from leaving the right path, ‘I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.' Later, he prays to God, ‘I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands' (see Big ideas: Sheep, shepherd, lamb).

The image of a lost sheep is a powerful one. It is recalled in the Book of Common Prayer which has been widely used in church services of the Church of England since the sixteenth century. In one prayer in which Christians confess their sins, the acknowledgement of guilt is expressed as wandering from the right pathway, using the image of a lost sheep, ‘We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.' (Liturgy Morning Prayer:Confession).See Big ideas: Penitence, Repentance, Penance.

Seeking the lost

The New Testament writers state that when God sent his son Jesus Christ to earth, to die to pay the penalty for the sin of humankind, bringing about the redemption of humankind, he was seeking to rescue those who had strayed from his way (see Big ideas: Path, way; Redemption, salvation).

Jesus tells several parables to show God's love for human beings. Perhaps the most famous of these is the story of the lost sheep, where Jesus asks:

‘If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?' (Matthew 18:12-14).

Another parable describes how a woman who loses a coin from her head-dress will search for that one coin, even though she still has nine others:

‘Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?' (Luke 15:8).

Finding and rescuing the lost

These images of loss are, however, intimately connected with the idea of finding and rescuing. This is demonstrated by the Christian the belief that Jesus Christ, through his acceptance of death on the cross, rescued all humanity from the penalty deserved by their sins. Hence, Jesus is sometimes called the Good Shepherd, who goes looking for any lost sheep, and who rescues repentant sinners from the consequences of their actions.

Loss in literature

Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

In Shakespeare's Last, or Romance, Plays, he explores the idea of loss, using the idea of a lost child. In The Winter's Tale, the child in question is called Perdita, which means ‘the lost one'. In this play, those who are far removed from violence and intrigue are the shepherds, who rescue and care for Perdita until her father's repentance makes it possible for her to be restored to him.

Related topics

Big ideas: Path, way; Redemption, salvation; Sheep, shepherd, lamb; Sin; Penitence, Repentance, Penance.

Other cultural references

Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

The Book of Common Prayer

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