The title of this question has an element of humor but is very real.

On my way home, I was listening to a pastor's sermon on KWAVE.

This pastor stated that God is like a Shepherd and that we are His sheep...

More specifically, that in the old days, if the Shepherd had a sheep that was prone to wandering off from the herd or out of the protection of the pen, the Shepherd would actually break the sheep's leg and reset it, so that it would not wander and be killed by a prowling predator. So, because the Shepherd so loved His sheep, He would break their legs to keep them alive.

Next, the pastor stated that this is what God does with us because He loves us.

Now, he did not go into detail or give examples, so my question is:

Does God inhibit us in ways that are to keep us from going to Hell?

If so, does He do this for some people or for everyone?

Lastly, what would be some examples of this? Would God try to keep someone humble and alive for eternity by giving them depression? Or if God knew someone could not control their lust make them unattractive, to preserve them?

Any info on how this works is greatly appreciated. In addition, if this pastor's message is wrong, please do explain.

Thank You.

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    Having grown up on a farm, I find this analogy highly implausible. First, no sheep would intentionally , repeatedly walk away from the flock. Sometimes a lamb might get separated because the flock has moved away and it can't keep up, but crippling it isn't going to fix that. Second, a sheep with a broken leg is going to require enough care that the rest of the herd will be neglected. Third, a broken leg is prone to infection and disease. This is simply not the way to protect an animal's life. Mar 1, 2013 at 15:36
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    I agree with Bruce. A sheep with a broken leg is a liability making it more vulnerable rather than less. This could only be a myth.
    – hookenz
    Sep 11, 2013 at 3:18
  • I too can recall growing up hearing this story about shepherds breaking the legs of wandering sheep. I think some widely-read book must have popularized it without much thought (by the author or by those who read it) about whether it made a lick of sense. As the old saying goes, "Is that a true story, or a preacher story?" Sermon illustrations and sermon-illustration books seem to be a wellspring of urban legends.
    – Kyralessa
    Jun 26, 2019 at 15:08
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    Here's a rather amusing article that examines this odd story and proposes a source for it: The Shepherd Breaking His Sheep’s Legs - Myths That’ll Preach "[Luke 15:4-6] doesn’t insert somewhere in there that after he finds his sheep, lays it on his shoulders, and rejoices, that he then snaps the legs as the sheep squeals in terror because it had been mischievous or disobedient."
    – Kyralessa
    Jun 26, 2019 at 15:16
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    I wonder what this hypothetical shepherd did if several little lambs all wandered off at the same time. That could be a lot of sheep to carry on one's shoulders...
    – Kyralessa
    Jun 23, 2020 at 16:06

7 Answers 7


I would be wary of a sermon which develops it's doctrines concerning God's occasionally harsh treatment of man from the interpretation of a supposed ancient practice. As well-meaning as it is, from a standpoint of pastoral guidance and discipleship, it's not very helpful for a disciple to look upon human suffering and remember the alleged practices of ancient near-east shepherds.

From a Biblical theology standpoint, the most notable passage is:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

So there is a promise, all things work together for good of the object of that promise. Who is the object of that promise? Those who love God AND are called according to His purpose.

Generally speaking, being called according to the purposes of God is synonymous with being the elect of God. Various theological camps have different beliefs on what it means to be elect, but the reformed tradition of which I am a part believes that the Bible teaches that the elect are those whom God has predestined from before the foundation of the world by grace to be granted the gift of faith, unto salvation.

In practice, applying this idea to suffering is a good mindset but only in the most general sense that a Christian can know themselves to be loved and not abandoned in the midst of suffering, not that they can deduce the special reasons that make particular instances of suffering ultimately good for them. It is something to take God at his word for, even when it is not directly seen or experienced.

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    The passage on working all things for good is more a passage talking about why bad things happen to good people and the fact that even though "undeserved" bad happens, God redeems it for good. The anecdote being discussed has a very strong discipline oriented slant which seems to indicate that this passage doesn't exactly fit. Mar 2, 2013 at 17:25
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    @AJHenderson maybe not exactly pertinent, it is more of a blanket statement. All things, includes, well, all things. Pleasant things, discomfort, discipline, and so forth would all be considered things that work to the good. I wouldn't however want to use this passage to make the point that the Bible says that God disciplines people. He does, but this isn't the passage for it. Mar 3, 2013 at 1:06
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    I agree that all things means all things, but the question was more specifically talking about a) if the anecdote was proper and b) if God would do "harm" to prevent sin. The verse doesn't address the question. It says nothing about if God intends pain or not, simply that when it occurs, he'll work it for good. Hope that more clearly expresses what I was trying to convey. Mar 3, 2013 at 4:11
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    @AJHenderson I suppose you're right. It's a more sophisticated argument to talk about suffering as a result of discipline from the Lord. We know biblically that God disciplines his people, but the mechanics of that discipline aren't spelled out directly. We know that God causes/ordains suffering in believers. Finally we know that God always works for the good of his people, so it's possible to draw the inference that God may discipline his people through suffering for their good, but since it is an inference, it shouldn't be necessarily stated dogmatically. Mar 3, 2013 at 4:44

First of all, having also grown up on a farm, I completely agree with Bruce's comment. Secondly the Bible would actually contradict this statement. This pastor's intentions may be good, but this is not rooted in biblical truth.

So the answers to your questions are No, No, and No.

Does God inhibit us in ways that are to keep us from going to Hell?
If you are saved you won't go to hell. Period. You are a permanent member of the flock. So the answer is No.

And since the answer to the first question is No, the others are No too.

You can read more about this myth here


The shepherd breaking a sheep's leg has become such an oft used illustration that many preachers don't even stop to question its plausibility. I think the illustration might be drawn from a book about a shepherd writing on Psalm 23, but I'm not sure. I doubt many shepherds actually break the legs of their sheep to keep them from running away.

However, we do know that God is providentially in control of all things. Nothing bad happens to anyone (believer or unbeliever) without the permission of God. I don't know how far we can delve into understanding the ways of God (Isaiah 55). However, God does allow inexplicable trials for our good.


When i was 18 my life only existed in the fast lane. Then one weekend on a ski trip i had a severe accident, that would change my life forever. I was a ski instructor 6 years and an expert at skiing. I broke my knee and could not walk for days.

Suddenly i could no longer do things i previously could. It left a large hole in my life. I was always a believer, but when i became broken i genuinely began searching for the Lord. Never before had i experienced the presence of the holy spirit, although i believed in the Bibles truth.

When i broke my knee i became weaker, however my faith became stronger than ever. I would not want to turn back the clock and trade my knee for his spirit. In the beginning my injury seemed to be a punishment, but now i know it was a great gift.

God can use any circumstance for his purpose at any time. I was broken so i could be healed internally and spiritually. I may be weak in my leg now but he is still strong.


While I think the anecdote used is severely flawed, I think the underlying point is valid. It seems to me that the pastor was preaching on the discipline of God rather than general human suffering. The Bible is abundantly clear that God does discipline those He loves both to bring them to repentance and to further their walk with Him and refine them.

The working all things for good is a good passage on why general suffering occurs, however the anecdote given was that the sheep does something bad (walks away) and therefore the shepard does something that hurts (discipline) in order to help the sheep's life be better in the long run. This is also why discipline is called for throughout the Bible.

If you'd like I can find some specific scriptures in support, but there are a lot of them to choose from if you simply look for what the Bible says about discipline.


There's a key part of this analogy missing. The point of the shepherd breaking the sheep's legs is NOT to discipline the sheep. If that was the case the sheep probably wouldn't even have a clue why its legs were being broken- which would defeat the purpose of disciplining the sheep. The shepherd would break the wandering sheep's leg, and then that would require the shepherd to carry the sheep around on his shoulders afterwards for an extended period of time. A connection and deeper intimacy would grow between the sheep and its shepherd, so when the sheep was able to walk, it was not likely to wander again. God may allow certain situations in our life to happen in order to draw us into a closer, more intimate relationship with Him.


God is no lagging Father! :) The sufferings of His Son prove that His love is fierce enough to penetrate through any veil of sin! For it is in this the God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still actively rebellious towards Him, He crushed His own Son (Romans 5:1-11).

I have no answer yet to the fact in question concerning the shepherd and one of his sheep which continue to wander; that is actually how I found this site, while looking for that answer. And after many of the articles and websites that I have found, it seems to me that most people are answering this question out of a mindset which states: "God is too loving to hurt us!" I could be wrong in this, but the overwhelming sense is that most people view God in this way; and in the least those authors of such articles do.

I believe that before we begin to qualify the love that the Father has toward us, we must define the love which the Father has for His Son.According to Jesus in John 17: 23 the Father loves us even as he loves the Son. Therefore, the love of God for us is defined by the love which God has for His Son. There is no love that compares to the love God has for His Son.... For the Father has spoken from Heaven concerning His Son saying, "This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased" Matthew 3:17. Ephesians 1:6 speaks of the Son as the Beloved. Isaiah 42:1 speaks of the coming Servant of God (Jesus) as His chosen One, and the One in Whom His soul delights! Do you hear that language; God the Father trying to describe to us the pleasure that He takes in His Servant( His Son) says that His soul ( an expression to relate His fulness) takes delight in this One. There is only One person here who is so loved and delighted in. "Wisdom" Proverbs 8 is classically interpreted as the Son of God due to the living and pre-creation descriptions being used; and here it says that Wisdom was "daily" the delight of the Father.

   I bring all of this up to point to the fact that the love which we experience from God is first and foremost grounded in the love which the Father has for us **in the Son**. In order to save His people from their sins, Jesus our Lord had to take our sins upon Himself. He had to become the very thing that was bringing the judgment of God against us (**2Corinthians 5:21**, **He made Him to be sin who knew no sin; **Isaiah 53:6** but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him...**). And in this transaction taking place, the wrath of God  which belonged to the sinner, fell upon the Sinless! Hear **Isaiah 53:10 ** **But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief;**  Now, I am no genius, but I think that if in order to save sinners God not only crushed His Beloved Son, but was **well-pleased** to do so (not maniacally, but with purpose), then I am confident to conclude that He will go to great lengths to remove sin from the life of one of His sheep. 

Lamentations speaks of the Lord afflicting men and speaking forth both good and ill upon people, exposing their sins so that they might repent of their sins and turn back to the Lord. This is not out of anger, or severe displeasure, or even rage, but rather out of a love that desires to turn them away from that which will bring them infinite harm. What grace!!! For this is not what we deserve! My life is a testimony to this purging! And Scripture testifies to this as well. . Hebrews 12 says that if you are a son of God through Jesus Christ, God the Father will discipline you! What does this discipline look like? In brief, Scripture which speaks of the purifying of God's people makes reference to the Lord refining them as silver is refined in fire, and that He Himself is the One doing it (1 Peter 1:6-7, Malachi 3:1-4). Fire hurts, and burns, and damages!But this fire is meant to make the "sons of Israel" pure,and to make their offerings pure in the sight of the Lord. When Jacob wrestled with God, before the Lord ever gave him the blessing, Jacob was disciplined; the Lord physically hurt him( Genesis 32:24-32)! And Jacob did not complain, but rather, he glorified the Lord, being astonished that he had seen God face to face, and yet he lived.

Sadly, when most people think of discipline, due to the way in which our culture has changed the meaning of the word, they believe it to be something negative. But all throughout the book of Proverbs, a father who does not discipline his child is said not love that child at all. Jesus Himself learned obedience through the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:8), which is speaking of His suffering of death! Why should we expect any less?

  The point at the end is this: the Father of our Lord Jesus is serious about sin. If He crushed His own  Beloved Son when He took  sin upon Himself for us, then one may conclude that He will go to any means to purify His sheep as silver is purified, for they are called by His Name (**Ezekiel 36:22-32**). He will wash them with pure water, and they shall be cleansed from all of their filthiness and idols.  This however does not diminish the Love of God; for He loves us so much that He will save us from us! He will accept us in Christ, but He will not leave us the same! He will conform us to the image of Christ Jesus (**Romans 8:28-29**), and this involves taking up an instrument of death, the cross (**Matthew 16:24**).

Scripturally, it sounds like all of God's people have "broken legs", which we will not be healed from until the day that we shed these mortal bodies. 

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