There she lay, stretched out and quivering on the grass at dusk, death hovering like a salivating, ravenous beast ready to sink its fangs once more and steal her last breath. Barely conscious, in excruciating pain, she would welcome the end.
The savage attack began hours before. Those around her scattered quickly as the attacker from within advanced. And then it began. The first kick caused a pain-filled squeal. The second caused retreat. The attacker pursued and cornered. Over and over, each blow ripped through surface skin revealing raw tissues beneath. And blood—lot and lots of blood poured out, painting her body in hot, running crimson. She fell. And the kicking continued until the job was done. Satisfied, the attacker turned and was welcomed back by those who had watched everything but done nothing.
“Oh my god! OH MY GOD!!” Juanita screamed in horror at her discovery while throwing out evening hay. She raced as fast as her legs would carry across the pasture, dropping to her knees beside the mangled mass of flesh lying in the field. The horse did not lift her head. Instinctively, compassionately, Juanita laid one gentle, comforting hand on the suffering mare’s neck between blood spots where intact hide still remained. Their eyes met. Juanita let go a wail from the well of her soul. She was too late. Hot tears of grief dripped down as the mare let go of life.
“No! NOOOO!” Sobs rattled her ribs as she hugged her horse in death. Lungs filled to capacity produced grief cries over and over. And the anger then came like a sudden summer storm.
“Who did this? WHO DID THIS?!” Juanita turned looking for an answer. Her red-rimmed eyes, vision blurred with tears, saw the dead mare’s herd standing at a distance, watching. No cries, no expression of concern, and certainly no approach. Just standing there, observing.
She looked more closely. And then she knew. Blood stained hooves incriminated. One of the mare’s own—the one who had been welcomed back by the herd so speedily—was a murderer. Huge and ominous black clouds of emotion blew back over her soul and heart shaped thunderclouds burst wide, weeping hard sheets of sorrow not comforted and rage just beginning.
How could you?! All of you! You, the one with bloodstained hooves! And you, the ones who watched and supported death by doing nothing!
But they did not understand. They would not understand. Life went on in the herd, except for the dispensable one. There is strength in numbers, you know. But there was no strength left in the mare who let go of life that day or in her owner, exhausted from her torrential outpour of grief.
So what really killed that mare?
Lack of love. Plain and simple. Sin of commission—the murderer’s—supported by sin of omission—the by-standers’. Hooves that kick to death, hooves that refuse to stop the kicking, are guilty hooves all around.
But rationalizations abound. Surely, no horse is perfect. Surely, the mangled mare must have done something to provoke her attack—some sin that would exonerate her attacker as well as the by-standers. The mares excused themselves from responsibility for damage done and found strength and solace in the company and comfort of their group.
And that settles it. Or does it? Life goes on in the herd, but will life ever be the same? Some may think. Some may hope. Some may pretend. But no, the foundational plate shifted and a chasm was born. Trust. Safety. Connection. Shaken and pulled apart by heartless actions, relationships toppled and now lay in rubble upon cracked ground. Why? What can be done to one creature, can be done to another. Somewhere, deep in the recesses of our primordial souls, we know this truth. And we shudder. This is not how God intended His created to live.
My friend and her horse. True story and, sadly, an oft repeated story of humans too.
Every sane and civilized person would agree that murder by hands or hooves is out-of-bounds wrong. But what about murder by mouth?
Animals can’t speak. But humans can. And Jesus did.
“Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34
Unloving, hateful, murderous acts begin in hearts and minds, not in hands or hooves. Unloving, hateful, slanderous words can harm hearts as soundly as hooves thrust deep into living flesh. And words withheld may hurt the heart even more. Do we speak or listen to things we shouldn’t? Do we fail to speak things we should? Both originate from the same state of heart—a heart lacking love.
Mouths are never neutral instruments; neither are listening ears. Words spoken, words unspoken, words heard—always do something. The good surgeon wants to help, not harm. She chooses her instruments carefully with hope of healing. Do we have the best interest of all when we speak, when we listen? Would surgical assistants stand by and watch a surgeon harm, intentionally or not, like the by-standing mares watched the aggressor attack and kill? Or would the surgical assistants open their mouths and say something to avert harm? A humble and wise surgeon would welcome correction if her intent was healing, not harm.
To speak or not to speak, to listen or not to listen—important questions. For accurate answers, we need to hold our motives up to the light of God’s word and let His truth shine through. Do we intend to help all, or would we rather “love” one at the expense of another? Consider Paul’s words:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29
Helpful words are encouraging words, but sometimes “encouraging” is not for the purpose of making another feel better initially. Read carefully:
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:12-13.
We are to encourage one another to draw closer to the heart of God, not to feed our fleshly desires that contradict true love and steal true life. Let us not be sucked into the black holes of listening to others’ vented feelings about another when motives are anything other than following God, on the part of the speaker as well as the listener. Such would not be love.
Sometimes words must cut to heal.
Sometimes helping another requires telling the truth. Would a surgeon not cut to remove malignancy if it were needed to save a life?
Speak the truth in love [so that] we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15
Rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Proverbs 9:8
Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Proverbs 27:5
So how is the mouth to love? Love comforts with words when needed. Love confronts with truth when needed. Love jumps in and does the right thing, even when what’s right is what’s hardest. Love refuses to support everything ungodly, even when doing so causes personal discomfort.
Jesus gave up his comfort. He bore great pain, praying for those who hurt him with word and deed. He died so we could live—really live—by reconnecting with God, with others, and with ourselves. Reconnection is God’s business plan and He has invited all of us to be His partners. Do we want the job?
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14
Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Psalm 34:12-13
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. Proverbs 16:25
Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and does not do it, sins. James 4:17
The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12