I wrote this a few years ago, after freelancing as a researcher and grip for a television program produced by a friend of mine. Earlier this week I rediscovered it as I was searching for something entirely different in a folder. It took me back to a place where I saw heartbreaking cruelty meet sacrificial love in a way that I will never forget.
Recently I had the privilege of visiting a big cat sanctuary. There are more than 30 tigers, lions, cougars, and other felines housed at this particular refuge. Each animal has his or her own story, most of them sad. A cougar’s former owner had tried to de-claw the cat using improper measures, a cruel act necessitating post-rescue corrective surgery. Another had her front teeth removed, which means she can’t eat the meat that is the staple of her kind. A lynx is missing an eye. More than one of the animals had been rescued from people who kept them trapped in small, filthy enclosures. All of the cats’ original owners believed they cared about these animals, but their actions proved otherwise.
As disheartening as their stories are to hear, the good thing is that these beautiful cats are now in the care of a wonderful couple who loves them all dearly. The volunteers who work with them put in long hours each day to provide for every animal there, not only in terms of food and medical care, but also with interaction and room to play. It takes a lot of love and sacrifice, daily, but each person there believes that the payoff is worth the risks. The goal is to help these animals thrive as much as possible, particularly since they will never be able to live in the freedom they were created to enjoy.
Like these amazing animals, there are those amongst us who spent their formative years imprisoned in dysfunctional and abusive environments. The hardest kind of abuse to overcome is that which is perpetrated by someone who says “I love you” but whose behavior contradicts those three special words. Whether the abuse is physical, mental, or emotional, its victims can spend the rest of their days in captivity. They too need a sanctuary, a place in which they are cared for and can heal. The comparison ends here, though, because big cats aren’t people. Animals don’t have the higher reasoning to recognize that they’re not truly living in freedom. These cats couldn’t survive in the wild even if they wanted to.
People were created in the image of God. Every individual bears the mark of His glory in his or her person. Unfortunately, as a result of the fall that glory has been chained. All of us, in one way or another, have been taken captive. Sometimes we become so accustomed to our captivity we don’t realize we’re imprisoned. We think it is natural to us, but we are mistaken.
Jesus came to provide new natures for all of us. His declaration about His ministry is one of freedom to the captives, sight to the blind, healing to the crippled. There are different kinds of cripples, just as there are different kinds of blindness. The healing that Jesus offers is for the internal cripple as much as it is the external cripple. It’s for the blinded heart as well as the blinded eye.
There are many claims that Jesus makes about Himself. He describes Himself as our Good Shepherd. He is our Great Physician, come to heal the sick and wounded. He provides us with the only water that unceasingly quenches our thirst. Ultimately, all the descriptions are summed up in one beautiful word – Savior. He saves us from our sin. He delivers us from the pits we fall into. He breaks the chains that hold us captive, cleans us up, binds our wounds and sets us on our way. He fills us with His Spirit, and pours His life out through us. He is our fortress and sanctuary, when we run to Him we are safe. Unlike our furry friends at the big cat sanctuary, since He is in and with us, we can thrive in the wild because what comes with us is everything we need. As we daily turn to Him, we find that He is there right alongside us.