Have you ever seen a fainting goat? Here is a video.
Where did these little guys come from? History tells us there was a traveling farmer named John Tinsley who brought 4 goats with him to central Tennessee from Nova Scotia in the mid 1880’s. He called them “stiff” goats.
The goats popularity sky rocketed and new names began to emerge: Tennessee Fainting, Tennessee Meat, Texas Wooden Leg, Stiff Goat, Nervous Goat and Scare Goat. Goat farmers loved these animals for two reasons. First, due to their small stature they were less likely to climb fences or escape from pastures. Second, they tasted good (not that I know that first hand).
The truth is these goats do not actually faint. They have Myotonia Congenita, a condition in which the muscle cells experience a prolonged contraction when the goat is startled. In other words, when they get excited, stressed, or scared their muscles stiffen and freeze. They fall over completely awake. This unfortunate phenomenon can take place when they are playing in the field; eating their favorite grain, when thunder claps or a barn door slams shut. It can even happen when they are mating (so many things I could say right now…but I won’t).
All the articles I’ve read say there is no evidence of this condition actually causing them pain. I guess that makes me feel better when I watch videos and laugh at their uncontrollable fainting. Even though their condition makes us smile, what happens to them is a good example of what happens to many believers when they are spiritually startled.
Paul talks about this spiritual condition in the book of Philippians. The people at the church of Philippi were facing persecution from their neighbors and arguments from within their own gathering. Knowing these challenges were rubbing up against their faith in Christ Paul wrote…
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then,…I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.
Paul speaks of standing firm and striving together without being frightened. This is the only time in the New Testament this word is used. It is the image of a horse that is frozen stiff on the battlefield due to the noises and images of war. When a military horse was too frightened to act in battle, it was liability to the rider and an opportunity for the opponent. We may smile at fainting goats, but a soldier on a frozen horse in the midst of battle was no laughing matter.
The Philippians were in a spiritual war. They had enemies trying to harm them…silence them…shut them down. They had conflicts within their group that threatened friendships and stability. It was a startling time. It was a stressful situation. Life was difficult. It was frightening, but they could not freeze up. They could not faint.
Followers of Christ in today’s world find themselves in awkward situations. Here in the States we will probably not face physical harm for our beliefs, but emotional harm and contentious relationships are very possible. For many the uneasy, tense emotions that come from doing the right thing or saying the right thing is all that is needed for them to “freeze.” Some “faint” at just the thought of talking about their faith in Christ because they fear being misunderstood or judgmental or politically incorrect or out of touch with modern thinking.
Fainting followers of Christ are not cute like the Fainting Goat. No, unfortunately they are a liability to themselves and other believers; and they give an opportunity for the enemy to advance. I know that is harsh, but it is exactly the image Paul was painting in the letter to the Philippians. In the face of hardship, strained relationships, and uncomfortable conversations, we are to stand firm and strive together without being frightened.
The courage to not be frightened comes from the other two things Paul penned: stand firm and strive together. To understand how these three things work together let me share a legend from World War II.
In April of 1940, German tanks rumbled across the borders of peaceful European countries. One country they rolled into was Denmark. As part of their systematic method of intimidation and oppression, the Germans would require every Jew to wear a yellow Star of David. Any Jew who failed to comply would be put to death. The Star of David, a proud symbol of Jewish faith and culture, was being used to mark Jews as deplorable members of society—to rob them of their possessions, their dignity and even their lives.
The Danish government and its people were in no position to do battle against the powerful German army. But their leader, King Christian the Tenth, made a bold move to protect Danish Jews—a move that put his own life at risk. The Danish king called for all Danish citizens to wear the Star of David. He called for every Danish household to stand firm in their conviction that all human life was important and to strive together to protect their Jewish neighbors.
What would you have done? Would you have pinned a Star of David on your child and sent them to school? Would you pin one to your own chest as you walked out the door to go to work? Would you be the only family to do this? What would others be doing? If you did it, would you and your family suffer with the Jews?
The legend goes that what the Germans saw after King Christian made his plea was nothing short of a miracle. Stars of David were everywhere on every person. Jews were weeping tears of joy in the streets as they saw their neighbors willing to suffer with them and not be frightened.
The story is a legend. It never happened.
The legend grew from remarks that King Christian made to German officials, on the radio to his countrymen and in his personal journal. In all three places he stated that if the Germans called on Danish Jews to wear the star, he would wear it and ask all Danes to join him. Because of his opposition to the Nazi regime and their tactics, and because of his willingness to stand and suffer with the Jews, the Nazi’s full plan of persecution against the Jews was never carried out in Denmark. Danish Jews were never asked to wear the Star of David.
Stand firm, strive together and do not be frightened. These are the keys to pushing back against the evils that can frighten us. They are the actions required to non-violently resist injustice, cruelty, hatred and ignorance. God uses these actions in us and through us to show love to people who have lost their moral compass or have hearts hardened by the disappointments and tragedies of life.
Don’t be frightened.