The Value of One Sheep
By derek
5/21/2007 4:54:40 PM
Luke 15:4 — What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
Yesterday in gospel doctrine there were a few comments about this parable relating to questions like "is that one lost sheep more important than the other 99?" or "why is there more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the 99 who don't need repentance?"

I had a bit of an insight relating to these questions last week during our family home evening as we taught our children this lesson. Through this insight I have come to believe that this parable has as much to do with the VALUE of a soul as it does with repentance and being found.

We know that we are here to learn and grow and that this life is potentially just one small step in our eternal progression towards becoming like our Heavenly Father. We can actually become like God. God is infinite and eternal, which means that we can be infinite and eternal also. I think this is summed up great in that one Young Women's song that says "I am of worth, of infinite worth." We are all of infinite worth.

But what does "infinite" really mean? Is it something we can really comprehend? It's not at all. To our mortal minds, we have to have a beginning and end, a minimum and a maximum. But mathematics tells us some basic concepts about infinity. One of those is:

∞ + ∞ = ∞

Another is:

∞(X) = ∞

So this is where my insight came. The only time it would be logical to our finite minds to leave the 99 is if the 1 lost sheep was in fact equal to or greater in value than the 99. So we think "that doesn't make sense to leave those 99, unless the 99 are worth less." But maybe it does. Because our math tells us that:

∞ = 99(∞)

If we are each of infinite value to the savior, then that lost sheep is worth just as much as every other sheep AND at the same time worth as much as the whole flock. This is something we can't really understand. Our limited logic tells us that it's impossible for a single part to be equal to the sum of all the parts if all the parts are equal. But we don't understand infinity either. The Savior in his infinite knowledge and in his infinite atonement saw each one of us for who we really are - beings of infinite potential. And because of that he values each one of us INFINITELY. No one is devalued because another is of infinite worth. He values all of us infinitely.

Anyway, hopefully all this rambling makes sense. We cannot comprehend something of infinite value. But the Savior can. I felt incredible gratitude to my Savior as I realized this and tried (unsuccessfully) to comprehend just how the Savior could love me infinitely, how I could be worth THAT much, and EVERYONE ELSE be worth that much too.

And one other little input regarding this parable. Verse 7 states that "I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance." If this is taken literally, then we can assume that there is ABSOLUTELY NO joy in heaven over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance because THERE AREN'T ANY (even the just persons) who DON'T need repentance. We ALL need it, even the best of us "for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." So if taken literally, that verse makes total sense.

What are your thoughts on this parable? As lost sheep and those who are trying to help the Savior bring home the lost sheep, we probably have some very personal feelings about this parable.


From the one    
"Derek, nice thought regarding the infinite worth of a soul. It isn't too often that you see an attempt to prove a parable mathmatically. I liked it.

Having felt like the one, and also trying to help those who have been the one. I think the best way to answer the question is the "is that one lost sheep more important than the other 99?" is to ask the question, "if you are the one that is lost, do feel that it is more important to be found, or would you suggest the shepard stay with the 99?". What if it is someone you love? Would you hope that someone from their ward would take the time to go and find them and bring them back into the fold? Or would you be just as happy if they stayed with their own group of friends and close associates at church and never worried about the "one" that you love?

I hope no one in your gospel doctrine class was seriously debating if it was worth leaving the "99" to search for the "one". Unfortunately I think a lot of times in real life we find it easy to fall into a place where we are concerned about the one, but not enough to do what it takes to bring them back. I know I am certainly not the perfect example of one who is always reaching out to help. I tend to go in spurts. I know people who are always calling someone. Always aware of people's needs, and what they are struggling with. I usually find out after it is all over and others have taken care of the situation.

I had a sister and brother-in-law one time who were bad-mouthing fellowshipping. I think it was mainly because of the way most of us in the church practice it. Oddly enough they are both return missionaries. He had been disfellowshipped and was in the process of slipping off the deep end. She was quite co-dependant, still active, but frustrated with how quickly other members would give up in their fellowshipping efforts. Too often we get the desire to do something and go on full assault for a few weeks. When the "one" doesn't respond right away we tend to brush off our hands and declare, "I guess they just aren't ready." I think most of the time it can take years for someone to make the changes needed to come back into the fold. Real change takes time. It has taken me a number of years in recovery to change as much as I have and I feel I still have a long way to go. One of my favorite stories about the persistance needed is “I’m Not ‘Brother’ Anybody!” from the Aug 1996 Ensign. It is about a home teacher who just wouldn't give up on a guy. He bugged the heck out of him until the love and sincerity broke down the wall of resistance. It takes more than just one plate of cookies.

Regarding "more joy over one sinner who repents", I agree that their isn't anyone who is without the need of repentance. I also think it may refer to those who have already repented, or those who don't have as much to work on compared to someone like me who has teetered on the brink of total destruction. If you were with a group of friends in heaven (friends who had always been active, working towards what was right) it would be a happy reunion. You would be glad to see each other again. But if a friend entered who had always struggled, one whom you never expected to see there. How happy would you be to see them? The two levels of joy wouldn't even be close. Everyone who is a true Christian would be overjoyed to see the once-wayward soul make it into the kingdom! I think the joy would be so much greater because of our feelings of about them not making it.

I once felt some of that pain regarding my middle brother. I was working at the Salt Lake Temple. They had an early morning Sunday meeting one time. My wife wasn't able to attend, so I invited my youngest brother. I asked him if he had his own temple clothes and told him to bring them and I would meet him at the entrance. When he got there he didn't have his clothes. He was moving at the time and wasn't sure where they were. he figured he could just rent them, but everyone was planning to go to the meeting and it was Sunday morning so they weren't renting clothes. I asked at the recommend desk, but they assured me that he wouldn't be able to get clothes. He left and I went down to the dressing room. When I got down stairs I found there were people who had volunteered and were helping those who came without to get clothes. I ran back upstairs, across the street, desparately trying to find my brother. I had no idea where he had parked and there were people everywhere. I finally gave up and went back in. As I sat in my seat I was tormented by the fact that I had failed in my efforts. I was torn up by regrets. "If only I had told him that he needed his clothes because they wouldn't have anyone there to rent out clothes." "if only we had gone down stairs to look before he left." "If only I had been able to find him amongst all the people out in the parking lots." I was sure that I wasn't going to be able to enjoy the meeting. Here I was attending this wonderful spiritual event, and I wouldn't gain anything from it because I so upset about my brother not making it. I don't no if I really did hear any of the message that was given at the pulpit that day, but I was wrong about not gaining anything from being there.

God had carefully orchestrated things so that I could get the message I needed that day. As I sat in the upper room of the temple. I was on the upper side of the room. I could see out over this large congregation all dressed in white. Everyone in spotless white! As I was looking at this sight agonizing about what I could have done different to help my youngest brother get there, I suddenly thought about my middle brother who was inactive at the time. How would I feel if I made it to the Celestial kingdom and thought about all the things I could have done different so that he could be there with me. I was this upset about my other brother missing a meeting that may ar may not have had much effect on his life. That would be nothing compared to the remorse I would feel knowing that I could have done something to help save someone's eternal soul!

That is why I think the joy is greater over the sinner, because of the potential sorrow if they didn't make it.

Thanks for the post Derek. You've helped me think about where my heart is regarding some and what I need to do to change that. And then the physical steps I need to make after the inward change. How I need to persist and not give up. Even if it doesn't seem like they are moving. I need to find out what God would have me do and leave the rest in His hands and be happy with His time table.

Thanks again."
posted at 11:15:04 on May 22, 2007 by justjohn
Another Thought on Infinity and God's Economy    
"As Derek mentions, in our mortal economy, we can't help viewing things as slices of the limited pie. If my slice gets bigger, yours must necessarily get smaller. If 1 sheep is worth more, the others must necessarily be worth less, individually, or even collectively, as discussed above. But in God's economy, value and worth have entirely different definitions that we cannot understand, only accept on faith.

In similar fashion to the sheep of infinite worth, God has promised us that we can each receive everything that He has. If his pie were subject to finite limitations then I don't understand how you and I can each receive the exact same pie. But, in God's infinite economy, we can each receive everything He has. And that means that the one sheep is eligible for exactly the same reward eternally as every one of the 99. I can't begin to understand it, but I love it, as anything less is even less understandable."
posted at 19:38:56 on May 28, 2007 by Anonymous
Some verses regarding our inability to really understand    
"I just read these verse in D&C 29 this morning and thought they were relevant to this idea of us understanding with our limited knowledge:

But remember that all my judgments are not given unto men; and as the words have gone forth out of my mouth even so shall they be fulfilled, that the first shall be last, and that the last shall be first in all things whatsoever I have created by the word of my power, which is the power of my Spirit.

For by the power of my Spirit created I them; yea, all things both spiritual and temporal

First spiritual, secondly temporal, which is the beginning of my work; and again, first temporal, and secondly spiritual, which is the last of my work

Speaking unto you that you may naturally understand; but unto myself my works have no end, neither beginning; but it is given unto you that ye may understand, because ye have asked it of me and are agreed.

I like how the Savior tells us that he explains things so that we can naturally understand. We have to have a first and last, a beginning and end. We can understand that. But God's works have no beginning or end."
posted at 09:40:12 on May 29, 2007 by derek

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"I need not define your specific problem to help you overcome it. It doesn’t matter what it is. If it violates the commandments of the Lord, it comes from Satan, and the Lord can overcome all of Satan’s influence through your application of righteous principles. Please understand that the way back is not as hard as it seems to you now. Satan wants you to think that it is impossible. That is not true. The Savior gave His life so that you can completely overcome the challenges you face. "

— Richard G. Scott

General Conference May 1990