The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith: Shoot the cow ...


I went back home to help work cows. The cows needed worming, a few old cows and infertile bulls needed to be sold, and we needed to turn some bull calves into steers (please do not ask me to explain that process to you).

Our cow pens are built near a pond, which has a boggy spot of mud. One old cow got into the mud and sank up to her belly. You have heard of quicksand; on the ranch, we have quickmud. We carefully went over to her and twisted up her tail. Normally, that will move a cow; nobody likes to have their tail twisted. She stayed stuck. She tried to get up but did not have strength.

Now we faced a dilemma. We could put a rope around her neck and try to pull her out. The force required to get her out of the mud, however, would probably cut off her windpipe, and she would suffocate. Or she might choke to death. Or pulling her out might break her neck. Being old, she was weakened by her ordeal. We doubted if we got her out if she could even stand. There is no use trying to sell a cow that will not stand. Nobody wants to buy that kind of cow.

The easiest thing to do was nothing. We could leave her there to starve and die of thirst, with water 30 feet away. If we left her, the buzzards would come and nibble her to death. It would be an agonizing way to die. Nature is cruel.

What do you do when there are no good choices? My brother Steve went back to his truck and got his pistol. He came up beside the cow, pointed the gun at the back of her brain, and squeezed the trigger. She died instantly. We hooked a chain around her and dragged her off.

That is not a pleasant story. If you are an animal lover, you might be upset. But this was not the first downed cow we had dealt with, and we knew the outcome. Even if we had called the vet, there was really nothing that could be done.

I think about other situations when there is no good outcome possible. At the onset of World War II, the United States faced a situation with no good outcome. We could be pacifists and let Hitler and his evil schemes go unchecked, or we could fight a war. The Japanese made the choice for us.

I think about the woman who is being abused by her husband. She has two small children. To leave him means she will lose security. To stay means she may lose her life.

I think about the man who finds out his company is falsifying documents. If he reports it, he knows he will lose his job. If he goes along, he becomes part of the conspiracy.

I think about the pastor who knows the message God has for his congregation. If he preaches it, he will lose his job. If he does not, he compromises his soul.

I think about the teenager who is being pressured by her boyfriend for sex. If she refuses, she loses someone she thinks she loves. If she has sex, she loses her self-respect.

Every day, people face situations where there is no easy choice, no good choice to be found. Shooting a cow to end her misery was not a good choice, but it was the right choice. When you find yourself in that situation, seek to do the right thing. The choice may still be unpleasant, but knowing you did the right thing gives you a strength that can never be found by doing the easy thing.

I think about Jesus. If he refuses to go to the cross and die, he fails to complete his mission. If he goes to the cross and dies, he will bear the weight of the sins of the world. Jesus, who had never sinned (amazing), would feel the guilt, the pain, the weight, the fracturing of every sin ever committed. He faced the ultimate situation without a good choice.

I think this is why Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane prayed, "Father, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done." Facing the situation with no good outcomes, he chose the hard path before him. He did the ultimate right thing. He chose the will of his Heavenly Father.

Shooting the cow was not pretty, but it was the right thing to do. Jesus dying on the cross was not pretty, but it was the right thing to do. Doing the will of your Heavenly Father, even when it is not easy, will always be the right thing to do.

The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at