Presence or Protection?

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I recently heard this quote, "The God I serve is a God of presence, not a God of protection." This comment was quite intriguing to me in varying degrees of understanding. I went from “Yeah, I get it!” to “Wow, that’s deep!” to “Wait…what?” to “Umm, maybe?” The context of this quote came from a man who grew up in an abusive environment. As an adult, someone asked him why he believes God did not protect him from the abusive childhood. His answer was the aforementioned quote, "The God I serve is a God of presence, not a God of protection".  Mull that over for a few minutes. 

Often times, when I hear someone ask their church community where God was in their suffering, why God did not protect them from the abuse, violence, or molestation, the answer is usually along the lines of: “God intended it for your good” or “God is going to turn your mess into a message” or “God is going to turn your test into a testimony” or “Your pain is going to help you minister to others”.  Now, these sayings do have biblical foundations.  In Genesis 50:20, after Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, he says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” And it is in that beautiful Isaiah 61:3 passage where we read that God’s anointing will give us, “…a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

Still, someone telling us that there was a purpose to our pain can sometimes sound like empty platitudes, especially when we do not readily see the assured end results. What do our churches have to offer us, beyond that?  Perhaps we should also consider that Romans 8:18 passage that tells us, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  That future glory could be in the Eschaton or that future glory could be revealed in ways we might not ever see.  Even if we never see a redemptive element of the abuse we endured, maybe God’s presence is enough. 

So, to the quote "The God I serve is a God of presence, not a God of protection", I believe this comment is meant to convey this: It is in His presence that we do find protection. But it might not be protection the way we think of protection. It may be protection of our heart, so that what happened to us does not turn us bitter and cynical.  It may be protection of our sanity, so that our mind is not fractured and splintered. It may be protection of our faith in the midst of the turmoil we experienced. Where do we find God’s presence?  Where do we find God’s protection?  How do we lead others to that?

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So David got it wrong in the 23rd Psalm? This concept is as goofy as "God answers all prayers because "NO" is an answer." Theologically, it gives God a free pass. God tells us that he creates evil so why does "official" Christian theology give God a "get out of jail free" card?

Participant

Nope, David doesn’t get it wrong in Psalm 23.  And, he doesn’t get it wrong in other psalms, either, where he also talks of God’s protection.  But, in many of those psalms, David’s hoping in God’s protection comes only after David’s lament, and crying to God, and asking why God has abandoned him.  The psalms are indicative of where the writer was at that time.  This “The God I serve is a God of presence, not a God of protection" quote is indicative of one person’s experience.  Might that change, and evolve, and mesh into a different understanding of who God is, over time?  Who knows?

And, “goofy”?  Really?  Sometimes, God does say “no”.  Psalm 103:3 declares that God, “heals all your diseases”  Still, people die from disease, even after we pray for their healing.  So, God does not need a “free pass” or a “get out of jail free card” from the humanity that He created, because, well, He’s God.  He is the only One who can see our end from our beginning.

Community Builder

 

 Well if that is his experience, so be it, but I don't see why this has to be an either/or proposition.  God may not have protected me from schizophrenia, but He certainly has protected me from other ills.  I find this to be a very selective reading of the Bible because there are plenty of passages that allude to God's protection of His people, especially in the wilderness where His presence as a pillar of fire at night protected them from the cold and predators like lions, and as a pillar of cloud during the day He protected them from the burning heat of the sun. 

In the times of the kings God also protected His people from invading armies as when King Hezekiah went to the temple to pray about threats from the Assyrian king.  

While it is true that God didn't protect his people all the time, especially when they had been unfaithful, we don't have to choose between believing in a God of protection or a God of presence.  I don't know why God allowed him to be sexually abused other than that the Lord didn't stop the Nazis from perpetrating their abominations.  I guess evil is part of the reality in this world, even in the church. Shame on the abusers.

 

Participant

“…evil is part of the reality in this world, even in the church.”  That is so true, Michele.

And, the suggestion is not that we have to choose, between the two.  We see evidence of both in Scripture, don’t we, God’s presence and God’s protection?  The title was just to help generate some dialogue on this person’s perspective.  I found his comment and its context to be fascinating.

There are times in our lives when we think we only see His presence, which is why I offered this in the blog: “It is in His presence that we do find protection.”  Yet, protection might look different to our finite minds.  Protection might not always look like “rescue” or “reprieve”, right?

We often tell people and ourselves that God had a purpose for the abuse they/we suffered, and that is why it happened.  But, when people go through life never finding a justification or an answer to their "God, why?" question, churches are often ill-prepared to minister to people on that level. 

Thank you for sharing your perspective with us. 

Community Builder

It's an ages old question, "how can a loving, sovereign, all-powerful God allow ....? (fill in the blank). I don't think it can be fully answered in a blog, maybe not in a lifetime, maybe not with limited human understanding even with the best of minds. One thing I do know is that God is Good - ALL Good, ALL the time. He does no evil. There is no shadow of darkness in our God. Our God is so good, and so amazing, that He can take darkness and evil (that comes from us in our rebellion, and from the evil one) and He can bring something good from it. If we take an honest look at our life, we will find evil; yet we will also see his hand in those desert places, making us stronger, revealing himself to us more deeply, bringing good. He never does evil, He is only good; and his goodness shines, even in this dark and broken world. I praise him for his presence with his people, everywhere and always.

Participant

Beautiful comment, Bonnie!  We are thankful for His presence!

Community Builder

 As I re-read the blog I realized I'd missed something when I replied initially.  God did not protect me from bullying or schizophrenia, and when I was contemplating suicide by drowning on the river bank a five-minute walk away from where I lived at the time because I was so tired, depressed and confused as to what was happening to me, He convinced me not to go ahead with the plan but to go home and stick through life even though it was a miserable affair at the time, and after MANY years I did find relief through medications and meaning through helping others.  It may not be appropriate to tell victims of abuse that their suffering will help others, but from personal experience I can tell you it is often helping others that gives meaning to what we endured.  I believe that the one thing that's worse than suffering is pointless suffering, and if you can use what you've learned to help others in any way whatsoever then you haven't endured hell for nothing.  But maybe it's best if it's someone who has actually been through hell on earth who says so.

Community Builder

Well said Michele. Thank you for sharing so openly. Something is lost when we don't share stories, even painful ones. Thanks again. We serve a God who redeems. He redeems the pain that we've experienced by using it to benefit others. And in the process we also find some healing for ourselves. Praise be to our Redeeming God.