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?