Can I Really Expect God to Protect Me?
My Bible study group assignment was to read Psalm 91 and express how it had been true in my life.
"He will rescue you from every trap and protect you from the fatal plague. For he orders his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you with their hands to keep you from striking your foot on a stone." [All Scripture citations from the New Living Translation.]
At first blush it sounds really good, but that day I had to say what I really thought. Through tears I told the group, "I don't get how this is true. He did not rescue us from a fatal plague. He did not keep us from striking our feet on a stone but, in fact, allowed much worse than that."
In the year preceding we had buried my daughter, Hope, who was born with a rare metabolic disorder and had a short and difficult life. At that low point in my grief, I simply wasn't willing to gloss over the nice-sounding verse. I couldn't reconcile this passage with my experience, with reality. But I wanted to. I wanted to figure out how the scriptural promises of protection apply not only to me, but also to anyone who suffers, especially now, the thousands who have endured homelessness, disease, and death in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I wanted to know, Can I expect God to protect me? And if not, what are these promises of protection in the Bible all about?
Our True Enemy
I began in the Psalms, because they are filled with requests for and proclamations of divine protection. Most of them have to do with protection from "my enemies." For example, Psalm 59:9-10 reads, "You are my strength; I wait for you to rescue me, for you, O God, are my place of safety. In his unfailing love, my God will come and help me. He will let me look down in triumph on all my enemies."
Frankly, I have often been confused. Some of the things the biblical writers ask God to do to their enemies, I wouldn't wish on anyone! A sermon I heard on Isaiah finally helped me to make sense of this. Because the children of Israel and their God-appointed leaders were God's chosen people, friends of Israel were friends of God, and enemies of Israel were enemies of God. God's enemies are those who love themselves more than God, those who reject and refuse the gift of God in his Son, Jesus. Throughout the Old Testament story of God dealing with his chosen people, God reveals his power and his will to protect his children from enemies who would seek to do them harm.
So the challenge is to figure out, Who are our enemies? When we think about enemies, we think about bosses who seem out to get us, former spouses who want to ruin us, rivals who want to defeat us, and people who have hurt us. We think of those with ideologies and agendas at cross-purposes with ours. The truth is, we are much more concerned about having God on our side to protect our own interests and reputation than we are about being on God's side, seeking after his glory and ultimate victory.
I figured out that God has not promised to protect me from everyone I might define as my enemy. But he has promised protection from my ultimate enemysinwhich, because of Christ, no longer has the power to enslave me or determine my eternal destiny. We can entrust ourselves to this just, strong God, who has gone to the lengths of the Cross to protect us from any enemy that seeks to alienate us from himself.
My problem is not so much a lack of protection from God. My more significant problem is that I'm sleeping with the enemy, justifying and enjoying my sin when all along he offers me protection from its damning power.