Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How is God Protecting Us If We are Suffering?

I first read Psalm 91:1 on a plaque made of seeds that hung on my living room wall when I was a kid.

“The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty.”

I love the idea of God as our dwelling place. God is where we live. He’s our house, our apartment, our home.

I also like the image of dwelling in the shadow of the Almighty. God is our protector. He’s the best protector available since he is literally the “Most High.” And yet, even as high as God is, as holy and unreachable, we can be as close to him as dwelling in his shadow. This is one of my favorite metaphors for God. It explains his holiness and his closeness at the same time. Those are the two ideas that come to mind when I feel unprotected. I wonder where God is when I am facing trials and troubles. I think that maybe he is too holy to be anywhere near my pain. In those times I certainly don’t feel he’s close enough for his shadow to fall over me.

A few years ago my dad went in for a fairly minor surgery and ended up having a heart attack in the hospital recovery room. While that’s probably the best place you could have cardiac arrest, he didn’t recover from it. He was in his 70s and his kidneys failed. He went on dialysis, but it wore him down. One week he fell and injured his spine and it never healed. He went into a rehabilitation center and just got worse. He contracted an infection that resisted antibiotics and he got mean. He yelled at the nurses and threw things. He screamed at me and swore. I was driving back and forth to the hospitals and medical facilities every day. I blasted the radio and sang along with whatever overplayed pop song that came on. I chain-ate chocolate bars. And I cried—a lot.

God seemed nowhere near me, not high, not casting a shadow over me, just nothing. It was a dark, dark place. I was in pain—so was my dad. He felt abandoned in a medical facility. I felt abandoned by God. That abandonment was the worst part of the trial.

Maybe that’s why trials are a test of our faith.

When things go to crap we test the idea that God protects us. Does he? 

Was God protecting my dad when he got so sick? Was he protecting me when I was hurting? He did not heal my dad. He did not comfort me. Instead, my dad died.

I was there when he passed away—in the room with him as his breath began to rattle and then when it stopped. I was glad for that moment. I was glad he did not die alone. And I was glad his suffering was over.

A friend asked me a long time after this how I had dealt with it and if I had felt God near to me in the suffering. I had had awhile to think about it. I thought about the Psalm 91 verse a lot. 

I decided that the reason I hadn’t sensed God near me was because I was no longer in his shadow, walking behind him. He had pulled me closer. He had gathered me like a little chick under his wings. 

It was dark in there. I couldn’t tell where I was from my vantage point. But he had covered me with his feathers.

I like this idea of God as protector, too. That’s a better picture of how God takes care of us sometimes when we can’t even stand, much less walk behind him in his shadow. Those are the times we take refuge under his wings.

Rebecca Barnes is the curriculum director for Summit Kids Ministry at Flatirons. She is married to an amazing man, who encourages her faith and listens to her typing a lot. She has three daughters and a son-in-law who she likes to cook for. She lives in Old Town Lafayette because it’s a little eclectic, like her.

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