So often it seems our understanding and God’s understanding are far removed from each other. The Christmas season highlights that thought in so many ways; no one would never have expected the promised messiah to come in the form of a humble, completely dependent baby to two poor teenagers, in such a way that would have people still mocking Christ about the timing of His birth and His parents wedding decades later.
If there is one thing that is consistent with the characters throughout scripture it’s that their expectations, interpretations and opinions on God and scripture always resulted in them being surprised at how and when He actually moved. It was never how they thought it would be. Hopefully, we can have the humility to recognize that things have probably not changed much – that’s God wisdom and approach is still far removed from our wisdom and approach.
I can’t stop thinking about that in light of God’s protection and a shocking portion of the Christmas narrative. In Matthew 2:13-23 we read a horrific tale. Herod, feeling his position threatened by the prophesies of a new King sends his soldiers to kill all the males under two years old in the region in which Jesus was born. Mary and Joseph were given a warning by God to flee to Egypt for their safety, where they stayed until after Herod’s death. Some look at this passage and see God’s protection in that warning.
But then, if it’s just a warning about a physical threat of death, then it wasn’t much protection since the rest of the community saw their sons brutally murdered with no protection granted to them. For me, it feels like hearing the survivor’s of a tragedy marveling at how God delivered them … while grieving friends and family stand to the side wondering why their loved one was not delivered. My family was thrilled to see my father-in-law survive a severe bout with cancer; but I find myself choosing my words about it carefully when so many others prayed the same prayers we prayed for their loved ones and saw a different result.
If we reduce protection to simply avoiding pain, death, financial tragedy, or whatever the case may be, I think we trivialize what God intends in His protection and hurt the many around us who by default of that kind of definition, were not protected by God. In reality, our present suffering does not seem as though it is actually high on the protection priority list – in James 4:14 our lives are called a ‘vapor,’ something that comes and goes quickly. Throughout the scriptures devoted followers of God see incredible suffering. Even the chosen nation, the Israelites, saw long periods of time where they were enslaved, conquered, and God was silent – I doubt they felt much protection during those centuries.
But when God refers to our lives as a vapor, He is not describing them as meaningless. Far from it; instead He is pointing out that in the light of eternity, this time we spend on earth in physical form is just a fraction of the far greater whole we will experience. In the light of that, being protected from suffering here is a meaningless exercise – our only real focus is to be worshiping God and reaching the world for Him.
I don’t think God was protecting Jesus, Mary and Joseph from death by Herod’s soldiers. If that’s all it was, then the others who were not warned were wronged by Him. Joseph is no longer a hero saving his wife and son – he is the monster who knew his community was in danger and did nothing for anyone but his own immediate family. God was protecting His plan for saving people from spiritual death. In that perspective, in the moment God did in fact protect everyone, but not in the way that we normally think of protection.
I am not trivializing suffering. I actually think we do that when we loudly celebrate those who avoid physical suffering as being protected by God because the message we send to others is that they are not. And the scriptures are full of God’s heart for those who do suffer during this ‘vapor’ of a life. He wants us to experience comfort, support, love, grace. His heart breaks when our hearts break. But when it comes to the idea of protection, perhaps His focus is on eternity, not the immediate.
I’m honestly not sure if I’m articulating my thoughts the way I want to. I’ve been wrestling with this passage and the idea of protection for the last couple weeks. I don’t think I’ll even begin to fully understand how or why God works and how we best communicate it until I am with Him in eternity.