So I'm in a parking lot the other day, and I'm parked next to this car. The car isn't in bad shape, but it has definitely seen better days. As I walked behind it, the license frame jumped out at me: "Protected by God." I took a picture (above). In deference to whomever would put that on their car, I obscured the plate number. I'm so high tech.
This jumped out at me for a couple of reasons. First, because the car looked like it had not been spared the various nicks and dings that most vehicles are prone to. Nothing major, certainly nothing to compare with the nasty scrape on the side of my beloved pickup, but kind of funny nonetheless. It made me wonder if God was protecting the paint job, or simply the inhabitants of the car.
Of course, it also got me thinking about God's protection in general. Thousands of people die in car accidents, and presumably many of them had previously believed that they were protected by God. I think of the airplane that crashed across the river from my seminary while I was there. That plane carried a young family of six, the father of which had just accepted a position as a missionary. Were they protected by God?
I think of my own daughter who nearly died after contracting an e coli based disease from the Maryland Farms YMCA in Brentwood. Was she protected by God?
If "Protected by God" means that nothing bad is going to happen to that car, or to the inhabitants, because an all-powerful, all-knowing Spirit hovers about and defends it from all dangers, I'd say the driver has another thing coming.
In the driver's defense, the Bible says:
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
Psalm 91:11-12, NIV
That would lead me to believe that God won't let anything bad happen to . . . who?, the believers, the Israelites, David? Well, to someone.
However, it is also instructive to note that this is the very same scripture quoted by none other than the devil when he tempts Jesus in the desert:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:
`He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'
Jesus answered him, "It is also written: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test."
Given how things went down for Jesus (betrayal, mocking, torture, murder), it seems that this protection thing (in the words of "The Princess Bride") "does not mean what you think it means."
What then does it mean? Well, I can imagine a couple of possibilities. First, it may mean that God does protect us, and probably more often than we realize. I can think of many, many close calls that ended with me saying "Thank God!" But this protection is not absolute, at least not in this lifetime. Which leads me to the second possibility. It seems to me that we all ultimately die, and this protection can't mean that we won't. So, I am hoping that God will protect me and those I love Ultimately. As in, in the Age to Come.
So, I don't know if that's the "easy answer" or not. Still, if given the choice, I hope I would choose to be protected Ultimately than just protected from death. Or fender benders, for that matter.