Presence and Protection

Psalm 139

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.

5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”

12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.

Presence and/or protection? It’s one of those questions we skirt around in the Christian church, often without even knowing it. If we say that God protects us all the time how do we make sense of those occasions when we suffer and there seems no reason for it? Further, if we dare look around the world surely we can see the innocent, indeed the just and the righteous, suffering too. What do we make of that? Is our God just, good and fair? I find it so interesting when people use this protection language when things are going very well knowing that in time they will suffer too and how then will they speak the language of protection? If they are sensitive to the pain of others how do they speak this language of protection knowing that within their hearing are those who suffer?

For me this Psalm and my prayers speak of a presence that will never let go, much like Paul’s letter to the Romans, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God is a holy presence to me, a source of strength, hope, comfort, justice, meaning and resilience. This experience of God is everything to me. I know that my body is fragile, that I and everyone else I know and those I do not know, will die. We will all suffer, the just and the unjust. We are all human and the human condition is universal. Yes I believe in miracles and in prayer but there have been too many persons who lived a life of perfect love only to die with great suffering for me to accept that I can merely ask the question and God will respond with a miracle. Miracles and answered prayers happen but they are holy surprises and rare. It is a mystery why they happen when they do and I know that I cannot control either. Only God knows…