A reading in a daily devotional produced puzzling questions for me this week. A good many times, I’ve stumbled over the idea of God’s protection. The devotion for that day was about Jesus, as a Good Shepherd and Door, based on John 10:7. It was about how Jesus protects us and our loved ones from evil like a shepherd protecting his flock. The author wrote, concerning Jesus as a Good Shepherd that we are always safe and protected inside the sheepfold, and nothing evil can enter without going through Him first.
I paused to think about that. So, what does it mean if evil gets into the sheepfold anyway? Do you see why I felt puzzled? But there’s more. The author went on to say we can live free from the fear of disaster, destruction, and death because, with Jesus as our Shepherd and Door, no evil will befall us or our loved ones.
What’s wrong with this picture, I wondered? Death did enter and evil did befall us. To be blunt, what this author is saying is either a pile of rubbish and empty promises OR I’m missing something somewhere.
As I have often said regarding God’s Word, it’s either all true, or none of it is true. There is no room for half-true or sort-of true or sometimes true. God’s Word is either all true or none of it is true. So, on this point of God’s protection from evil, if it’s not true, then nothing I believe about God is true.
That is a completely unacceptable conclusion! I know God is real, and I know his Word is true. If it were purely academic and I only believed something I read in a book, it would be easy to discredit or doubt it. But, I know God through the relationship I have with Him, in which his presence is felt and known to me, and we talk together, and I know his voice. It’s like the words in that old hymn, “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.” Therefore, if I know some of God’s Word to be true, then I know all is true. That being settled, what about this promise of protection that didn’t seem to be working the day Jeanette died?
I call to mind we also have a promise in Romans 8:28 that all things work together for good to those who love God. It’s the same as saying, bad things happen, but God will bring something good from it. Wait a minute! I thought bad things weren’t supposed to happen, because Jesus is the Shepherd and the Door, keeping bad stuff away from us. Is that a contradiction? No, and here’s why.
Two scenarios occur with sheep and shepherd analogies. Comparison is like apples and oranges. Sheep are not always confined in a sheep pen or sheepfold. The sheepfold is a picture of salvation. Within salvation is the promise of safety and protection, as well as healing, deliverance, forgiveness—all the blessings that come with salvation. Was Jeanette in the sheepfold? Most definitely, yes! Were all of these promises and benefits hers? Yes! All of the promises of God were yes and amen for her (2 Corinthians 1:20).
But, there is another scenario with sheep. The Shepherd also leads them out into open pastures. God doesn’t confine us in a sheep pen. Even in the pasture, the Shepherd is always present and sheep are constantly under his watchful care. Sheep are protected, but not controlled.
We say God is in control, which is true, but we are sometimes a bit off in our application of what that means. God’s sovereignty does not contradict free will. We typically think of free will regarding choices and decisions, but it’s actually much broader than that. It includes what we think, believe, and feel, our concepts and understanding of God, and our relationship with God. Therefore, God’s sovereignty is not control of us. We are still autonomous individuals within his Sovereignty.
Picture a flock of sheep grazing in a pasture with a Shepherd watching over them. The Shepherd is watchful and alert. Every sheep is within his sight, and if there’s any danger, He’s right there to deal with it. The Shepherd is constantly aware of each sheep, but they are not necessarily constantly aware of Him. The sheep are grazing here and there, deciding which clump of grass tastes best and which part of the pasture is most comfortable. Just like the flock is in the care of the Shepherd, yet free, we are individuals with free will, yet dwelling within the sovereignty of God.
This analogy is still incomplete. Personally speaking, it’s as if I don’t know how to live within God’s protection. I’m a sheep grazing in the pasture, yet uncertain of the Shepherd’s protection. It’s as if I live partially in God’s blessings and favor, but not completely. I believe all the blessings of God are mine, and all the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ, but I don’t always live my life as if it’s true. The contradiction is not in God, but in myself.
I’m reminded of another verse, Romans 12:3, that says we are each given a measure of faith. In other words, we all have enough faith to live and walk in the promises of God. Just like we are all born with muscles in our body, obviously a toddler can’t be lifting weights like he’ll be able to when he’s 20. Our measure of faith must be developed through knowledge and use—reading and studying God’s Word, and applying and walking in it.
Now I return to my ultimate question. Why didn’t God protect Jeanette and prevent her death? He was her Good Shepherd. He was the Door protecting her and us from evil. So, why did that happen to her?
There is no fault to be found in God’s protection. We live under his protection, not fully knowing we are protected, and not fully surrendered to his protection. When we are not living fully within his provision, we are vulnerable. Ignorance of the Shepherd’s provision is the culprit, not the Shepherd.
God promises no evil will befall us, yet we are not always aware, or we don’t understand, or we sometimes don’t believe it’s true, and so we fall prey to evil, in spite of his care. But, this revelation is still not complete. God understands our vulnerability and promises to be with us, and comfort us in times of trouble, and turn what was meant for evil around for good. And then, there’s one more thing.
When something bad happens, God is not to blame, but neither does He want us blaming ourselves. Romans 8:1 tells us there is no condemnation to those who love God. Notice this verse comes before all the other verses in Romans 8 about victory and being more than conquerors, and God’s ability to make all things work together for good, and never being separated from God’s love. First and foremost, God does not want us blaming ourselves with guilt or remorse.
To sum it up, it was not God’s fault Jeanette died. He didn’t take her for some greater good. It’s not even fair to say He allowed it, as if He gave permission for it to happen. Nor did it sneak past Him. He didn’t say, “Oops, I’m sorry.” He also didn’t say, “Too bad your faith wasn’t strong enough.” No! There is no condemnation, no accusation, and no blame, towards God or towards us.
There is only grace saying, “I will make something good out of what has happened.” Part of that good is, amazingly, deeper trust, deeper knowing God is good, deeper knowledge of his protection and provision, and deeper trust that as much as our measure of faith is able to grasp it, no evil will befall us.
Sara Faith Nelson
Sharing the journey, because, I find there are so many others making the trek through life without a loved one