27 January 2012

The hedge of protection.

Hedge of Protection. hɛdʒ ə prə'tɛk.ʃən n. A metaphor representing God’s defense against evil. Sometimes called a “hedge of thorns.”

Go to prayer meetings on a regular basis, and it’s likely you came across this particular Christianese saying: “And Lord, we just wanna ask for a hedge of protection around Skippy….”

Two reasons Christians ask for God to drop a supernatural force field around them. Frequently it’s ’cause a wayward loved one is sinning, or is regularly tempted to sin (and doesn’t resist enough for their taste), so they wanna keep the sin away. Or they’re really tired of temptation. Either way, they want God to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” like the Lord’s Prayer has it, so they’re asking for the hedge.

The other is there’s just some sort of difficulty in general. A big job to do, an irritating person to put up with, a financial crisis, or even actual persecution. Again, they wanna be rid of it, so they request the heavenly shrubbery. One that looks nice. And not too expensive. (Okay, I’ll stop making Monty Python jokes now.)

Some Christians make it “a hedge of thorns,” just to make it extra hard for sin to get through.

Where’d this idea come from? The bible. Specifically Job, where Satan complained that of course Job’s a good man and worships (i.e. “fears”) God: The Almighty unfairly shielded the man from evil and hardship.

In reply, Satan told the Lord,

“Job fears God for no good reason:
Don’t you have a wall round him, his house, and everything he has?
You blessed his every act.
It’s why he’s so prosperous in this land.
But despite all this: Put out your hand and touch his stuff,
and he’ll curse you to your face.”

Job 1.9-11 KWL

Instead of “wall” the KJV has “hedge,” which in 1611 meant a wall of any sort. Could be stones; could be thornbushes.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for such hedges round yourself. Part of the Lord’s Prayer is, “Deliver us from evil,” or from the Evil One, as some translations have it. Whenever possible we want God’s hedge round us. But note, as we see in Job’s case, God can put it up or take it down as he wishes.

Hedges round the unwilling.

Various Christians claim God would never, ever interfere with human free will. Ironically, a lot of these very same people pray for a hedge of protection round sinners, hoping God does interfere with their free will to sin. Hey, when Christians get desperate, we tend not to be all that consistent in our theology.

Here’s the problem with praying for hedges of protection round wayward friends and family members: Those of us who pray for God’s protection round ourselves are his willing followers. As was Job. What about those other loved ones, whom we’re praying for? Any biblical precedent for God putting them in his heavenly dogyard?

Actually, yes. In Hosea, God complained about how Israel was so unfaithful to him, kinda like Hosea and his whorish wife. God’s solution:

“So look: I’m putting a wall of briars in her way.
I’m installing a levee. She won’t find a path through it.
She’ll pursue her lovers; she won’t catch up with them.
She’ll seek them; she won’t find them.
She’ll say, ‘I’ll go return to my man.
The past was better for me than the present.’”

—The Lord, Hosea 2.6-7 KWL

Again, KJV went with “hedge of thorns” instead of “wall of briars.” And since God said he’d do so with unfaithful Israel, we Christians figure we can do likewise with faithless loved ones. So we pray for that.

Here’s the problem: Israel had a relationship with God. Yeah, the people cheated on him a lot with their idolatry and rule-bending, but they weren’t full-on pagan. Our loved ones, on the other hand, might be totally pagan, with no relationship with God whatsoever: They weren’t raised Christian, had never committed themselves to God, had only gone to church when they were children and had no say in the matter. They weren’t wayward; they’d never taken the way. So is Hosea’s prophecy a valid pattern when it comes to them? We’ll really hope so… but there’s room for doubt.

The way some Christians talk, it’s like the hedge of protection is a literal, solid barrier between us and evil. I doubt this, just like I doubt the armor of God refers to literal supernatural armor. Ep 6.10-17 More likely it’s that God provides resources which defend us, and help us defend ourselves, from evil. The shield of faith, fr’instance, is something we gotta hold up when times get rough; it doesn’t just defend us solely because we’re carrying it. The hedge of protection likewise: If we don’t duck behind it for cover, it’s not gonna stop bullets.

So hedges of protection can do our pagan friends some good, provided they really do turn to God when they’re in trouble. But if they don’t, these hedges aren’t gonna do a lot of good… and y’know, sometimes it’s good when they do suffer the consequences of their bad decisions. Lots of us turn to God all the more in those times.