27 January 2012

The hedge of protection.

Hedge of Protection. [hej əv prə·TEK·šən, noun] A metaphor representing God’s defense against evil. Sometimes called a “hedge of thorns.”

You may have come across this particular Christianese saying during prayer meetings: “And Lord, we just wanna ask for a hedge of protection around Sparky….”

Frequently it’s a request made about a wayward loved one who’s sinning, and they want the sinner to stop it. So Christians pray for God to put up his heavenly force field round that person, and keep the sin out. Or it’s a request for people who are really tired of being tempted (especially since they’re really lousy at resisting temptation) and want all the tempters to go away, and again they want the force field up.

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

Where’s this idea come from? The bible. The idea of a hedge round someone comes from Job, in which Satan complained that of course Job’s a good man and worships (i.e. “fears”) God: The Almighty is unfairly shielding the man from evil and hardship.

In reply, the adversary 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.”

In the King James Version, this wall is called a hedge. Nowadays hedges have to do with shrubbery, but back then hedges referred to walls 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, “Rescue us from the evil one,” or from evil itself. We want God’s hedge around us, when possible.

But note, as with Job, that God can put it up or take it down as he wishes.

Hedges round the unwilling.

Job was a willing follower of God. Those of us who pray the Lord’s Prayer are likewise willing followers. What about the unwilling? What about those wayward loved ones, whom we want God to throw up a hedge around? We tend to pray for them; can we? Is there biblical precedent for it?

Yes. In Hosea, God complained, through his prophet, how unfaithful Israel was to him. He compared the nation to a wife who left him so she could become a whore. (Kinda parallel with Hosea and his own 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,

Since God said he’d wall up Israel’s path with a wall of briars (or, KJV, hedge of thorns), Christians figure he can do likewise with our own straying loved ones. So we pray for that.

Does this mean there’s a literal barrier, a spiritual force field, between us and evil? I doubt it, just like I doubt the armor of God refers to literal spiritual armor. I expect it’s more like God provides us with resources to defend ourselves from evil. The metaphor of hedges and armor are just useful ways to describe them. Whatever’s beyond our own ability to defend, God directs away from us. Sometimes he gets other Christians or angels involved. However he goes about doing it, when he goes about doing it, it works.

Various Christians say God would never, ever interfere with human free will. I’m not one of them. Besides, even these people seem to have no trouble praying for God to interfere with sinners, and stop ’em from doing what their free will seems bound and determined to do. There’s tons of precedent for praying away evil, both in the scriptures and Christian tradition. The Psalms are full of prayers for God to stop enemies, and maybe destroy them while he’s at it.

Of course, the best way for God to destroy an enemy is to convert them, like he did with Paul of Tarsus. So let’s not forget to pray for that too.