Non-stop shielding

August 3, 2020 · Print This Article

Shielding has just ended for over two-million people in the UK. If you’re one of them, you may be relieved at the prospect of normality returning. Or you might be feeling vulnerable.

Shielding during this pandemic has been about protecting the most vulnerable in our communities. There’s even something reassuring about the word itself. A shield keeps us safe from danger. Metaphorically, we all need a shield.

Last week’s Islamic celebration of Eid al-Adha (meaning “Festival of Sacrifice”) reminded me of another kind of shield. The festival is a celebration of a peculiar, if not painful, event in the life of the spiritual father of the three major world religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All three look to the patriarch Abraham as a great man of faith. But even he had to be shielded.

One of the most well-known encounters Abraham is said to have had with God is in a vision where God tells him “I am your shield”.[1] Interesting shield! But what would it be like if God was our shield?

Maybe we grew up in one of the above religions but drifted from the faith in direct proportion to how many times God didn’t come to our rescue when we really needed him. If God was a shield, then why did faith feel like no shield from the worst of times. I’ve felt that, too. And ironically, so did Abraham.

The Festival of Sacrifice[2] is a celebration of a story about Abraham’s most heart-wrenching moment. Abraham had two sons – Ishmael and Isaac. He loved both of them dearly but Isaac was the one son born by his, until then, barren wife – they had waited 25 years for this. So Abraham saw Isaac’s birth as a miracle. But then God requested something unreasonably drastic. God asked Abraham to take Isaac’s life! For any modern reader, this story sounds barbaric. So when I think about the story, I ask myself, how was God being a shield in all this?

I guess I’ve come to see divine shielding a little differently now in my 4th decade on this earth. I once thought if you believed in God, he would protect you from anything going wrong. How the Abraham story ends has taught me to see divine shielding in a more grown-up way.

When Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, God told him to stop. Phew, that could have been messy! But jokes aside, God gave Abraham a way out from the test. God provided a ram to sacrifice instead. And for me that’s the point of the story. It’s not a story that tells us God shielding stops bad things happening. It’s a story that tells us that God’s shielding will help provide a way out, a way to cope. That’s why Abraham names the very location, “The-Lord-Will-Provide.[3]

God’s shield protects us in pain, not from pain. Shielding that is never taken away.

[1] The Bible, Genesis 15:1
[2] The Islamic version of the story has Ishmael as the son who God asked to be sacrificed, whereas the Judeo-Christian version, Isaac is the son to be sacrificed.
[3] The Bible, Genesis 15:14
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