“I could use some help,” I say to the nurse at a retreat center where kids from my church are in camp. “My thumb has been sore for a while and isn’t getting better.” A couple of months prior (when I was young and volleyball nets were much lower) I dislocated my thumb on the hand of a defender who diverted a volleyball from what would have been the best (only) spike of my backyard volleyball career. Because the nurse has no pediatric patients at the moment, she readily volunteers to take a look. Perhaps too readily. “Show me your hand.” I do. She manipulates it for a moment, offers a low guttural sound indicating comprehension, quickly envelopes my thumb in her alarmingly tight grip, and yanks my thumb into the next county. Despite my growing concern, every stage of that development comes too quickly for me to avoid the final, terrifying moment. By the time I would have reacted, the low pain I endured for months is gone—the same sense of relief that follows the final dislodging of a splinter.

When Israel is losing in battle, they want help. They bring the ark into the conflict believing God will propel them forward, overwhelm their enemies, prove their superiority. Surely, if God shows up, he will help. But he doesn’t. They lose the battle, lose the ark, lose Eli, and lose the glory they thought was theirs because of God’s presence (1 Samuel 4).

We invite God into our lives because we need help. To us, help is God empowering us to be even more like we already are. Help me succeed. Help me overcome this hindrance. Help me have the parts of my life I like without the parts I don’t. It took Israel at least 20 years to realize that God is not a talisman, but a judge—that God’s presence brings help precisely because it brings a confrontation with what is wrong with us.

Five Philistine rulers discover the ark’s presence brings judgment. So do the people of Beth-Shemesh, and (in a less destructive way) of Kiriath-Jearim (1 Samuel 5-6). Twenty years later, when David wants the sign of God’s presence back in Jerusalem, he and Uzzah learn the same (1 Chronicles 13). Asaph’s song of the ark’s long-delayed arrival in Jerusalem is a declaration about the world’s Judge (Psalm 50:4-6).

Real help doesn’t make us more like we already are by changing what’s wrong around us. Real help makes us more like our God by changing what’s wrong with us. (Psalm 50:21).

This week, may we trust the Judge who wraps us in his hand to give the help we really need.