By: M. Prentis & N. Taylor
As I continue to grow older, I’m not sure if the “bad things” happening in the world are increasing, or if I’m simply becoming more aware of them. With the news and media at ever increasing rates of alerts, dings, and notifications, it’s near impossible to avoid all the “bad news.” As a Christian, one thing is certainly clear: Our world is broken and in need of a Savior. And while this is true, it can feel deceptively simple to apply lofty theological truths to the choices we make each day. In a world where everything seems to be threatening and dangerous, the choice between staying inside or venturing into the outside world becomes not only relevant, but seemingly life-dependent. The problems our world faces can be dangerous and frightening. The stakes for the choices our community may make for this coming year seem high; these are our children, our families, our loved ones. The high stakes cause us to survey the trials and difficulties around us, to ask “How shall I then live”?
The good news in the midst of the bad is that our God never leaves us without guidance. He gave his Holy Spirit as a comforter and His Word as a light for our paths. And while we might not have a specific mandate about pandemics, there is always so much to be learned from God’s word. Ultimately, living a Christian Life is about living in risk. Jim Elliot seems to have understood this better than anyone when he said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose.”
What is Risk?
There are countless stories of apostles, church members, and missionaries taking major risks for the sake of the Gospel. They show us through their choices that Christians are never promised comfort in life, but we are promised comfort in the Holy Spirit. Following the comfort of the Holy Spirit may take us to the far ends of the world, or to boldly open conversation with our neighbors. All of our choices in daily life involve some risk assessment, no matter how minor the choice. This is why knowing the word of God is of the utmost importance – it is meant to be our guide as we discern Christian living.
Balance of Reward and Suffering
Risk is about balancing reward or suffering. When we risk something we’re putting it on the line, saying “I’m willing to lose this for the sake of gaining something else.” Whether that be financial risk, physical risk, or health risk, it’s still a matter of reward or suffering. The reward may seem to be security or comfort in any situation. But the suffering on the other side of the risk is what we must be willing to endure. (1 Peter 5; 2 Cor. 4:7; Luke 14:27; James 4:13-15)
Our God is Sovereign (Gen. 1; Neh. 9:6; Col. 1:16)
This truth is a timeless statement. God’s plan for His creation is constantly unfolding, we can see His hand through the past, and we must trust His control in the present and future. Remembering the faithfulness of God is a command to the Israelites throughout the old Testament for this very reason – trusting is hard to do in the face of risk, in the face of fear. But we know that God has always and will always be in control. His sovereignty also means that ultimate risk is removed. When our faith is in Jesus Christ, we are secure knowing that our eternity is already determined. Christians are called to make hard choices, and engage in risk because we know that our lives are not our own – we belong, body and soul, to our Savior. But ultimately, this truth means that we do not put the Lord God to the test. When Jesus was being tempted in the desert by Satan, he brought him to the highest corner of the temple and dared him to throw himself down, saying that God “will not strike your foot against a stone” (Matthew 4:6). In his response, Jesus makes it clear that our sovereign God is not one to be tested. We don’t put ourselves in situations daring God to demonstrate his Sovereignty.
It is part of the Image of God to be in community together. We were designed to be in each others’ presence, for prayer, for worship, for fellowship, and to accurately image God together. This complex community is built on the foundation of the Gospel, but it values the diverse opinions of those who are committed to the community. There are no substitutes for the fullness of being in the presence of our fellow believers. We must strive for unity, to love our neighbors and to submit to authorities God has placed over us.
- Unity (Phil. 3:15-20): Our Sovereign God commands unity rooted in the message of the Gospel. But not necessarily in agreement on all things. What risks are we called to take for the sake of unity? Being unified means that we are choosing to make the Gospel first. In unity, we are willing to discuss, willing to listen to each other in the face of disagreement and differences. Unity is not a feeling of sameness or tribalism, it’s a choice that we are called to make and a risk we must take. In unity, we are willing to risk our opinions being heard, willing to risk our rights being observed, willing to risk ourselves for the sake of the Gospel.
- Love our Neighbors (Gal. 6:2; Matt 22:39): In the story of the Good Samaritan, he chooses to care for the needs of someone incredibly different than him. Both men were members of different groups, different tribes, but the call to take care of our neighbors transcends any man-made social boundaries. Everyone is your neighbor, but there is a special bond with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Authorities (Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14): The Christian life is lived in submission to God’s word which encourages us to submit to the authority placed above us. But the question is not about who has more authority, but rather what is being risked in submission to that authority. We understand that joining any community and submitting to it’s leadership may involve risk. Believers must assess both sides of what is being risked, what is the potential reward? What is the potential suffering? Once the choice is made, unity in community under authority mirrors God’s intended plan for His creation, His believers.
We Obey What We Fear (Ps. 128:1; Ps. 111:10)
Our emotions are not sinful, they’re part of how we were created; part of the image of God. Especially when faced with “risk” and hard choices, fear is a natural human reaction. But the actions we choose to take, how we interact with each other, how we communicate may become sinful if our behavior is driven by our unchecked emotions. We must choose to engage our emotions in light of scripture. Taking care of ourselves means bringing our emotions before the Lord. As Christian author, Brene Brown writes in Rising Strong, “The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us.” Fear cannot be the foundation of our risk assessment. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid for a time, but we must find our reassurance, our comfort, in the God who created us, all things, and has everything under control.
- Redirecting our Fears (Luke 12:34; Matthew 10:28): The Old Testament is full of commands to Fear the Lord. This type of fear is deeper than the surface emotion of being afraid, but is ultimately from the same place. We obey what we fear. In Luke 12, we are told that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” While treasuring seems like a lovely thing to do, it is possible for us to “treasure” our fears, by holding them close to our hearts. Being a Christian isn’t about stoically ignoring our fears, but rather redirecting them. We are not to fear the things of this world, but to fear the Lord God, the Sovereign Ruler of all creation.
- Love Casts out Fear (John 14:26; Romans 8:9; I John 4:18): While our emotions and fears are very real aspects of human nature, we are not left alone without a comforter. The Holy Spirit was sent to us to be our guide in discerning risk. He doesn’t just rationally administer information, he meets us in our emotions and comforts. The perfect love that casts out all fear is only found in this relationship.
- Humility is Confidence in the Face of Fear (Hebrews 11:23-29; Acts 7:22): Moses is considered one of the most humble of the Old Testament prophets. His willingness to obey the Lord in the face of fear is what makes him so humble. Moses repeatedly took his fears before the Lord, even his disagreements with what God commanded, but in humility, he was willing to act in obedience. He chose the reward of obedience instead of avoiding the perceived suffering. His story is one of an emotional, fearful man who chose obedience and is honored for his humble faith.
Idolization of Comfort
One of the pillars of our current American consumerist culture is that we deserve comfort. But risks presented to us create discomfort and insecurity. Our culture tells us that comfort is something we can purchase, something we can secure, something that we can control. The desire to make ourselves comfortable can easily become an idol in our lives. Christians know control isn’t what was promised to us. We confess our desire for control and submit to our Sovereign God who does give good gifts. Exercising the gift of community means that we can work together to fight the tendencies that are all around us.
- Suffering is Promised (1 Peter 4:12-14; John 16:33): It is clear that Christians are going to face “tribulations” while living on this earth. This is not how God intended things to be, but it is a result of the sin that permeates every facet of this world. Discomfort is part of this life. What matters is not the kind of suffering we endure, but rather how we respond to our circumstances. Christian author, Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, writes, “When we respond to suffering well, we practically demonstrate to the unbelieving world that Christ is more glorious and precious to us than any pain and difficulty we might endure. We have the opportunity to show where and in whom we find our true treasure.”
- Suffering is Multifaceted (2 Cor. 4:8-9): In his second letter to the Church in Corinth, Paul tells them, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.” Suffering in this world may be physical, emotional, mental, or physical, or all of the above. Paul is describing the multifaceted nature of suffering that Corinthian believers endured, and the kind of suffering that believers can expect today, so that we might be compassionate towards our brothers and sisters. The risks we must face in this world does not result in one kind of suffering.
- Suffering will End (Rev. 21:3): We know that the suffering of this world is not eternal. We know that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the one who suffered most, that there will be an end to our suffering. This world is only our temporary home. We must remember, and help each other to remember, the beautiful promise of scripture that tells us, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Praise the Lord that he is coming again! May we all risk everything we have for the Kingdom of God.
Questions to Consider
- What are the personal risks to my well-being this school year?
- What do I need to do to manage those risks rationally and emotionally?
- What does it look like to comfort and counsel others through risks?
- To what/whom do I turn for comfort and happiness in times of need?
- “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” – C.S. Lewis
- How do we see emotional self-awareness demonstrated in the Bible?
- Readings: Psalm 42; Matthew 26:36-46; 2 Corinthians 13:5-9