If you’re looking to stir up neighborhood gossip, try this: at dusk on a cold day, turn your kids loose on their bikes without helmets or jackets. Give them 2 Blo-Pops to eat at one time while they pop wheelies in the dark, playing with kids you’ve never met. Better yet, leave your doors unlocked, forego your yearly physical, undo your Facebook privacy settings and don’t shred those credit card applications in your mailbox.
America is obsessed with safety. Some believe knowledge, effort and character can create a bubble-wrapped, pad-locked, hypoallergenic world where no one experiences pain, loss or inconvenience. Disbelief and panic ensue when safeguards fail because people invest in total prevention; they end up reacting rather than responding.
Many pride themselves on their knowledge, believing their collection of facts and statistics will help them navigate the world unscathed. They read international news, follow the experts and smirk at those who are ignorant. Some couple their knowledge with effort. They buy weapons, pet insurance and cases of bottled water. Their CPR certification is always up-to-date and their children ride in a carpool (not the bus) to school, armed with an ID bracelet and gallons of hand sanitizer. When these fail, the cushion of karma comforts some. Commendable morality and citizenship will keep hardships at bay, hitting only the irresponsible.
Unfortunately, the tragedies of a broken world discriminate against no one, regardless of beliefs or deeds. There is a view of God circulating campuses, cafes and churches that His chief responsibility is to shield humanity from hurt; if He doesn’t, He is guilty of failing to love. Since this is not the view of Scripture, it is the view of sinners: God exists to keep me safe. This idea is quickly squashed by the biblical narrative.
Esther, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Job and Paul weathered experiences that would rattle our lives beyond repair, yet were not shaken.
“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18
“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” – Esther 4:15-16
“But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” – Job 2:10
“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” – Job 13:15
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” – Philippians 1:12-13
Their words testify about what they worship: it’s not their comfort, success or preservation. They worship the holy and living God of Scripture and lived for His kingdom purposes. Hyper-safety is a very new, American idea sadly adopted by Christians that is completely foreign to many other generations and cultures.
Years ago I was listening to John Piper preach on missions. He lamented that many applicants for staff positions at his church ask the same first question in the interview: “Will my family be safe?” With eyes down and arms outstretched, he pleaded, “Could you ask that tenth?” Safety should not be the first priority for the Christian. A Christian’s response to tragedy can clarify or confuse the gospel of Jesus. While God can shield every human being from paper cuts, car wrecks and cancer, He doesn’t. Until He returns to establish the new heaven and earth, life is an indiscriminate blend of God’s grace and sin’s effects. If I view my life as a finite amount of time and live only for the here and now, of course pain and tragedy will destroy me.
At the beginning of his letter, James wrote to Christians:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (1:2-4).”
Even more stunning than asking us to consider our trials as joy is the next part. Rather than wishing and praying our pain away, we are to sit in it until God has used it to complete an area where we are lacking. Tim Keller observes: “Sometimes God appears to be killing us when actually He’s saving us.”
Knowing that would be difficult to swallow, James wrote verse five: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” He is talking about the specific wisdom needed when life is no longer safe. We are not called to seek delivery from trials but the wisdom to navigate them.
Wearing a seatbelt and purchase identity theft protection is a fine thing, but when those fail, what will you do? The safest place for anyone is to rest in the trust and hope of an unchanging, ever faithful God Who has the grace to use trials to conform us to His Son’s image.