When is a risk not a risk?

In these times of uncertainty, there is a lot of talk about keeping safe.  The current lockdown is designed to keep people safe.  We exhort each other to stay safe.  And I see people wearing facemasks who a month ago would have laughed at east Asian tourists for doing so.  The risk level has changed, and so has our response to managing it.

It’s natural to want to stay safe, to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our community from harm.  Safe is the sensible choice.  But safe can also be the selfish choice.  Safe can mean we’re not there for others.  Safe can mean we contribute to food (and toilet roll!) shortages by hoarding enough for ourselves.  Safe can mean we board up the doors and windows to keep danger out, but in doing so we cut ourselves off from neighbours.  In the parable of the talents, a slave was punished for playing it safe because “I was afraid” (Matthew 25:14ff).

There are times when we are called to nail our colours to the mast and step out in faith.  That doesn’t mean we are blithely nonchalant about risk.  It means we evaluate risk, take steps to mitigate it, but then step out in faith to do what we are called to do.  Whether it was Hudson Taylor or Søren Kierkegaard who first observed “Without risk there is no need for faith”, it is undeniably true.  While we play it safe, our faith withers on the vine.

Over 25 years ago, when I first felt the call to the mission field and planned to go to live in post-civil-war Mozambique, a friend asked me what I thought the risks were.  It took me a while to answer as I reflected on it.  I thought about my financial well-being if I couldn’t get a job when I returned.  I thought about my health, living far from a hospital in a country plagued with tropical diseases.  I thought about my prospects of finding a wife and bringing up children in that environment.  I thought about my mortality, going to a country littered with landmines and where guerillas still roamed the countryside.

I realized that all the things I stood to lose were not particularly important to me.  What was more important to me was, as St Paul wrote:

that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, …that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

(Philippians 3:8-11)

My answer was “There is no risk.  A risk only exists when what you stand to lose is of value to you.”

That’s not a licence to be irresponsible when the lives of others may depend on you.  But let us be people who in this current environment are not known for our fear but for our faith.