20 years ago, British journalist and social critic Henry Fairlie wrote: “The desire for a risk-free society is one of the most debilitating influences in America today, enfeebling the economy with a mass of safety regulations and a fear of liability rulings.” If he could only see us now.
Kids 8 and under must be laced in car seats, and up to age 12 for the not-so-tall kids. In Pennsylvania, helmets are mandatory for bicyclists under 12. Some parents won’t let their children try fun activities that entail any risk. Labels on plastic toys the size of buckets read: “Don’t eat this product”. Smoke, radon, carbon monoxide detectors and devices dot our houses. Restaurants stamp their menus with warnings about barely cooked meat so they don’t get sued. Depending on the day and the most recent “study”, salt, butter, red meat or coffee will kill you. Or bullies (I was a veteran victim) will disturb or jar your child’s psyche for life. (I know, I know, some bullying is criminal. Don’t send me emails.)
I’m not real fond of risks myself. It’s my wife and son who jump out of airplanes. Me, I put chemicals on my icy driveway and wear safety goggles/ear protection when using machinery. Sometimes, anyway. I buckle up. I buy sturdy stepladders. To protect her, when my wife and I walk down the street against the traffic, I keep her on my left. I wear a helmet when I ride my bicycle (probably saved me from a serious head injury last year) and keep the safety on on my hunting rifle until I’m ready to shoot. I have life insurance, health insurance, car insurance, and home owner’s insurance.
But if safety becomes the summa bonum, what might happen? There goes your skiing. That’s the end of the NFL. My woodworking days are over. So is traveling by car since auto accidents kill about 30,000 Americans each year. (My wife insists air travel is safer but who is she kidding; little car problems–like running out of gas, are big airplane problems.) And parents will make sure little Johnny is always in sight–even if he’s 12. No more swimming, no more cheeseburgers (mmmm!!!), no more tree climbing, no more manufacturing, no more experimenting, no more adventure, no more fun.
Taking precautions is good–even wise. But is safety–for ourselves or those we love most, on the verge of becoming an idol? I’m talking as a Christian now, not just an American. If avoiding risk matters most, what happens to God’s children? Is this the life He had in mind for us? Had he worshiped safety, would Abraham have ever left Haran? Moses ever left Egypt? Would the Israelites have still mixed it up with the Canaanites? Would Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah still stayed standing while everybody else bowed to the image? Would Hosea have agreed to marry Gomer?
Would Jesus have come?
Would the apostle Paul have gone the places he did for the sakes of some of the obstinate people he talked to? Would 10 of the 11 disciples have been killed for their mission work? Could I again take Bibles into countries where it’s illegal? Would you be still willing to approach your nemesis and tell him the gospel? If safety becomes our idol, what does that do to taking risks for God? And how does it affect the next generation whom God will also ask to prepare to suffer for Jesus’ sake? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:20-21)
The gospel was conceived in, executed despite, and distributed with great risk: Jesus came to a hostile world to die for the very people who murdered him. The price to follow him is “Come and die”. Exactly what 170,000 Christians around the world will do this year. Not metaphorically, but actually be killed for Jesus’ sake. Telling people about Jesus is risky. Giving generously to gospel work is economically risky. Refusing an order from your commanding officer could get you court-martialed. Saying no to your boyfriend could risk your popularity. Forgiving your enemy may tell her you’re weak and can be exploited. All risky.
Well, my computer’s exposed me to way too many electromagnetic fields today already so I’m shutting down. See you. And hey…, be safe out there!