The myth of safety

I heard a sermon the other day, and it started me thinking. (Isn’t that what good sermons are supposed to do?) The preacher was, among other things, encouraging us to steer clear of some of the supernatural things out there in the world (psychics, etc — it was around Halloween), and to concentrate instead on safe ways of encountering God.

The pastor encouraged us to find God in the following: salvation and baptism, growing the fruit of the Spirit, and ministering to the poor and needy. These, he described, are safe ways of finding God.

That was the term that started me thinking: safe. I started thinking back to the God-encounters folks in the Bible had, and how many of them could be described as safe. Starting from the front and working backward, I think we can agree that the apostles did not choose safety when they opted to follow Jesus. Jesus himself chose to put himself quite literally in harm’s way in order to please his Father. No one can say the life of a prophet was safe; not only was it life-threatening, but it was embarrassing to boot (Ezekiel playing with army men, then lying on his side for over a year is an example). Gideon, Moses, Abraham — all chose the unsafe way.

Before I go on, let me try to define “safe” in this context. Things are safe when the results are predictable. They are safe when others have done them first. They are safe when the welfare of our families is not threatened. And they are safe when we can stop at any moment.

So why do we play it safe? I agree that there are risks with trying to find God in the unsafe: we could have bad theology, we could encounter evil, we could look foolish, we could make mistakes. But God is asking us to take risks; He wants us to find Him in the unsafe.

Those things the preacher suggested are truly ways to encounter God, but we all too often limit ourselves to those ways, and we avoid anything that might be unsafe. Mike Yaconelli said, “We have defanged the tiger of truth. We have tamed the lion… The tragedy of modern faith is that we no longer are capable of being terrified.” I think it’s all too true, and moreover, we studiously avoid being put in a place where we could be terrified.

Let me close with a lengthier Yaconelli quote, which of course says it better than I could:

I would like to suggest that the Church become a place of terror again; a place where God continually has to tell us, “Fear not”; a place where our relationship with God is not a simple belief or a doctrine or theology, it is God’s burning presence in our lives. I am suggesting that the tame God of relevance be replaced by the God whose very presence shatters our egos into dust, burns our sin into ashes, and strips us naked to reveal the real person within. The Church needs to become a gloriously dangerous place where nothing is safe in God’s presence except us. Nothing — including our plans, our agendas, our priorities, our politics, our money, our security, our comfort, our possessions, our needs.

2 thoughts on “The myth of safety”

  1. I’m not sure that sermon was directed at avoiding that kind of faith or experience, but more the intentionally “dark side” experimentation of Quija boards and whatnot.

    To your, and Yaconelli’s, point, the seeker sensitive movement can easily become almost the direct opposite of radical. The comfort, assurance, warmth, acceptance, “family” feel becomes job1, and stepping out in faith is not likely. I can certainly see that.

  2. I think you’ve nailed it. There appears to be a large gap between 21st Century Churchianity and the God encounters of the 1st Century. Fear and abuse of the things of the Spirit of the One True God have created an “evangelical” church which is strong on “evangelism” but short on power to truly transform people into disciples.

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