Redefining Risk – Part One: The Illusion of Safety

Note: This is the first part of a series on risk coming over the next few weeks and months. 

‘Faith is spelt R I S K’

John Wimber

I’ve often wondered about that quote. It’s easy to accept it as a truism, or even based on our own experiences to say ‘yes, faith is risky’. But I think we have lost the concept (art?) of risk, perhaps again because of our own experiences, or maybe as a result of the current groundswell of anger in the UK at the ‘casino banking’ widely reported to be brought on by an unhealthy appetite for risk.

And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”

James 4:13-15 (The Message)

In our current society, call it late-capitalist, pomo, whatever, I’d venture that the notional desires of security and stability are the foundations of greed and consumerism. The conventional common sense is that everything is ok, and in the event something goes wrong, you can protect yourself against it. Buy an extended warranty for your microwave. Get insurance for your Sky box (this actually exists). But the truth is that bad things happen everyday. One bad decision can lead to catastrophic consequences, and most of the time it’s not even your fault. Lachlan Cotter puts it this way:

You don’t know as much as you think you do, and you don’t control as much as you like to pretend. If you think life is just chance and chaos then that’s a pretty frightening realisation. So we seek stability. Predictability. We carve out a nice little niche in the turmoil and stay there as long as we can. It’s small, it’s kind of dull, but it’s predictable; and we like that. It gives us the illusion of control.

Why am I making this point aggressively? To put forward this idea-

We can’t avoid risk, even if we want to.

As John Piper says – ‘Risk is woven into the fabric of our finite lives. All of our plans for tomorrow’s activities can be shattered by a thousand unknowns whether we stay at home under the covers or ride the freeways.’ He goes on- “The tragic hypocrisy is that the enchantment of security lets us take risks every day for ourselves but paralyzes us from taking risks for others on the Calvary road of love. We are deluded and think that it may jeopardize a security that in fact does not even exist.”

I’ve been thinking about starting this series for months – it’s one of the main reasons I started this blog – but knew I had to get started on it when this Helen Keller popped up in the midst of the MORE series we’re currently pursuing at CV and then again on my blogroll:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

As I go into the series I want to look at whether the concept of risk is in itself negative, if and how we are supposed to approach it, and look at some killer examples in the Bible. But for now I’d love your comments on what first comes to mind when you think about risk?


~ by jgebrown on 21 February 2011.

10 Responses to “Redefining Risk – Part One: The Illusion of Safety”

  1. Maybe you could touch in on other subjects that sit well with risk, maybe some more practical things like obedience or hearing and discerning God’s voice and his call – helping people put risk into the context of ultimately following God’s calling on their life, which will be different for everyone, so laying down some simple truths will help people make it applicable to them.

    What’s the difference between risk & foolishness? Loads of simple parables on that. What’s the underlying desire to risk? I think questioning/understanding the most pressing questions about risk is key – you could wang on about loads of stuff, maybe you can define clearly, exactly what you’re trying to discover.

    I’d love to hear more about how you think taking risks can become a habit like it mentioned in the james extract, weaving risk into the culture at church for example.

    • Thanks for the comments Dave. It is true that risk and hearing, discernment and obedience are all linked. I kind of think it’s like the chicken and the egg. If we are living a risky kingdom lifestyle, we will be relying on god for much, and so utterly reliant on hearing and discerning. But if we are hearing and discerning God’s call then it will inevitably be risky. Meado wrote a great post touching on this sort of thing on the CV site, including this awesome bit:

      The problem of perfectionism is greatest when our calling lies on the other side of our comfort zones (and I would hazard a guess that in the large majority of cases it does, because God wants us to trust Him and grow). Thus, unless we are prepared to risk and make mistakes, our unique calling lies unfulfilled.

      have you checked it out?

  2. Good stuff Josh. I remember when I became a Christian in the RAF and everything was well settled. career, marriage, new baby (can you believe it!) there was no reason to risk anything….BUT it all has to do with what our salvation is about to us. I did not want religious observance and niceness. I wanted above all things to make my life count for something for Jesus. I think Jim reflected this well in the “dissatisfaction” talk. We will have the feeling of dissatisfaction grow within us, but it is also possible to stifle it, to sit on it until it finally begins to fade away. What a waste! I guess at this point of my life I could be richer, in a bigger house, bigger job etc, but I wouldn’t swap a single moment of my time overseas with MAF. It was a risk which has paid off in ways I may not know for many years. But on my deathbed, the fact that took a chance will mean everything.

    Dave asks a good question; can we know what’s foolish and what’s Gods calling. The truth is, you cant always tell but this is where faith gets a chance to stretch its legs. Jesus words here can be trusted…”What Father among you if his son asks for a fish will instead of a fish give him a serpent, or if he asks for an egg will give him a scorpion? (Luke 11:11-12) If you have asked him where he wants you to risk, open your eyes for the opportunity, listen to the desire of your heart (He will be changing that in the process) tie on the bungee rope of faith and JUMP! The key here is not the thing you want to do, but the the thing that MAKES you GO! That can be trusted and all that goes with it, provision and fruitfulness.

    Of course for every time I was listening and taking a chance on God there will have a hundred where I shrunk back into my shell and avoided the challenge. The challenge exists for me now as it did 20 years ago and I once again have to feel the hunger for more and once again RISK it all to gain it all.

    • Thanks for the comments Geoffers, your story of risking is an inspiring one!

      The key here is not the thing you want to do, but the the thing that MAKES you GO!

      That’s some great insight! Are there some bible verses you could point me to on that?

      • Hi Josh, Yes one of the real key verses for me in that whole process was Phillipians 1:6 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. First of all it was an affirmation that although we are called to risk, we are not called to risk, alone. God has put around us a body of people to encourage us, to be there for us, even to provide for us. We are called, but not in isolation. God has put us in church for good reason. The latest album by Jars of Clay is called shelter, and the whole drive of the album is that we live in the shelter of each other. Its a beautiful expression of his care for us. Secondly this verse talks about bringing to completion the work he has begun in us. Its my hope and dream that he will bring to completion what He has started. The risking made that all the more real and we grew in the process. When you stop risking you atrophy and the progress slows. But we can be confident that He wants that development in us. In retrospect feel that going to the mission was more for me than it was for those I could help. AS we move in His ways God is incarnated on this earth and THAT is the point. Many missionaries have laboured for years in jungle villages with little outward result. Was that wasted> No, I dont think so. He needs to get us where we are listening and reliant upon Him. When we settle for comfort that “work in us” he has promised is harder to complete.
        Some other big influences on me were these books; No Compromise by melody Green. Very inspiring story of a guy who found the pearl and and went all out for the gospel.Perfect for the sold out for Jesus worship lesder! Gods Smuggler by Brother Andrew. A lesson in risk taking for a higher cause and one that inspired me to reach for more than I felt capable of.

      • Really great point about community Geoff. That’s something I hadn’t planned to touch on specifically at all in this series, but you’re right – environment plays a huge factor in attitudes to risk. Both positively, and often negatively. If we’re not living it authentically, and in the absence of risk, security is desired and envy and materialism come in. Might revisit that now! Thanks!

  3. Great series intro Josh. Your writing style is getting tighter with every post. Just one thought, does security (financial, identity, whatever) give you a solid launch-pad from which to take smart risks or should our only security be Christ?

    • Thanks for the compliments! Yeah, interesting question. I reckon that it’s not security (by anyone’s definition) that gives a solid launch-pad to risk, but rather freedom. Freedom from worry primarily, freedom in Christ (identity) and freedom from debt being the main things that come to mind. That’s not to say of course that you can’t risk while you’re in debt, as nearly everyone is to some degree (mortgages, student loans), or while you’re still a sinner, as definitely everyone is. But Jesus tells us not to worry, and instead sets out the kind of freedom and risky lifestyle we can have.

  4. Some very interesting points here; but can you define risk – exactly what is it? Where do you draw the line, if at all, between free-market capitalism and gambling? (Think spread-betting on CDOs), and to what extent should we be actively choosing to support or not support the use of our assets for these things? Even, is planning for a pension a good thing or too cautious, too risk averse, as aren’t we all sparrows?

  5. The great Wiki defines it like this: “Risk is the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss (an undesirable outcome). The notion implies that a choice having an influence on the outcome exists (or existed).” We deal with the issue of risk constantly in aviation. Part of my job is to minimise risk. The best way to minimise risk in aviation is stay on the ground! It carries inherent risk, as does getting up in the morning driving to work etc etc. Risk doesnt stand alone but is always balanced against another vision or desire. We can eliminate risk in MAF by staying on the ground but at the cost of people not being helped or reached with the gospel. So we make a decision to risk and then mitigate it to an acceptable level. Very occasionally the need makes us push the limits and press into a more uncomfortable position than we would normally choose. (such as evacuating people from a war zone) The call of God can make us do that as Christians. So is it wrong to have a pension? I wouldnt say so, but you will always need to balance that against what the cost of a lucrative pension is. If a “good” pension means you are tied into a job that makes you deny the call of God or the wisdom of God, then maybe the cost is too high? The key with all risk assessment in business is about being able to know where we are, balance the potetial loss and gain and move forward in confidence. It may not be “safe” but you can be confident that its the right decision. Even the sparrows search for food and have a plan of sorts but they are not anxious and maye that is they key part of that verse.

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