Anthony A. Monaghan
An ancient Chinese proverb says, “May you live in interesting times.” It sounds like a blessing. But its intent is not to bless. It is used ironically—a sour curse that reminds us of the fall. Well, we are living in interesting times. They are not particularly amusing in real life. But they remind us of the important relationship between faith and risk. Christians are called to walk in faith, in every circumstance, and Christians are also called to walk in wisdom in evaluating risk. Faith and wisdom are not opposite ends of a spectrum but are coinhabitants of that faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
It turns out that interesting times are an opportunity for witness in a way that we might never have conceived—the simple witness of going to work. We have two members of our congregation who work in grocery stores. Both have gone from part-time employees, struggling to find enough hours to provide for themselves, to full-time employees, often working overtime. Their labor is in high demand because some fellow employees, overcome by fear, have ceased going to work. But these two believers, trusting in God and unwilling to fear, continue to show up and do their jobs.
We live in an in-between age. Death still stalks every person on earth, and yet at the very same time death has been defanged for all who trust in Jesus Christ. Trusting in Jesus Christ, we still assess risk, but we do not live in fear.
Neither do we tempt God by recklessness and foolishness. When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, he challenges Jesus’s faith. In essence, he says, “If you trust God, then throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple.” The implication, of course, is that if Jesus doesn’t do this, then he doesn’t trust God. But Jesus does not take the bait—he rebukes Satan: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt. 4:7).
As Christians, our lives of walking in faith before God are neither reckless nor fearful. They are wise. And wisdom considers risk carefully and lives accordingly. Faith really does believe in the sovereignty of God. God really does protect his people. God really does provide for his people. God’s perfect love in the gospel casts out fear, so that we really are released from fear. And being released from fear, we have a sensible attitude towards risk. We recognize that risk is always all around us, and so we are not paralyzed by it.
The reality is that every day we do thousands of hidden calculations about risk. For example, 36,560 people died in motor vehicle accidents in the United States in 2018. That’s a lot of people. In no way do I want to diminish the sorrow and horror of people dying in car accidents. Nevertheless we do not stop driving, and we do not stop crossing the street. We assess the risk, and apply wisdom to the risk. That kind of assessment could be multiplied across a million risk factors, and it absolutely applies today. We live as Christians, trusting God in the midst of a fearful world. We live as wise among the unwise.
Wisdom, in God’s always good providence, has become then a wonderful point of witness to an unbelieving world. One of the employees I mentioned above works for a notoriously anti-Christian grocery chain. All sorts of “spirituality” are welcome and a welcome subject for conversation, except for the gospel. This employee’s gentle faith is a stark contrast to the “spirituality” of many who are too fearful to come to work.
Risk is all around us in this fallen world; there is no escape from it. But God’s presence and promise is even more so, for he transcends this fallen world. And it is he himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is our security.
The author is pastor of Providence OPC in Charlottesville, Virginia. New Horizons, June 2020.