A risky faith
I’ve been thinking about the whole idea of risk-taking, faith, and Christian witness. They are all intertwined–and rightfully so–for Christian community, and necessarily come to the forefront in times like these.
I don’t think we prove we are Christians by taking unnecessary risks in “faith.”
For example, snake-handling is not a biblically justified practice even though there are some verses in the Bible about God’s protection from snakes in certain circumstances.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but deliberately exposing yourself to a disease isn’t biblical either, even though we have plenty of Scripture about divine protection and healing from sickness.
These are not universal promises for every situation, but usually poetic devices pointing the the ultimate security of the believer as they trust in God (Ps. 91), or instructions for a specific, time-bound assignment (Luke 10:19).
Certainly miracles of protection from things like snakes and poison can and do accompany the preaching of the Gospel (Mark 16:18). Nevertheless, these passages are not generally understood to be about keeping rattlesnakes as pets or lacing your Diet Coke with arsenic.
This stuff isn’t about a generally rash lifestyle or “proof” of personal faith, but rather signs to confirm the truth of the Gospel message in specific situations (e.g. Acts 28:3).
There are no guarantees of divine protection if you put yourself in harm’s way just because you can…especially in a effort to “prove” your faith. John Wesley said in his commentary on Mark 16:18, “God never calls us to try any such experiments.”*
That said, I do think the world will know we are Christians by our love (John 13:45), which always entails an element of risk.
The way we approach that risk isn’t “faith” that we won’t be hurt, though. Our faith is that acts of love of are worth the suffering. Our faith is that though we die now in the act of the love, we yet live again because our life is ultimately in the hands of God. Our faith is in the Christ that leads us not away from the Cross, but though it with him.
In other words, our motivation for taking risks in faith is to demonstrate hope and love in suffering, not to prove a level of personal “faith” that we won’t suffer.
Put still another way, Christians take risks for the sake of others, at their personal expense, not to make sure they are looking “strong”–especially at the expense of others.
Christians often look, seem, and feel weak and vulnerable in this, yet it is in these moments we are most like our Lord in his earthly ministry. God’s desire isn’t for us to look “strong” in the face of something like the current pandemic by throwing caution to the wind.
He wants us to be faithful to him, love our neighbors in practical ways, and exercise wisdom–even as we endure suffering through circumstances out of our control and beyond our understanding.
So, to find evidence of faith, we don’t look to extraordinary acts of boldness, we look to see if we growing and bearing fruit (John 15:8).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, ESV)
That’s what we’re looking for.
*John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, Fourth American Edition., (New York: J. Soule and T. Mason, 1818), 140.