Pastor's Blog: Risk Elimination?

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An article appeared in this week’s New York Times emphasizing the impossibility of our completely eradicating the coronavirus, given how infectious disease specialists still have not been able to do away with the influenza, despite the numerous vaccines developed in recent years. But of course, the real point of the article was that eradication isn’t necessary to attain a level of normalcy in life. Just as we have learned how to deal with influenza as we go about our everyday affairs, so eventually will we be able to do with COVID, perhaps even as early as the summer! (“Risk Elimination? Impossible,” The New York Times, 2/24/21)

That hope was music to my ears. Like many of you, I’ve almost reached my breaking point over the course of the past year with respect to lockdowns, limited access, and outright cancellations. So, even if it means wearing face coverings and maintaining some physical distance for a few months longer, I’ll gladly trade those protocols for seeing things get back to a reasonable facsimile of what they were about this time last year.

As I’ve reflected on the article’s assumption that risk elimination in any respect is nothing more than an illusion, I’ve been reminded once again of how important the matter of risk is to one’s developing a strong and vibrant faith. While we may think that the assurance of our salvation does away with risk, we would do well to remember how Jesus’ call to his disciples was all about embracing it. How else should we interpret his invitation for disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him?

These days prior to Easter offer us plenty of opportunity to contemplate the level of our devotion to Christ and the risks we have assumed as a part of it. They also help us to see how we are not required to manage those risks in our own power. God’s grace in Jesus Christ connects us to every resource necessary to do so. Most importantly, they prepare us to celebrate the fact that with faith, as with everything else in life, without the assumption of risk there is little to no chance of receiving reward.

You may be familiar with Annie Dillard, an American author, best known for her narrative prose. In her Pulitzer Prize winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she makes the following observations about our reluctance to take on risks and what we lose in the process. Quoting the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, she writes:

There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.
I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright…We are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus. There is something deadening about going through life cautiously (p.274).

And Jesus would say, there is something deadening about going through faith cautiously as well. So, let us disabuse ourselves of the illusion of eliminating risk in any respect, even that of faith. For Christ’s sake and for ours, let’s instead take risks as they come and manage them in the power of sufficient grace. The reward is not in question, and neither should be our readiness to face them in the favor God bestows to those who always trust their way to Him.  

“The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).