Thoughts on taking risks, and being reckless:
Lately I have been speaking about the issue of risk and how life is always about trade-offs: getting the right balance between sensibly being safe and secure, yet not becoming a virtual slave with no freedoms to achieve such safety. Governments have to weigh up the pros and cons on such matters as do individuals.
So too do Christians. We do not want to be reckless and foolish when it comes to putting ourselves or others in danger, but we do not want to be paralysed by fear and never take any risks. Biblical balance is needed here, along with some common sense.
All this has especially come to the fore over the past 18 months as we have dealt with Covid. I have written often about the issues of fear, risk, freedom and safety. An early piece on this is found here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/04/18/corona-and-the-elimination-of-risk/
And a much more recent piece is this: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/09/11/fear-safety-and-slavery/
I revisit this set of topics again because I was recently asked by someone how I might reconcile various biblical themes. He wrote:
I’ve been praying a bit about whether I should fight for the helpless or not. I see things of Evil everywhere and only desire to honour God in His ways. I’ve made many wrong choices by thinking I was doing things Gods way, then realised later it was not His will. I came across this proverb 27:12 today and even though it seems wrong to hide, yet it’s seems clear to me, it’s His way. I was reminded of Gideon hiding in the wine press from his enemies. What’s your thoughts in this please?
A fair question, and an important one. I did offer him a short reply at the time, and I trust he does not mind if I speak to this matter further here. What follows then is a much larger version of the response that I gave to him:
As to this proverb, it is actually repeated twice. The ESV rendering of Proverbs 22:3 and 27:12 puts it this way: “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” The HCSB renders the verses this way: “A sensible person sees danger and takes cover; the inexperienced keep going and are punished.”
These two proverbs speak to the matter of being wise in the face of danger, and of not putting ourselves in harm’s way unnecessarily. As such they offer good, sound advice to all of us. We always need to take care, to be cautious, and to avoid recklessly endangering ourselves and those around us.
But that is not the end of the matter of course. Sometimes we must do risky things – things that may well result in harm to ourselves – even death. That too can simply be a matter of common sense. Most people, if they hear a child screaming as a stray dog is attacking him or her will rush in to try to rescue the child. They know full well that this can be risky, and they may well get hurt in the process.
There are countless examples of this. If a car veers off the road into a raging river, many brave citizens will cast aside all concern about self preservation and will literally risk life and limb to save the trapped driver. A neighbour’s house on fire may inspire similar acts of bravery and self-sacrifice.
And then we have times of war where young people will enlist to fight an evil enemy, knowing full well they might lose their lives in the process. All acts of heroism and courage tend to involve great personal risk. And many people will die in the attempt to help or save others.
The Bible of course speaks to this in many ways. Jesus obviously is the prime example of someone going to great lengths to rescue others – even at the cost of his own life. While his work of saving sinners is a one-off action, it has inspired countless other believers to put themselves in harm’s way in order to do good to others, or to resist evil.
Having just reread the book of Daniel we see a number of clear examples of this. To keep himself undefiled, Daniel refused to partake of the King of Babylon’s food and drink (see Daniel 1). That was a very risky move, since he could easily have offended the King and got himself into a lot of trouble. I just wrote about this yesterday: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/09/11/daniel-and-the-counterculture/
And look at Daniel 3 where Daniel’s three friends refuse to bow down and worship the King’s golden image. That certainly got them into hot water – or hot fire: they were tossed into a fiery furnace for their disobedience. Of course God protected them while in there, but it was a massive risk to stand true to Yahweh.
And Daniel 6 gives us another clear example of risking everything to stay true to God. Daniel refused to stop praying to the one true God, knowing that the penalty for this recalcitrance entailed being thrown into the lions’ den. Talk about putting oneself in harm’s way. But again, God delivered the righteous (although this is not always the outcome of course).
The Apostle Paul was always taking risks as he preached the gospel far and wide. As a result, he was always getting into trouble and always putting himself in danger. But this was not a matter of being reckless or careless, but of obeying his divine marching orders.
As to Gideon hiding in the wine press, that is another interesting biblical story. Gideon seems to have been hiding in fear of the Midianites as we read about in Judges 6. But when the angel of the Lord appeared to him, he called him a ‘mighty warrior’ (perhaps with a bit of humour). Here we may have had a case of the wrong sort of fear: the fear of man instead of the fear of God.
Cowardice is never seen as a virtue in Scripture, nor by most non-Christians. Fear rightly used can keep us out of trouble. We may not break the speed limit as we drive for fear of being caught by the police. But fear can also be a debilitating and paralysing emotion that we need to overcome. The examples I gave above are cases in point.
When we are called to help others, or do that which is right, that will often put us in danger. Doing what should be done is usually risky. Brave champions like Hans and Sophie Scholl or Dietrich Bonhoeffer took great risks in standing against the Nazis – and they paid the ultimate price for doing so.
Again, we need biblical balance here. The Proverbs quoted above are absolutely true. But they must be balanced with other biblical texts, including those that urge us to put God first, regardless of the costs. Daniel and his friends did this. Paul did this. Countless Christian heroes over the centuries have done this as well.
But we also must not be reckless or foolish in putting ourselves in danger. As is so often the case, it is a matter of seeking what it is that God wants us to do, and then doing it. But it must be done in God’s way. When Moses killed the Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, he meant well, but he was acting in the flesh.
But many years later when he stood before Pharaoh and defied him to his face, he was acting according to God’s express command. Both actions were very risky, and both had consequences, but only one was done in God’s way, in God’s time, and with God’s enabling.