“Stay Safe” or “Risk Your Life”
Isn't safeguarding just a modern concept for a health and safety crazed society? Should we follow safeguarding rules simply out of a legal obligation or because we actually think they are good and right to do? What does the Bible have to say about staying safe?
All good theology starts with God, and when we look at Scripture, we see that God is a God of righteousness (Psalm 19:9, Deuteronomy 32:4). He despises wickedness and rewards goodness (Romans 1:18, 2:10). He stands up for the rights of the oppressed, avenges the downtrodden and defends the weak (Proverbs 22:22-23, Psalm 72:4, Psalm 68:5). He only ever does that which is right, good, pure and holy. Righteousness is God’s middle name. If God cares about righteousness, about protecting the innocent, then so should we. He is our King, and so his concerns should be our concerns – “your will be done” (Matthew 6:10).
But we do not simply care for righteousness as God’s obedient subjects, but we also care for it as his image-bearers. This is a truth as old as time, and it changes everything. You and I have been formed in the image of our maker, and it is obvious (Genesis 1:27). Now God has many attributes that we do not have (all-present, eternal, etc.), but he also has many qualities that we share in (theologians call these “communicable attributes”). God has knowledge, power, and wisdom. And so we too have knowledge, power and wisdom (just obviously not to the same extent). God’s righteousness is an attribute we also have. He has an absolute commitment to what is right and, when we are rightly living out his image, then so do we. This desire to live a righteous life is one of the outcomes of recognising that Jesus is Lord, and being washed by his sacrificial blood (Colossians 3:1-14).
Protect the vulnerable
So, we care about righteousness, great, but what does this mean? Well, luckily enough, God tells us. God’s Word is not passive and suggestive, but through his act of speaking God creates. Through his words, God created the universe, through his Word preached, the lost are saved. When the Scriptures are obeyed, just and good societies and structures are formed. Once the Israelites have been rescued from Egypt, God does not leave them alone to work out how to live. No, he gives them the Ten Commandments, and examples of how these Commandments should be carried out (Exodus 19-23). Looking at these commands, you see God’s righteous nature throughout. If you attack your father or your mother, your servant or your slave, or a pregnant woman causing the child to be injured, then justice must be done (Exodus 21:12-25). While, in the Old Testament, we see clearly God establishing a righteous society for the Israelites to live in, in the New Testament, we see God establish good structures for the Church. One example of this is 1 Timothy 5. Firstly, children are called to look after their elderly parents, and secondly, the Church is called to look after widows if they have no children to take care of them. The safety, protection, and care of the vulnerable matters to God. This means the Church should establish who is vulnerable within their midst, and seek to care for them.
Modern-day safeguarding has a particular feel and flavour because the State has made clear regulations about it. But as we have seen, protecting and caring for the vulnerable is not a new idea. Justice is central to God, and so as his image-bearers, it is central for us. We should aim to build structures that ensure the vulnerable are looked after and that the strong cannot oppress the weak. Alone, without the State’s intervention, this should be our aim as Christians. However, our current safeguarding practices will be shaped by the State. God calls us to obey our earthly authorities when what they command does not go against his Word (Romans 13:1-2). This means, unless we have good reason to believe what the State is asking of us on safeguarding goes against God’s Word, then we should aim to obey obediently all that the State requires of us. We do this because we care about the safety of those under our care and because we want to be above reproach.
Take appropriate risks
However, if we were to finish here on the question of staying safe, then we would be in danger of only hearing one side of the Biblical witness. To understand the Biblical teaching on safety, then we must think of it like a sword. If you were to describe to me the ‘handle’, and then the ‘blade’, it would not be ridiculous for me to assume you are talking about two separate things that are not related. They serve entirely different purposes, can be of different materials and hold different shapes. However, only when they are put together, do you have a sword. So far, we have heard about the ‘handle’ of the Bible’s view on safety, and now it is time to hear about the ‘blade’ (i.e. the Bible’s view on taking risks). The two will sound very different, but only when we put them together will we have a clear picture.
God is righteous, and His Word creates just, good and safe societies and structures. However, God calls all believers not to be lovers of comfort but to lay aside our personal safety and to take risks. Moses risked it all when he refused to be thought of as a Prince of Egypt and instead aligned himself with his Hebrew ancestors. Wealth, power, and security were no longer his, and instead he had to flee (Hebrews 11:24-27). Esther risked it all when she went to see the King pleading for the lives of her people. Before going, she asked her friend to fast and pray for her, and she said to him these memorable words: “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). Death was a real possibility, yet she still went. In the helpful words of John Piper, for the Christian “risk is right.” In the eternal words of the apostle Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21) If we die for the cause of Christ, then we lose nothing and gain everything. And there is not a cause more important than this. People are worshipping idols when they should be praising the Living God. People are mocking Christ when they should be on their knees before him. When we preach the gospel, we take a risk; maybe our family will disown us, our friends drop us, our boss will fire us. Maybe it will bring about persecution or even our death. But when we live and speak for Jesus, then, and only then, will those who are heading to eternal damnation have the chance to hear and respond to the Good News and accept the invitation of eternal life. Is not that a risk worth taking?
It is necessary to sound a note of caution, however. This does not mean that God wants us to be reckless. When deciding if we should take a risk, this decision must be shaped by godly wisdom. If we think that this decision is going to put someone else in danger, maybe it is not right to make it. Perhaps we have the responsibility to care for someone vulnerable. Just because it would be right for us to take the risk, it does not mean it would be right for them to be placed at risk. Also, if we think that this decision is going to put our eternal souls in danger, then it will not be right to make it. Maybe in our past we used to meet lovers in gay bars and so it would be dangerous for us to go back there to evangelise because we could be led astray. The risk may be right, but recklessness is not, and a good way to tell the difference is to ask for help and guidance from our spiritual brothers and sisters that God has placed around us.
To conclude, God is a God of righteousness. He hates wicked deeds and loves good ones. We bear his image and so are made to care for what is right. This means we are literally designed to create structures that enable all people to flourish. God’s words are creative, and in his written Word he makes a society and a Church that look after the vulnerable. This has always been his plan, but now, in our time, we fulfil this, in part, by following State guidelines on safeguarding as a way of obeying our earthly authorities and staying above reproach. However, even though we care deeply about the safety of the vulnerable, we should care little for our own safety. Risk is not our enemy, but the calling of every Christian. So, we wisely take the risk. We live for Jesus. We speak for Jesus. We are ready and willing to die for Jesus. If I perish, I perish. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Autumn 2020 edition of Ascend