Every single day, nearly every single person reading this article chooses to engage in an action that is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Every day, millions of Americans choose to take to the open road in an automobile. Each year, automobile accidents claim nearly 36,000 lives in the United States. Worldwide, 3,700 lives are lost daily in such accidents.
And yet, I am extremely confident that my reference to these statistics is not going to stop anyone from actually driving. How can I be so sure? Because, culturally, the ability to drive is extremely rewarding and the refusal to drive would place one in quite a deficit. In short, we get behind the wheel of cars and buckle our little ones into back seats because we believe that the risk is worth the reward.
A risk is any action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury, and we all take them every day. If we refused to take risks, we would not be able to live. We would stay locked up inside our homes all the time, but even that carries its own risks. And so, the issue for each of us is never, “Do I risk?” Instead, the question we must wrestle with is always, “Which objectives do I believe are worth the risk?” We will always risk if we believe in the value of the reward.
The emergence of COVID-19 has each of us playing a new game of risk calculus. Since February, our world has been obsessed with this virus. I wake up each morning to an email with daily coronavirus statistics. Our governor still gives daily coronavirus press conferences. Our lives have been completely altered by new rules and mandates. Public health and safety have become the topics that everyone is talking about. Millions of Americans are working from home, and millions of children are not going to school.
There’s a lot of wisdom in this response. Safety, after all, is a very good thing.
However, obsession can also be dangerous. The Bible has a word for when good things become ultimate things: idolatry. Idolatry occurs anytime something other than God drives one’s existence. Whenever someone says, “I can’t live without this,” or “I can’t be happy if I don’t have this,” idolatry should be a concern. Safety is a good gift from God. However, if safety becomes our ultimate obsession—the concern that drives our existence—it can become our god.
When safety becomes ultimate, people quit taking risks. When Christians quit taking risks, they can no longer follow Jesus faithfully. In all of our obsession with safety and health, the church is in danger of forgetting that that there are things worth dying for.
As I’ve talked to fellow pastors in these days, I’ve heard a consistent concern expressed. Understandably, people have made the difficult decision to pause participation in the church out of concern over COVID-19. Many of these people have pre-existing health conditions, and many of them are striving to stay connected in other ways. In difficult times, we understand that difficult decisions have to be made.
However, these pastors also tell me that they have people in their churches who refuse to come to church, yet their social media profiles show them participating in all kinds of other activities. For some people, church is too dangerous, but sports leagues, grocery stores, and restaurants are fine.
The reason we have local churches today is because, throughout history, Christians have risked their lives in order to further the gospel of Jesus. The book of Acts chronicles how the apostles and early church, empowered by God’s Spirit, boldly proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus to the world. They often undertook this task in the face of persecution and suffering. They were willing to risk their lives because they believed Jesus was worth the risk.
In 165, the city of Rome experienced a pandemic in which an estimated one-third of the city’s population perished. Yet, in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, the church was exploding. Testimonies from that era tell us why. While most hid in their homes, Christians, following the example of Christ’s sacrificial love, courageously cared for the sick and dying. They saw danger, not as a threat, but as an opportunity to make the worth of Jesus known.
2020 has been a tough year, but the adversity we are facing is not unprecedented. We must not allow it to become the year when the church stopped taking risks for Jesus. We will always risk for that which we most value. The questions we have to ask ourselves are, “Do we believe Jesus is valuable? Do we believe Jesus and the church for which he died are worth the risk?”