Are you safe?

“Are you safe?”

That is one of those questions I get constantly. Neighbors never ask that question, but people from the suburbs usually do. There are many variations of it. “will we be safe down there?” “I just don’t feel comfortable coming down there at night.” “Should I lock my car?”

There are near endless repetitions of this question, but they all get back to one basic issue: safety.

Duck and cover! It might work this time…

It is easy to think of the world as unsafe. ISIS, lone wolf terrorist attacks, war in Syria, increased crime, and after a brief reprieve we seemed to have returned to the Cold War threats of Russia and nuclear war

Many people have lately tried to respond to these threats in a very predictable way: by giving us information. So there are a flurry of articles about how crime isn’t actually increasing in most places in America. You can find statistics that show you are more likely to die due to a lightning strike than a terrorist attack.

I must admit that I am not innocent in this regard. I too will barrage people with a variety of stories and statistics in attempt to get the information across that my neighborhood isn’t dangerous.

And you know what? It hasn’t worked. I have quoted endless statistics about where the crime is located and why random violence is actually a very rare thing and told stories about how my neighborhood looks out for the church and etc…

We are told that we live in the information age. With my cell phone I can access pretty much the sum of all human knowledge. However, as T.S. Eliot writes “where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” All that information doesn’t stop that most frequent of questions “will I be safe?”

The Bible and Safety

For whatever reason, information seems to be no longer helpful. Maybe it’s that the information technology age has made information just more background noise instead of genuinely helpful. Maybe postmodernism has really made us incapable of processing information. Maybe people are just really stubborn now.

I’m not going to diagnose the reason in this space. The cultural forces are too much this inner city pastor. However, I will take a quick look with you at what the Bible says about safety.

The bible uses a triad of words to talk about safety: tamin, betach, and in the New Testament the greek word is asphales.

Tamin is used in psalm 18:32 where we read “the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe.” “Great,” we say to ourselves, “God makes and promises us safety.” Well, hold on. If you actually look at the word, Tamin means complete, whole, wholesome, entire, and sound and healthful. “Safe” is actually a pretty bad translation. What the psalmist is effectively saying is that God made the psalmist’s way complete. That is a fundamentally different promise than safety.

Betach is found in Psalm 4:8 (my favorite): “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” At first, Betach looks like it just means safety, but if you dig deeper you will find that Betach comes from the word batach which means trust. This word is used earlier in psalm 4 when the psalmist urges “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.” Again, the psalmist is not really saying that God gives us safety from “that neighborhood over there” but instead gives us trusting faith.

Finally, asphales means certain or secure (which is a little different than safety), but the real thing to note is that the word is used rarely in the New Testament and most often it is used to say that this or that person was brought safely to the trial or court. About the most significant use we get is in Hebrews 6:19 where the writer assures us that ‘We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain.” Again, we get the promise that hope is certain, not so much that our safety is certain.

Actually, our safety seems far from certain. Jesus says “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” And “ For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25; see also: Mark 8:35, Luke 17:33, John 12:25). If the New Testament is sure about one thing it is that a life of discipleship is far from safe.

Back to the question

Are you safe?

Martin Luther once said that “unbelief cannot be reasoned with. It can only be preached to.” In that spirit, I am no longer to throw information at you about safety. Instead I will only preach to you.

For make no mistake, our continual focus on safety is a form of unbelief. It reveals a lack of trust in our God, the promises of this Lenten and Easter season, and an idolatry that believes our survival is really what matters. And also make no mistake, our continual focus on safety is actually holding us back. The church has many struggles in this time, but one of them is getting over the false promise of safety.

And also make no mistake, our focus on safety is actually killing us. We are willing to cut ourselves off from neighbor, and in fact whole groups of people, because we feel unsafe. We are willing to break down our communities because a certain sexuality or gender or religion or race makes us feel insecure.

In contrast to all this the message of the bible, from the very moment that Abraham is told to leave his home and go the place that God will show, is that after we can no longer be safe and secure God gives us new life. I offer you no information to support this theory. No statistics that promise churches in unsafe positions always grow and thrive, for some do not.

I do, however, offer you the assurance of Jesus: that those who who lose their life for Jesus’ sake will find it. I also offer you the testimony that this has turned out to be true in my own life. It’s in the positions where I am being personally threatened or where I am listening to a really risky ministry idea that new life suddenly appears.

My prayer for you is that you will struggle against your natural desire for safety. Struggle against that natural attraction to security. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for Jesus’ sake will find it.

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