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Safety and Wildness July 23, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Peace, Sacrifice, Struggles, Trust.
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I live in what is probably one of the safest places on the planet. For starters, I live in the U.S., which means serious concerns about wars, large scale epidemics, waterborne illnesses, and starvation are (or appear to be) pretty much off the table. I live in a part of the country that almost never experiences hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunami. My state occasionally gets flooding and tornadoes, but almost never my area of it. My town is firmly middle-class, with very little crime,  and I live in a family-oriented development where kids play freely with minimal supervision. My commute to work is short, statistically reducing my chances of being in a car accident. The biggest risk I have to worry about from my job is carpal tunnel. And I have really good health insurance.

A couple nights ago we had a thunderstorm. It wasn’t that bad, a little rain, a little wind. A lot of lightning, and a tantalizing chance of hail. But as I lay in bed watching the light show outside, it occurred to me that all this safety is, of course, imaginary. Sure, statistically, my odds are better than a lot of people’s to live a long and healthy life. But lightning could strike the tree outside my window, which could fall into the house and kill me. I could get hit by a car crossing the street or riding my bike. I could get cancer. I could fall down the stairs and break my neck. There is no safety in the world, only risk management. As God said to Job:

“What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
to water a land where no man lives,
a desert with no one in it,
to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?
Does the rain have a father?
Who fathers the drops of dew?
From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen?”
Job 38:24-30

Despite all our technology we can’t even predict the weather, much less control it. There are plenty of diseases with no cure. There are terrorists, epidemics, global climate change. And that’s not even counting the more run of the mill dangers of everyday life. But we like our illusion of safety. We’ve worked so hard to cultivate it, especially here in the suburbs where we make sure everything is as pleasant and inoffensive as possible, so we don’t have to think about the dangers of the world.

There’s just a couple of problems with this. The first is, no matter how seemingly risk-free we manage to make our lives, eventually something will happen. We will have that heart attack, that car accident, or choke on that hot dog. Or if we’re really lucky maybe we just won’t wake up one day. No matter what it is, it will happen sooner or later whether we admit it or not.

The second problem is that safety makes us dead to faith. It is so hard be radically reliant on God when we have so many things around us making us feel protected and secure. It’s completely stupefying.  What do we need God for? It is only when something bad happens that we are shaken from our slumber to beg him to take care of us. When we have a house to protect us from the elements and a job to pay the bills and a fridge full of food and relative good health, it’s hard to remember the source of it all is not ourselves – and that it could be gone in an instant.

I always feel closest to God when I’m in nature, and the farther into wilderness the better. Part of it is because I am surrounded by the things he made, rather than things made by man. But I think most of it is that there is nothing between me and the world that I can fool myself into thinking will keep me safe. I am at the mercy of the elements, the wildness of the world. It is my Father’s world and I live or die at his pleasure. Of course that is always the case, whether I am on a mountaintop in a blizzard or in my climate-controlled living room. But when I am in an environment where I cannot even pretend to have the slightest grasp of control, I become starkly aware of it. I am forced to acknowledge his supremacy and my inability to save myself from anything.

But most of us cannot live in the literal wilderness. And when we come back home, or when we get over our scary illness, or recover financial stability it again becomes a struggle to remember that we are just as dependent on God in the fat times as the lean, in the safety as in the insecurity. I admit I am not very good at this. I become smug and complacent like everyone else, until something shakes me up.

Perhaps the key is to not seek out a life of safety. I don’t mean take up extreme sports just to feel closer to God. But to not make security and stability my number one motivation for everything I do. Make reliance on him my motivation and see where it leads me, no matter the apparent danger. Open myself up to emotional risks, financial risks, and yes, even physical risks in pursuit of what he wants for me.

Because our God is many things, but he is not safe. The Lord is a warrior, Exodus tells us. He is wild. He is unpredictable and, on some level, unknowable. He does not think like we do. And he doesn’t promise us safety. In fact he promises us trouble and pain and conflict in pursuit of him, even unto death in some cases. So if we’re focusing on our own safety we are, by default, not focusing on him.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8-9

I am not sure what following God’s thoughts instead of my own looks like in my life yet. Am I supposed to give up my apartment and live barefoot in the street? Sell all my possessions and move to Ethiopia?  Maybe. Or maybe there are other things he wants me to risk for him. There are things that I find more frightening, certainly – for me giving up and running away is much less scary than sticking around learning how to live honestly where I am. But I am only starting on this journey, and what risking things for God means may change many times over the years. And I am not great at giving up control, or taking risks that weren’t my own idea.

But I know I don’t want to let my relative prosperity or imaginary security lull me into insipid lethargy or a false sense of self-reliance. Or to let my attachment to the safety I seem to have now become more important than seeking to know God’s wildness better. And I will try to cherish the thunderstorms and the steep mountains paths and the crises in life, big and small, that remind me of the glorious unpredictability of the world and force me back into spiritual dependence on my heavenly Father just as soon as I start to think I can take care of myself.

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