Sometimes the western church is so cliche, it kills me. I am by no means an adrenaline junkie, but I am adventurous, and when it comes to my Spiritual walk, I have made some decisions that others might consider “dangerous”. Intended as a comfort to my parents, and even to me at times, people have often quoted that statement we have all heard:
“The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”
As if we could ever not be in the center of God’s will or plan… But that’s a whole other conversation. I want to consider for a moment this statement and its role in our theology and worldview.
Having been established in a developed, well-governed and polite society for multiple generations, many of us assume physical safety not only a right, but a normal part of life. For the vast majority of us, the fear of someone taking our lives or our possessions is minimal, and something we rarely consider. Yes, murders do occur in the western world, but we have security systems and police and military forces to keep us safe. We pursue careers and happiness, not survival.
As with most cultural norms, we project this onto our Spiritual belief system. We think, “God is love, and if God loves me, He will keep me physically safe, provide a good job, financial security and happiness. Love gives me what I want and need, and I need all of those things.” We may not say this out loud, but it is how we live. Thus we get frustrated with God when one of those things fails. But not to fear, “When God closes a door, He opens a window!” Man, we have a cliche for everything!
We must stop to consider what the safety is that God promises? We learn in 2 Peter that we have been given everything that we need for life and godliness through the Scripture and relationship with Jesus (2 Peter 1.3). God has also promised to provide all of our needs – with the very clear caveat: to fulfill His will in our lives (Phil 4.19). Our needs, however, are those things which will push us to God and to Spiritual maturity. Do we need a house? A car? Happiness at our job? Obedient children? Jesus walked the Earth and conducted His ministry without a house, without transportation, often ridiculed and persecuted in His ministry, and with a close friend who turned Him over to be murdered. Would you consider your needs met if your existence looked like that?
Scripture also teaches us not only that everyone will die (Heb 9.27), and that as a consequence of our sin (Rom 6.23), and not only that, but it is God Himself who demands our physical life as that consequence (Gen 9.5). God wrote the law of sin and consequence, and He will require of us our lives because we have sinned. Jesus also suffered physical death. If it is promised that everyone will die, and Jesus Himself suffered the most gruesome of deaths, is our life on Earth the physical safety that He promises? It cannot be.
Jesus hand picked twelve apostles (Judas excluded, Paul included), and eleven of those twelve were killed for their faith. They traveled extensively and gave of their lives to expand the Kingdom, and ultimately died for the cause.
“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
– 2 Tim 3.12
Hudson Taylor started the China Inland Mission, which was widely at work when the Boxer Rebellion started in 1900. This was an uprising that actively pushed back against Western and Japanese influence and they intentionally murdered foreigners. Fifty-eight adults and twenty-one children of the missionary force were murdered that year. Were those missionaries not in the center of God’s will?
Were the Burnams who were sent out by Frontier Missions outside of God’s will when they were taken captive by Muslim radicals on Mindanau? Or Jim Elliott and team when they were murdered trying to reach the Auca Indians? How about Samuel Munson and Henry Lyman when they went to Indonesia and were eaten by the people they wanted to reach? Or Dorothy Kaze, Maura Clarke and Jean Donovan when they were raped, beaten and murdered by the El Salvadorian military?
Quite the contrary, actually. God promises our eternal safety. Salvation is Spiritual life and communion with Him. Salvation begins by a Spiritual birth (John 3), and while we are alive physically is worked out through our sanctification (1 Thess 4.3), and when we die, we shed our physical bodies and will be made fully righteous and holy (Phil 3.21, 1 Cor 15.51-54). This is why Jesus gives us the ominous command,
– Matt 10.28
When we have confessed our sins, repented of them, and turned to Jesus for eternal salvation, our souls have been made alive in Him. Our souls cannot and will not die, they will enter into eternity in the presence of God when we die. We, therefore, have nothing to fear – even in death.
Paul, the very one who promised us that God would provide all of our needs spoke boldly about His Spiritual contentment in any situation – even in hunger and imprisonment:
“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
– Phil 4.11-13
Can you suffer imprisonment, hunger and loss with joy and contentment? This is what Paul says we can do through Christ who strengthens us. Not necessarily become successful or be fat and happy.
In summary, I do believe that the safest place we can be is in the center of God’s will. Jesus Himself said we should fear God – the one who can destroy our souls in Hell forever. Therefore, to be outside of His will is to have an eternity of pain and suffering ahead of us. We must, however, redefine safety and our expectations of God. If Jesus is our example, I know of none who are following it without extra expectations upon God. Let us be bold in following Jesus. Let us expect no more than God promises, and let us recognize the value of Spiritual life and eternal security in Him. Are you safe today?