Should Christians Think Less About Safety?

Does God want you to keep yourself safe? The answer, from a Christian viewpoint, may be less obvious--and much less reassuring--than you might think.

Like everyone else, of course, Christians want to be safe. Like everyone else, we get rattled when fearsome things happen. We yearn to draw a ring of security around ourselves, our loved ones, our "tribe." It's why many Christians have applauded measures put forth to enhance security: gun ownership, airport luggage searches, a moratorium on welcoming Syrian refugees, the push to "make America great again."

Christians also seek to live according to God's will, as expressed in sources like the Bible. Here's where it gets unnerving. Those sources suggest that self-protection is low on God's priority list. Worse, self-defense can interfere with beliefs and behaviors that are close to God's heart.

It's true that God is concerned about our safety per se (again using the Bible and related sources as guides). Passages that concern our safety, threats to our safety, and deliverance from those threats are scattered throughout the Bible. The Psalms in particular overflow with appeals to God for safety and deliverance.

But these passages are all about how God delivers us. Few, if any, talk about how we might deliver ourselves. Quite the opposite, in fact: we're warned against seeking deliverance from creatures. God "is not impressed by the might of a horse; he has no pleasure in the strength of a man" (Psalm 147:11).

Moreover, a preoccupation with safety can get in the way of other things, about which God cares a great deal--like compassion for every human being, especially the marginalized. The biblical commandment about people beyond our own borders--"you shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 22:21)--stands against the anti-Muslim measures promoted by Donald Trump and his supporters. The Jesus of the gospels promised the kingdom of heaven to people of whom he could say, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me...I was in prison and you visited me" (Matthew 25:35).

Think about that a bit. Strangers are, by definition, unknown. We have no idea if they're safe. We do know that many prisoners are not safe--not by any standard.

And we are asked to care for them.

Now consider some of the heroes of the Christian faith. Mother Teresa went into India's most wretched slums to care for people forgotten by the world. St. Francis of Assisi crossed enemy lines to bridge divides with the Sultan of Egypt in the heat of the Fifth Crusade. Dorothy Day, a journalist by trade, did not just write about the poor and homeless; she lived among them.

Why do we admire them so? Why do we use their stories, virtues, and character as examples to live by? Partly because nothing--not even a healthy sense of self-preservation--prevented them from going where, in their understanding, God asked them to go.

Now some Bible students have made thoughtful cases in favor of self-defense for Christians. And few people of faith would condemn taking some well-considered steps to keep oneself and one's loved ones safe. Does anyone really want to argue against smoke alarms, seat belts, or martial arts training? After a great deal of reflection, I'm coming to believe that thoughtful gun ownership can be justified too.

The problem does not lie in these "well-considered steps." The problem comes when the steps are not well-considered: when we overreact, when we take steps and pass legislation purely out of fear, when we make safety a life pursuit. For people of faith, the challenge comes when we hear the call of God and, concerned for our own safety, refuse to respond.

As people of faith, then, we are often asked to act contrary to our first instincts and self-interest. God's call may take us into dangerous territory, and that may cost us. But a central message of the Christian faith is that even our death, the ultimate defeat of our attempts at self-protection, is not the end: we live on with God as the fruit of our good deeds lives on in the world. That is a fulfillment devoutly to be wished.