I am not by nature, a risk taker. I like to play it safe and be cautious, investing my time and energy in those things that I know will be fruitful. Over the years, this cautious side of me has come into great conflict with one relationship in particular. This person is constantly putting me in situations where I am not comfortable, making me deal with things that I believe are beyond my ability to handle. Sometimes it has been so bad that I have been tempted to break it off—I mean if someone loves you they wouldn’t treat you like this, would they? Wouldn’t they just allow you to be who you are without constantly challenging you? Wouldn’t they try to walk you into situations that they knew would make you feel good instead of stressed and overwhelmed?
Some of you might have guessed who this risky person is, having experienced the same relationship—this person is God.
What I’ve come to understand over the years is that God’s love is nothing like we’d imagine it to be. He neither tells us everything we’d like to hear in order to make us feel better about ourselves nor does bring down the judgment that we fear. He instead takes a different approach—He walks with us. And as He walks, He leads us along paths that we would mostly never choose only to find that as we walk with Him, we learn love and we learn judgment. We learn to rely on Him in profound ways, and we see our weakness in ways we’d prefer not to see.
You see, God is a risk taker. Most of us, when we love someone, want to make them as happy with us as possible. We dress nicely, we curb our bad habits, and we create situations that show us in our best light to prevent any possibility of them feeling the need to get away. Not so God—from the very beginning with Adam and Eve, where He actually provides this idyllic home and relationship, He also provides a way to reject Him. He basically says, “Here I am and all I have to offer, but you can reject this and me if you choose. In fact, I’ll show you how, if you so should.” And when they do, in fact, reject all He has offered, He still doesn’t do what is expected. When we are betrayed, we walk away justified in our desertion. But God instead creates a plan for reconciliation, but a plan that still includes the ability to choose or to reject.
This concept is communicated powerfully in The Giver. In this book, Jonas has been chosen to be the receiver of memories. He lives in a community where everything is decided for them—their vocation, their spouse, even their children (they don’t actually consummate their marriages). The result is that everything is peaceful, but everything is the same. Jonas, by receiving memories of the past, is learning about a contrasting world—a world with colors, textures, and choices he’s never before experienced. Frustrated by this contrast, Jonas explains his feelings to his mentor (who is The Giver of memories)…
“Well…”Jonas had to stop and think it through. “If everything’s the same, then there aren’t any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things! A blue tunic, or a red one?”
He looked down at himself, at the colorless fabric of his clothing. “But it’s all the same, always.”
Then he laughed a little. “I know it’s not important, what you wear. It doesn’t matter. But–”
“It’s the choosing that’s important, isn’t it?” The Giver asked him.
Jonas nodded. “My little brother–”he began, and then corrected himself. “No, that’s inaccurate. He’s not my brother, not really. But this newchild that my family takes care of—his name’s Gabriel?”
“Yes, I know about Gabriel.”
“Well he’s right at the age where he’s learning so much. He grabs toys when we hold them in front of him—my father says he’s learning small-muscle control. And he’s really cute.”
The Giver nodded.
“But now that I can see colors, at least sometimes, I was just thinking: what if we could hold up things that were bright red, or bright yellow, and he could choose? Instead of the Sameness.”
“He might make wrong choices.”
“Oh.” Jonas was silent a minute. “Oh, I see what you mean. It wouldn’t matter for a newchild’s toy. But later it does matter, doesn’t it? We don’t dare let people make choices of their own.”
“Not safe?” The Giver suggested.
“Definitely not safe, “Jonas said with certainty. “What if they were allowed to choose their own mate? And chose wrong?”
“Or what if,” he went on, almost laughing at the absurdity, “they chose their own jobs?”
“Frightening, isn’t it?” The Giver said.
Jonas chuckled. “Very frightening. I can’t even imagine it. We really have to protect people from wrong choices.”
“Yes,” Jonas agreed. “Much safer.”
Jonas later on realizes that safer is not actually better, and he knows that something must be done.
In real life, many might argue that religion’s one goal has been to make things the same—to remove people’s ability to choose, specifically to choose wrong. And, that’s true—religion has done this in the past, and continues to do this. But, oddly enough, this is man’s doing, not God’s.
In a myriad of ways, God has demonstrated His desire for choice. We see it in the many, many varieties of colors, textures, tastes, and smells. He could have created a monochromatic world without flavor or sensation. But he did not.
He created sex, knowing it could be abused.
He created food, knowing it could become an obsession.
He created us, knowing we could be broken.
We might argue then the other side. He shouldn’t have done it. He should have made it safe. But no matter how much we might want to argue this point, we know in our very beings that there is something immoral about this, just as those who read the book or watched the movie The Giver would have discerned.
Despite this conundrum, I am also amazed at what God has trusted us with. Besides our own person, He has put the fate of the world in our hands. First, consider the huge amount of trust that He displays by allowing us to be a part of the miracle of life. He places His greatest treasure in our fallible hands and says, “Take care of this little, dependent baby. Meet his needs. Nourish him. Raise him to respect the world and its Creator.” I can think of no greater responsibility than that of parenthood. The ridiculous amount of power we have over their lives to do good or to do harm is staggering. How much God risks with us!
And, if that were not enough, God has entrusted us, His Church, with the very life-giving message of His Gospel. For years, the church, like the community in The Giver, was afraid to let the people have the Word of God in their own language. They feared, correctly, that man would distort it and misinterpret it. They didn’t trust man with God’s Word. Yet, God made a way for the Word to be released to the world through the herculean efforts of heroes like Martin Luther and William Tyndale, and a firestorm was released. For the first time in many hundreds of years, people could read the Bible on their own, and a revival broke out all over Europe. But, what also broke out was heresy and falsehoods and violence. Such a risk. But from this cauldron of chaos, the Gospel emerged clear and bright, a beacon in a dark night, and the world was forever changed.
Finally, there is no greater risk than the incarnation. In the person of the Infant Christ, He is ridiculously vulnerable—dependent on others to care for and protect Him encumbered by all the limitations of human flesh, poverty, and oppression.
While we might fret over the positions of risk that God asks us to follow Him in, we must remember that He literally does not ask us to do anything that He hasn’t done for us in huge and tangible ways—and continues to do. Every day He opens Himself up to our possible rejection of His plan for us. You see, we still have the choice, like in the garden, to accept or reject Him. Every day, we have the choice to walk forward with Him as He navigates us through uncharitable lands. If He is willing to risk it all for us, can we not return the favor? No matter what seems to be going on in our lives, no matter how impossible to explain, God is at work.
“And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16
It may seem that God is asking you to take an unfair risk, but we know that He, by far, has taken the biggest risks. He has offered us the world and His heart, and now He asks for our trust.