By Ben Swift
‘Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.’ (Friedrich Nietzsche)
‘Risk taking’ seems to be a buzz term floating around the corporate and educational worlds of late. But risk taking in these contexts is far from the risk taking of the past. For those who grew up on old school playground equipment harbouring the risk of third degree burns as steel bars were superheated under the summer sun, or potential arsenic poisoning as splinters from the treated logs lodged into your blood stream, modern risk taking takes on a whole new meaning. Much of the old risk taking has been bubble wrapped and isolated from our well-protected lives.
While the laws of society may be protecting us from the freedom of risks such as those found in old school playgrounds, a different form of risk has evolved for the modern, western citizen. This risk often goes undetected until a person learns the hard way the price of breaking unwritten laws about what is politically correct to say in an ever-growing minefield of contexts. Terms of speech that were once perfectly polite and acceptable are now being angrily thrown back into the faces of those falling behind the current social benchmarks of acceptability.
I recently heard from a man who took the great risk of ordering a coffee on a flight to Canada. When asked by the air hostess how he would like his coffee, he answered, “White with one please.” No sooner had he put in his request he was advised that applying the terms ‘white’ or ‘black’ to coffee was completely unacceptable in this racially sensitive age. Shocked by this, the man who was of Indian descent and well aware of racial issues, became confused about how then to order his coffee. What could he say that would be less of a risk in offending any group of people? Did he need to explain that he would like his portion of coffee beans to be crushed, dissolved in boiling water with about 10ml of milk added?
Surely when it becomes a risk to use harmless words to describe how you would like your coffee in the off chance of breaking the unwritten, socially acceptable conventions of a group, there’s no other explanation, the world’s gone mad!
While it’s true that we all run the risk of unintentionally causing insult as our freedom of speech is narrowed by those who seek to protect seemingly every group other than those that follow Christ, how do those risks affect Christians?
Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias once suggested, “Truth by definition excludes.” This statement perhaps sums up the risk taking dilemma faced by those who seek to follow the truth of Christ in a world where truth is whatever you want it to be.
Surely to follow Christ is to risk offending anyone who seeks affirmation and acceptance for a lifestyle or belief system that sits outside biblical teaching?
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
When Jesus claimed to be the exclusive way to God, he knew very well that for his people this would cause division and hardship. Why else does he refer to the Christian life as one that involves taking up a cross?
“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:32-34)
When it comes to Christianity, there’s no escaping the flow on effect of subjecting your life to the exclusive truth that is Christ as revealed in Scripture. If the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are to be read, interpreted and understood as the Word of God, there must be a flow on effect as we listen to God speaking into the way we live, inwardly, outwardly, collectively and individually.
It is here that the risk is no longer a risk but a guarantee of rejection from the world. If we stand for Christ exclusively, without carefully selecting which sections of Scripture we agree with and disregarding what remains, we will stand apart from the world. The divisiveness that Christ spoke about is not the result of his intention to destroy relationships but rather that, out of love, he calls people to stand apart from the world in truth so that they may live in his saving grace.
When what is being normalised in society lies in contradiction to the teachings of Christ, what will we do? When issues associated with injustice, sexuality, education, politics and religion confront us, where will we turn for answers? To make this even more difficult the institution of the church too often creates confusion that leads to divisiveness by conforming to the pressures of the surrounding culture; trading the rock of Christ for the sandy foundation of the world.
As the seasons of life continue to change, bringing new and recycled issues to our doorsteps we need to remember that our responses do involve risks. The question is how do we weigh up those risks and what are the costs? It may just come down to some heated discussion but it also may become the tipping point between truth, life and death.
The good news however is that the human right to life found in Christ alone is a right that cannot be taken away, even if it becomes politically incorrect; even in death.