For months I have been trying to write this post. Months of mulling it over, of watching God define this word for me. Every time I come close to posting it, something major happens. This morning, a category 4 hurricane is ravaging Haiti. It isn’t the first time for Haiti to suffer disaster, but now it hits closer to home—now I have missionary friends who live there. And I have a sponsored child in Haiti, one who is just trying to survive and thrive, who has a mama trying to keep her family together.
In the past months, it seems like every time I start to type, heartbreaking news flashes before me and I stop. Another riot. Lives lost unnecessarily. Fear of each other, hatred of each other. A plane crash. A sudden, unexpected death after a short battle with cancer. A devastating car wreck. How can I write about safety? How can I write about the sovereignty of God? I am just a middle class, American white girl. What do I truly, TRULY know of danger? Yet, here I am. I’m going to write it anyway.
How does the average American define safety? Truly, if you could break it down, it comes to “small-town, uneventful, predictable life”. Is it not? Every picture of safety we have been shown ever since earliest childhood has been just that. It has been hammered into us right from our cardboard storybooks as toddlers, it comes right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. We feel safe when we can control the outcomes, where we can have all our chicks near us and no one can touch them. We want quaint, cozy, small lives that no one can touch. Is this accurate, and is there any freedom from fear in it? Is this theologically correct at ALL?
Jen Hatmaker shook my world last year when I read her words in “For the Love”:
“There is a biblical benchmark I now use. We will refer to this criterion for every hard question, big idea, topic, assessment of our own obedience, every “should” or “should not” and “will” or “will not” we ascribe to God, every theological sound bite. Here it is: If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true. If a sermon promises health and wealth to the faithful, it isn’t true, because that theology makes God an absolute monster who only blesses rich westerners and despises Christians in Africa, India, China, South America, Russia, rural Appalachia, inner-city America, and everywhere else a sincere believer remains poor. If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true.”
So, how then do we define safety for those who live in war zones? Or the inner city of Chicago, or those who live in fear of the police (or the police who live in fear of the mob)? What of those who are in imminent danger from a category 4 hurricane, such as at this very moment? What of those who are Christians in the Middle East, living every day with the knowledge that their lives could end at any moment?
How can we define safety in a way that applies to all, in a way that captures God’s heart?
While traveling all over this beautiful land over the summer, I penned in my journal a different definition of safety:
“If I died in a train wreck or in a shooting or an airplane crash or terrorist bombing, if I were kidnapped or raped or tortured, would God cease to be near me? Would it be because I am out of His care? What of the Christians being beheaded by ISIS, or the ones who in the past were burned at the stake? If my life ended suddenly in some accident or by some illness, would we say that God was not near to me? Or that God did not deliver me? The Christians who are truly being persecuted in other parts of the world don’t ask for deliverance from their abuse, but that they would faithfully represent Christ in it. [from Nik Ripken, The Insanity of God]. So, as a missionary, but even more so just as a simple Christian, my entire definition of safety must shift, just like my definitions of “home” and “family” have been.
SAFETY: the reality that I am in Christ, that I am in the shelter of His wings, that nothing can separate us, that He knows it all and never ever wastes anything. That He knows already every day and breath ordained for me from the beginning, so when the end comes it will not be “a shame”, “an accident”, “too soon”, or even “a great tragedy”. That if things turn out where by body is unharmed it’s okay, but it’s just as okay if my body is harmed and perhaps does not even survive, because either way God is near to me, and God reigns sovereign.
He sits enthroned over the flood. Safety is not being near men with guns who could protect my body, but it is instead trusting that I am exactly where God wants me to be and my understanding of it doesn’t matter a whole lot. Obedience is the imperative, and personal physical safety and prolonging life on earth is completely irrelevant.
This perspective takes the fear out of absolutely everything, really. God is near to me and I am home when I am near to Him. Persecution, harm, danger, ceases to be that now. This is the picture of Aslan (and my Savior) that the Mr. Beaver paints to little Lucy in “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” when he says “Safe? No, he’s not safe. But He is GOOD.”
This definition makes sense.
It makes sense to the single mom in Haiti, to my sweet little sponsored girl and her parents and my missionary friends who are in great physical peril at this moment. This definition makes sense to my beloved friend who lost her son suddenly to croup a few years ago. This definition makes sense to my friends in the Middle East, who know that they have never for one moment been promised ease and security in this life on earth, but they know closeness with God like few others ever experience. This definition makes sense as I prepare to live in an unfamiliar country and travel to many other unfamiliar countries, willingly putting myself in situations that make my family squirm in their seats to imagine all the horrible ways they could turn out. This definition makes sense to the Alaskans I lived with who, to travel anywhere at all, must climb into tiny bush planes and brave the wilderness.
Our lives are in God’s hands. He alone is our definition of safety.
With boldness then, I say this: regardless of who wins the election this year, or what countries are at war, or what natural disasters come, God is sovereign. Psalm 29 says “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood.” Psalm 75 says “When all the earth and all its people quake, the Lord holds its pillars firm.” The safest place to be is near to Him. People may still harm us. The Christians in Syria may still be martyred. Riots may continue, and police brutality as well.
But true safety? It’s knowing, truly knowing that you know that you know, you are in the right place at the right time, right in the center of His will for you. Small towns and uneventful lives, guns in our homes and even good political leaders cannot provide this. Our attempts to micromanage and control every possible element of our lives cannot provide this. Oh, I believe in some of these as good things, don’t get me wrong. But they are absolutely not ever the source of our safety. Life can be turned upside down in any instant, in any place, and no one is exempt.
“But as for me, it is good to be near God, I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.” Psalm 73