Safe and Sound?: A Biblical Perspective on Safety

The intention of the following is not to attempt to dictate policy in how you see matters of "national security." Macro issues of protection are complex and are not my focus here. Let's get more personal. Let's talk about you. And me. And even our own families.


Safety is Important

Most of us are people who value the notion of SAFETY. We teach our kids to look both ways before crossing a street. We put helmets on their heads when they are learning to ride a bicycle. We want to know our potential babysitters really well before they are ever left with our kids.  We remove choking hazards from our babies' reach when we notice them. 

And we value SAFETY for ourselves too. Do you check the tread on your tires? Do you buckle a seat belt when you get in? Do you test your smoke detectors in the home? 

We rightly value safety because life is precious. And the Scriptures present value in being concerned about health and safety. 

Nehemiah is a book of the Bible that largely emphasizes the need for the safety of a community of people. Nehemiah's concern about Jerusalem is that he hears about the lack of progress in rebuilding the city, especially the fact that it lacks a protective wall around it - a necessary feature in the ancient world...without which a city was highly vulnerable to attack or raid. And when rival leaders catch wind of Nehemiah's purpose in coming to Jerusalem to organize the rebuilding of a protective wall, they are upset that "someone had come to seek the SHALOM of the sons of Israel" (Nehemiah 2:10). SHALOM is a Hebrew expression of "peace" that really means an all-around "well-being" or "wholeness." Here this wholeness of both the community and the individuals in it is connected with the work on safety issues.

The way the Acts of the Apostles chronicles the pattern of bodily danger of early Christians especially in the preaching of the Gospel is also informative. We see some killed because of the Gospel: Stephen in Acts 7, James the brother of John in Acts 12. But we also see the lives of others spared. A group of women later in Acts 12 are gathered for prayer for the life of Peter and he is released by God's intervention. Earlier in Acts 9, we see Christians helping the newly converted Saul of Tarsus escape the city of Damascus to save his life. Even Jesus Himself escaped attempts on His life on many occasions that came before "His hour had come."

Life in the human body is of high value, and we can discern from many places in Scripture (such as 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; 9:24-27; 1 Timothy 4:8) that some level of bodily health and discipline is a necessary component of stewardship. Paul acknowledges in Philippians 1 that to live longer in the body is "Christ" in the sense that more Kingdom Work can be accomplished in proportion to the time he is allotted to live on in his current body.

Having said all of this, like all things that are good and important, we can easily elevate Safety to a position it was never intended to have in terms of our priorities...and thereby turn it into an idol.


Safety is not the Most Important Thing

I find our common expression of calling ourselves "safe and sound" a bit intriguing. By biblical definition of "sound," it's an expression of health. So we would think that SAFE and SOUND would almost be synonymous. However, safety as we most often use it focuses on the condition of the body (free from physical harm). Soundness as the Bible uses it focuses on either teaching (doctrine) or pattern of living (ethics). Your body can be very safe and your way of life be very unsound.

Consider Jesus' vivid illustration of the Sheep and the Goats being divided in judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). By not making effort to visit those in prison, to clothe and feed those in need, to show hospitality to strangers, to be around those who are sick, the goats no doubt lived much safer lives. They kept their risk exposure - to potential robbery, to potential disease, to those who may even do them harm - to a minimum. And many of them could probably look back at their lives and say in pride that they kept their family, themselves, their home, and maybe even their financial assets safe. That's a life well lived in the eyes of many. But not in the eyes of Jesus. They had been safe...but never sound.

It's so easy for Safety to become a crutch that we lean on as what ultimately amounts to an excuse for disengaging the people of the world who need to experience the love of Christ. We avoid the hospital because of what we might contract. We avoid the interaction with strangers because we "don't know their real intentions." We stay out of certain parts of town (or of the world in general) and ask for God to send other evangelists to those places. Our goal seems to be the minimization of risk exposure rather than Jesus' vision of the maximization of Gospel exposure (Matthew 28:18-20). Do we really feel we need to eliminate risk exposure for ourselves and our family? Then we should stop putting them in the car with us and getting out on the roads where far more people are dying than as victims of violent crime. We should stop letting them swim in an ocean with millions of deadly creatures in it when you visit the beach. Be consistent if you feel so strongly about safety.

I am not arguing for Christians to have a "martyr complex" where we feel compelled to go looking for bodily harm to be done to us. I pray that we do remain as safe as possible while we do our Kingdom Work, and we should be praying for both the faithfulness and the well-being of those here and  throughout the world who are doing potentially dangerous work. 

But what do I really want to be said of me at the end? That Caleb lived a safe life? Or that Caleb lived the Christ-life? And walking in the footsteps of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21) means walking in footsteps that for Him at least led to a cross - a very unsafe but very sound cross.

 To His Glory,