Illusion of safety

The world is primarily a beautiful and wonder-filled place.Earth-NASA


The world is a primarily a dangerous place.


Which is really true?

The story is told of a man sitting by the road leading to a city. A traveler approached the man and asked “What are the people of this city like?”  What were they like where you came from the man asked he traveler “They were mean, gossipy, troublemakers, with little regard for others!” came the terse reply. “Well” said the man “you will find them much the same here.”

A while later a second traveler approached the man with same question and the same question was asked in reply. “They were kind, friendly and helpful where I came from” he answered. The man said  “You will find them much the same here.”

Which is true? Which is true in the story and which is true in our initial statements about the world.

Both are true.

What is not true is that we can make the world a predictably safe place for ourselves or our children. People make choices that impact positively and negatively the lives of others who had no input on or knowledge of those choices. The laws of nature which govern the universe continue to operate irrespective of how the results impact those life forms who are in the path of the natural event.

For thousands of years human beings have implored God to protect and spare them from evil and disaster as if God were a puppeteer pulling the strings of our life and making certain things happen to us for good or for ill. But that is a very flawed theology.

In recent decades in the United States we have turned the role of protector over to the political powers and authorities. We are demanding a completely safe environment. We believe we should be safe from natural disaster and from capricious evil.  We have this strange idea that we can make the world a predictably safe place for ourselves and our children and grandchildren. Interestingly as crime statistics have continued to drop our sense of immediate danger has risen as the voices of fear prevail. It is safer than ever but we feel more in danger.

States have passed “stand your ground” legislation which allows people to use deadly force when they perceive they are in danger without the need for common sense withdrawal from a situation. Horrific school shootings have produced calls for armed guards in every school; Gun control, better mental health screening, and arming teachers and administrators to make our “schools safe”.

While agreeing that schools should be as safe as possible for children and our streets and cities should be as safe as possible for our residents and visitors, achieving this level of complete safety we ask for is not possible. And it is probably not desirable given the unintended consequences that would engender.

For far too long human beings have wanted to be assured of their safety and security. Religion has been seen as an insurance policy against trouble. (Follow the rules and you will be blessed with long life, prosperity, and guarded against evil.) Many Christians seek this from our faith even in the face of the injustice, suffering and evil that Jesus himself faced.  (Which I believe should tell us we will not be immune from it either.)

The Gospel we have received is counter intuitive to our instincts. Instinctively when faced with someone with a club we want a bigger club or an army to take the other’s club away.  The Gospel admonition is to rely on God being present with us to keep the core and essence of who we are from being distorted by the evil and suffering we face. The Gospel promise assures us of “God with us” in our trials and sufferings – NOT that we will be immune from them.

For years I drove a silver/gray color car. The one I currently drive is red.  The day after I started driving the new red one I was amazed by the increased number of red cars I saw on the road. Had the number increased over night? NO!  My awareness changed so I saw what was now part of my awareness.

We need to give up the illusion of complete and predictable safety so that we can free ourselves from being surprised by the random occurrences of danger and evil, and enable ourselves to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the world in which live.  But if our focus is on removing all danger and evil, all we will probably see is danger and evil. And in focusing on that we will surely miss most of the wonder & beauty life has to offer us if we choose to look for it and to see it.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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