The word “safe” is a dangerous word. It is a word that has permeated western vocabulary since the tragedy of 9-11. As a consequence the world is now less safe for all, in our preoccupation to keep ourselves safe.
At the time of the Protestant Reformation, 500 years ago, people did not feel safe either, and some theologians developed a doctrine that said, “once saved, always safe,” and the doctrine of eternal security was developed. So people “got saved” so that they could pass the final judgment safely.
But some in the church wanted us to be “safe and sound” and so began to speak about not only being safe but about being good. But they often inferred that we needed to be good, so we could pass the final judgment safely. They had cancelled the doctrine of eternal security and instead asked us to keep on working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
It is interesting to note that the word “safe” is hardly ever used in the scriptures. “Saved” is frequent. It means that God has saved us from something that was about to destroy us. When the question came, “What has he saved us from?”, the typical answers were “hell and the judgement of God.” This meant that the end results of both salvation and sanctification was safety.
But the question deserves a better answer. What has God saved us from? The Biblical answer is that he desires to save us from our sinning, from our selfishness, and from our propensity to do evil to one another. He is less interested in saving us from hell, than saving us from being hell to live with. He is less interested in saving us from the justice of God, than saving us from being unjust to one another.
To save us from ourselves and our utter selfishness is God’s great plan. And that will hardly make us safe. We will begin to live a more dangerous life, like those that bring aid to victims in war zones. Being saved from selfishness will save us from a pre-occupation with our own safety, and we will find ourselves jeopardizing our comfort, our resources, and our time to be servants to others. We will find ourselves feeding ourselves with less, so we have more to give to the hungry. We will find ourselves driving less expensive cars and building less expensive homes, because we will find that love has made us live dangerously. But, Jesus reminds us that those who wish to keep their lives “safe” would lose them, and that would be more dangerous by far.
Published in Light and Life, January-February, 2005