Mum could see danger in anything, that’s why I think I’m quite a cautious person. So I didn’t climb trees because I might fall, or swim because I might drown, or basically do anything risky – or interesting. And that was the problem. I can’t imagine it to be true but I might have made a fantastic mountaineer, or a cross channel swimmer or a rival to Bear Grylls, for whom risk taking is like bread and butter (though he doesn’t seem to eat that). But what it has meant is that I think that I might have been more of a risk-taker if I’d not been taught not to take risks.
So I was interested by the advice we received at the end of last week about how much alcohol we should drink. ‘There is no safe level’ we were told and if you really have to then only a minimum amount, the risks to health are so high. We need advice, of course, research is always discovering something new and what was an acceptable risk then is not an acceptable risk now. We had no seat belts in our car when we were children and had freedom to move around on the backseat. But we wouldn’t do it now.
What the advice from the Chief Medical Officer has made me do is think about it and my own lifestyle. According to the guidelines I drink too much – will I change my behaviour? And if I don’t will I just ignore the risk and do nothing to change what is a rather sedentary lifestyle? I suppose that the announcement was timed for this month when we’re all being encouraged to make changes – the adverts are full of diet plans, or quitting this, or cutting down on the other. It’s the season of addressing how we live and perhaps the season to address risk in our lives.
But I can’t help thinking that we’ve missed something of an essential truth, that living is a risky business. Benjamin Franklin famously said
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
We are born to die and every moment from birth is a step nearer to death. It’s gloomy but true and we may try every possible way of putting it off – not drinking, not smoking, not driving, not flying, no bacon butties, no sugar, no sun, no stress – but it’s impossible and is it desirable? As the writer of the Book Ecclesiastes said
‘See, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.’ (Eccles 1.14)
God is the greatest risk-taker. We’ve just celebrated Christmas and the most amazing truth that ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ and that God took the extreme risk of being born as a vulnerable baby, in the middle of a foreign occupation, under a paranoid ruler, to a young, inexperienced girl. Jesus was a refugee before he could walk, hunted by those who wished him dead before the Word could speak. Jesus embraced the riskiness of living and walked that dangerous path from the crib to the cross. He was accused of being a glutton and drunkard, hung around with the wrong people, lived on the roads and had nowhere to lay his head. He spoke in a way that provoked the authorities, people tried to stone him, risk after risk after risk.
St Paul celebrates our risk-taking God in the hymn at the beginning of his Letter to the Christians in Philippi when he says of Jesus that
Though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
We call it ‘kenosis’, self-emptying, God in Jesus laying aside divinity to fully embrace humanity. It was a risk but a risk God thought was worth taking. Good Friday must have looked as though it had been foolhardy, a risk too far – but Easter puts a different light on it.
I’m not saying don’t avoid risk, but what I am saying is don’t avoid life.
you risked everything for us.
Help me to live well,
to make the right decisions
but not to avoid the life
you have given to me
and the risk of resurrection.