Here are the thoughts that flash through my mind driving down the street as I approach a turn I need to make into traffic: I am about the same distance from the street onto which I’m going to turn as the oncoming cars at the red light ahead of me that just turned green. But I am already going 35 mph; they have to accelerate from 0 mph. I think I can make this turn ahead of them. But can I make it at the speed I will need and still not slosh the coffee I just purchased all over me and the front of the car?
These are questions that need to be answered (and answered rather quickly) before I commit to my turn. There are careful considerations to be made. Because the answers I’m going to quickly come up with directly address the potential inconvenience and risk that are a part of this decision making—the potential inconvenience and risk with (and this is important) rather immediate consequences for me (a collision, coffee over everything).
And I make the turn, and the coffee doesn’t spill, and I whoop with exhilaration— actually whoop with exhilaration at … at what? my correct calculations? or my having faced real risk and chosen well? It’s the risk, isn’t it? It’s means nothing to me to make that turn with no oncoming traffic—at least no oncoming traffic close enough to make it interesting. And while it does seem a somewhat grandiose claim to make in this rather mundane case of everyday driving experience, I did risk my life on my own decision making, and I did preserve my life by being right.
Now, the less immediate—the less concrete and physical consequences are—and the less personal they are—the more they affect someone else, the less thought I give to any potential inconvenience and risk (this our culture has taught us so very well).
But just because the consequences aren’t immediate, concrete, physical, or personal doesn’t make them any less real a risk.
So here’s what I think: those who walk in the way of God need to teach us how to look beyond the immediate, the concrete, the physical, and the personal to see the consequences already headed our way—to see the consequences … that we might then see the significance in the so very mundane, everyday decisions we make that drive our experience into this reality or that one—a reality of life that truly is life (1 Timothy 6:19), or a reality of dying masquerading as life. It does so matter, we need to see, how we relate to people—how we talk to them and how we talk about them. It does so matter how we respond to difference—to that which is other—how we confront violence and injustice (and I’m talking about in our families, with our friends and colleagues—at the gym, the grocery story, the P.T.A.) Set before you every day, life and death (Deuteronomy 30:15).
And here’s the thing: (and far too many have just gotten it plain and devastatingly wrong) it’s not about—it’s never about ramping up the risk to ratchet up fear. No. It’s rather all about that exhilaration—that joyful, whooping exhilaration at having known and faced the risk of dying and having successfully turned aside—turned into a completely different way of being and preserved our true living by doing right.