“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.
I was attacked by my pet cat this week. Not the nice, playful kind of attack, where she waits around the corner to leap out at me and give me mild heart failure. No, I’m talking the brutal kind of attack that leaves you bruised and hurting for a week.
It came out of nowhere. My cat wanted to get on my lap and was trying to climb onto me – usually a most adorable process. But it wasn’t working this time and I think she got frustrated. Without warning she lashed out at me. The rest is history.
I think a lot of relationships are like my cat. They go along swimmingly until something doesn’t seem to be working quite right. Then, in our frustration, we lash out at each other and leave bruises.
This raises the question of safety for me. Most of the time I feel safe around my cat and am not afraid of being harmed by her. Now that she has behaved aggressively, does this mean I no longer feel safe? Does it mean I need to get out of this Pet-Owner relationship?
On reflection, the issue is not one of safety but of vulnerability. I have to accept that living with a cat means there is potential for her to do cat-things. I can’t control her. I am vulnerable because of that.
I think that feeling vulnerable is different to feeling unsafe in that vulnerability is a necessary part of love, as suggested by C.S. Lewis. Embarking upon love is risking vulnerability and harm from another. The same goes for our relationship with God.
Sometimes we get caught up in wanting God to keep us safe from harm and we want to feel protected by Him. While the Bible is full of stories of God’s people being protected and delivered from harm, it is also full of stories of suffering, persecution, hatred and even death.
By definition, God is not “safe”. I think we forget that from time to time. We want God to make all of our troubles go away. But sometimes He lets us suffer and walk through hardship without providing any shortcuts. I think He knows that we need that in order to develop fortitude and endurance.
There are things God asks of us that are far from “safe”. Giving our lives over to God is not a safe process. Think of all the missionaries, called by God, working in difficult and life-threatening situations. Think of those parts of the world where the church is persecuted and forced underground. Safety is a myth.
While God does not spare us from hardship or guarantee safe passage through difficulty, He does promise to be a constant companion and counsellor through those times. And He promises restoration at the end of it all: He promises to wipe every tear from our eyes. This is a different kind of safety. It’s less about the absence of pain and more about the nearness of God. I’m safe because He’s with me.
Following Jesus is ultimately a question of love. If you embrace love, you also embrace vulnerability, risk and heartache. It occurs to me that this is exactly what Jesus did for us. He loves us extravagantly and unreservedly. Somehow this makes it worthwhile.