Thursday, September 15, 2011

God Can't Take Risks

I teach Insurance and Risk Management, a finance-listed course that looks at the insurance industry and how individual firms use insurance to deal with pure risk (the risk of a loss). Which begs the question, is there a biblical basis for risk?

Risk is basically defined as "uncertainty."  John Piper had this excellent blog post about God and risk that I shared with my class.  Piper is addressing a book he finds scripturally false. The authors state that:
"It seems correct to say that God took something of a risk in handing over his mission to the all-too-sinful human beings who were his original disciples—and all the sinful disciples beyond them. We wonder what Jesus must have been thinking on the cross, when all but a few powerless women had completely abandoned him. Did he wonder if love alone was enough to draw them back to discipleship? ...(I)t is entirely conceivable that history could have gone in a completely different, indeed totally disastrous, direction..." 

Piper takes the argument apart to show that an omniscient God cannot take risks-- there is no uncertainty in Him or His mission. Nor is there any uncertainty, ultimately, for Believers because God does not break His promises to them.  We may not know what will happen to us tomorrow, but God does and is using whatever is happening for His purposes. Piper:

"The promises of God that all things will work together for our ultimate, Christ-exalting good is the basis of our risk (Romans 8:28). And corporately the basis of global missions, with all its risks, is the total assurance that 'the kingdom of the world [will become] the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15). The mission cannot fail."

"No saint will say in heaven: The mission succeeded because my will was decisive in taking risks and making sacrifices. Rather, the saints will say, “God equipped us with everything good that we might do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever” (Hebrews 13:21)."

I've thought about this lately in regards to the story of Abram/Abraham.  This is my 3 year old's favorite Bible story right now.  God told Abraham that he would make him into a great nation and that he'd have many descendants (Genesis 12:1-7).  But during his journey, Abraham shows his uncertainty about God's promise and fears for his own life, before ever having descendants or being made into a nation. Twice he lies about his wife because he fears he'll be killed (Genesis 20:11). He's promised that Sarah will give birth to her own child, yet he clearly doubts the promise and has a child with another woman instead (Genesis 17).  It's only after Isaac is born that Abraham finally believes God-- when God asks him to sacrifice Isaac-- and believes that God will keep His word regarding his descendants and realizes there is no ultimate risk in sacrificing him (Hebrews 11:17-20). I think of how patient  God was for Abraham to get to that point, and His patience with me as I struggle to come close to there.

So, I like Piper's point that Christ-exalting good is the basis of our risk, and so long as we know His promises toward us there is no ultimate risk in obeying Him. God does not fail, does not make mistakes, and does not play dice.

Here's a related Piper sermon (from 1987) entitled Risk and the Cause of God.


wwje said...

Just to be up front about my prejudices, I'm not a big fan of Piper or his hyper-calvinism. So, I don't share the views about God and risks.

What I'm actually interested in, however, is how this view would influence or impact the economic side of the equation? It seems to me that there might be a temptation, or tendency, (which comes out in the prosperity gospel) to argue from this view of God and risks that Christians should therefore be successful in economic markets and endeavors.

How would you respond to that possibility?

JDTapp said...

I think if you read the post it's fairly well answered there. God doesn't promise us wealth or prosperity on earth. We are promised persecution, trials, and hardship and we consider whatever we happen to gain along the way as "loss" compared to knowing Christ.
To say there is no risk, "ultimately," means that there is no death for the believer. And in cases like with Abraham where God has made a specific promise there is no risk of that promise not being fulfilled.

Just to be clear, you think God is not omniscient and therefore can be in a situation of not knowing the outcome?