The Semantics of Risk


I am going to embark on a risky subject: a semantic quagmire. I hate semantic debates, for they always tend to disrupt any effort made towards efficient communication. I have yet to see a semantic delineation that was both elegant and clear, while at the same time as brutally practical as semantics need to be. But many times it is helpful to at least try to clear some of the muddy waters made by well-meaning people who know what they are talking about, but who end up mangling the main intent of language: practical communication.

In ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’ John Piper spends an entire chapter discoursing on how he believes Christians should view risk and safety. His premises were sound, and his ambitions lofty and good, but his definitions were skewed. And because of this his views on these two very important subjects became obfuscated and cloaked behind an illusion of contradiction with the rest of his book. I will try to sort out his mistake and also to clarify exactly what the Christian’s view of risk and safety ought truly to be.

Piper begins by defining risk, which, as it is his primary term for that chapter, is a good thing. Unfortunately his definition was given too little thought (in my view) and so creates confusion. He defines risk as “any action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury.” Throughout the rest of the chapter he uses this to mean loss or injury of physical, temporal things. He goes on to prove that risk is right and good.

Security and safety are illusions, according to Piper, and this is true, so far as his definition of risk goes. We are never secure from death, destruction, or danger, and God does not promise this security to us. This is very ably proven by Piper’s admirable study. What he misses is that peace is a result of a belief of your safety. If safety is an illusion, then peace is an illusion (which is what many people affirm). The problem is that God promises peace to those who put their trust in Him. Material safety does not come from this, though: quite the opposite.

Let us then think of it this way: risk is an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury of what is precious to you. That last addition makes all the difference in the world. If God is most precious to you, then you should not make any risks at all. What this also means is that we can have peace through faith in God just like He promised. When our treasure is in heaven, then it is transcendent, and we have transcendent peace, rather than temporal peace. Thus it is best to make carnal risks (risking things that are carnal), and wrong to make heavenly risks.

Piper admits the difficulty that I have noted in his section entitled ‘Risking for the Wrong Reasons.’ He notes very truly that when you say that making carnal risks (my terms, not his) is good, then Christians begin to create persecution for themselves! It becomes very difficult to explain why this is wrong, until you redefine risk.

So it is that we can find safety, security, and peace in making God and His desires our treasure, our highest desire, and our aim. It is then that we can have transcendent peace, and risk all our carnal possessions and interests, while standing utterly risk-free in the center of God’s will.

I hope that I did not mangle that thought too much. I had a terrible time explaining myself. Again, semantics are not my favorite subject. Did I make sense? Can someone help clarify what I am trying to say?

With joy and peace in Christ,
Jay Lauser


8 Responses

  1. Jay,

    Very well thought out, and I agree!

    It truly is not “risk” unless what is ‘in danger’ is precious to us.

    “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” Hebrews 11:24-28

    Moses knew!


    • Sir,

      Thank you for that passage, I did not think of it at the time. Very good! I am glad that my ramblings were perspicuous enough to be of a help to somebody! Thank you for your comment!

  2. Jay, this is a wonderful post! Your definition of carnal risk and heavenly risk works very nicely to describe the truth: “When our treasure is in heaven, then it is transcendent, and we have transcendent peace, rather than temporal peace.” What a beautiful truth, and well explained. Thank you!
    – Timothy Newton aka Reuel Dreamseer

    • Timothy,

      Thank you for your encouragement! It is even more encouraging to come from you, since you are a major source of encouragement to me. Your Godly passion and desires have lifted me up many times, and helped me to keep a heavenly perspective. We help each other as God works in our lives, and that is how He desires it. Thank you!

  3. yeh right.. great post, Thank You

  4. Great headline. If your cookie has a bite-sized action and your reader completes the action, I think two things happen. Their self-confidence goes up (which feels good) and their trust in you increases.

    • Yes, I think I agree with that. I would still say, though, that even a big cookie can be worthwhile attempting a bite of if it is good enough. I am not sure if I understood what you were saying, but that is my response.

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