Two Fences Not to be Crossed
If any provide not for his own, and specially those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Paul’s first letter to Timothy
I endure all things for the elect’s sakes that they may also obtain salvation. Paul’s second letter to Timothy
If a father of three little girls lives in an area with a publicly visible criminal record including half dozen sex offenders in the immediate vicinity, should he make plans to move elsewhere? Maybe there are some situations when he should stay, but is it always wrong to leave? No, we can easily imagine a scenario with a certain level of danger and a certain family in which the most godly choice would be to move to another community.
There are at least some circumstances where Jesus urged his followers to preserve themselves: “When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another.” And Solomon taught his son that a wise man will foresee evil and make a plan to avoid it. The goal of our prayers for politicians should be that we lead a “quiet and peaceable life.”
So, is the first principle Biblical? Yes.
But the second principle is undoubtedly in Scripture as well. Jesus taught us to move away from self-preservation. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. … He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”
After his bruises had healed from multiple beatings, after he had been stoned, after every kind of physical stress, the apostle Paul refers to this entire class as a “light affliction which is but for a moment.”
The believers in Madagascar today trace their roots back to a 30-year period of imprisonment, beating and martyrdom from 1837. Neither could our Lord accomplish his mission without planning to move himself into danger—he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
The second principle is solidly grounded in Scripture as God’s will for His people.
Reconciling these two requires us to first of all have a firm commitment to both of them. We must unflinchingly prepare for suffering, persecution, and death for the joy that is set before us. A godly husband will also love his wife and children by planning for them to live in peace.
Guided by Gifting
Our Father’s unique calling for each of His children can probably best be seen through the lens of the gifts He has given. Those gifts can probably best be seen through our desires especially in light of slow, but steady Christian growth. A man who is able to live with joy in a hard place for the sake of the gospel and a woman who can live with peace in like conditions may actually be called to do it. But God has not made the elephant to fly, nor should it feel guilty if it doesn’t.
God’s calling varies by person because He did not choose to create everyone the same. The Creator who made earth tones also has a place for pastels on His canvas.
A husband needs to consider the gifting represented by all his family members in relationship to the level of change, difficulty, and risk that is involved with the opportunity before him.
Speaking stereotypically, how far can we expect the average personality to stretch before it snaps? People who were born after 1970 in the USA or other rich societies have had their expectations set for two decades to a high level of comfort. For that person so programmed to live for an extended period of time in the village areas of Chad would be unconscionable to him. That difficulty I have nicknamed “cultural elasticity,” and I don’t think it’s all sinful selfishness.
Part of the hardness that the average modern evangelical would find in such a dramatic switch seems to come from the nature of the human soul. Our routine provides security and emotional stability. Yes, I am speaking generally. There are people who are made with greater flexibility both men and women. That flexibility is part of the call to churchplanting in hard places.
If we overlook this element, the mysterious subjectivity of the call will place even greater hindrances to self-evaluation than it has to.
The Spectrum of Safety-Risk
The frontlines of war during South Sudan’s conflict with the Islamic north was too dangerous for a wife and children. But outside open war, there are so many various factors that have to be settled that the best we can offer is a tool: a linear graph measuring the safety and risk of any situation.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Some risk has to be taken by Christians in general and missionaries in particular because it is not possible to live outside Heaven without risk. And also because taking risks demonstrates that we love Jesus more than peace and comfort. However, deciding exactly where on the scale to place your family requires a weighing of husband and wife’s gifting along with the poverty and danger of any given situation. Because personalities and countries can offer a nearly infinite variety of nuances, then each husband must decide in light of his situation.
Is there, then, no objective truth in this matter? Are we hopelessly lost in post modernity with Peter Jackson’s feckless Frodo and Sam? The objective truth consists in the pair of principles offered at the beginning. Each family must be able to look at the talents on loan to them and honestly demonstrate at the final day that they were endeavoring to both provide for their family’s physical and emotional needs as well as fight with all their strength in the holy war.
Can a husband lead his wife and children into danger? Until Heaven, he can’t lead them anywhere else.
Really good thoughts, Seth. It brings up some questions:
First, how much does owing dangerous steps to personality and gifting strip the virtue of the deed? Louis Zamperini’s Unbroken story is one step after another of courage. Wouldn’t it be disingenuous to say: “his personality and gifting has made him fit for such a task.” While floating with two others in the South Pacific with only a chocolate bar in their raft, Zamperini showed courage while his friend snuck in the night and ate the whole thing. Gifting? Do we owe Paton’s courage to his personality or just that he had more character than most Christians in Scotland?
And why don’t we do this with other moral tasks? “Rodger is so good at abstaining from watching filth on TV. God has really gifted him in that way.” Wouldn’t statements like this belittle Rodgers character while softening the consciences of of those around him?
Second, the last line “Until heaven we can’t lead [our family] anywhere else [but danger] implies that every step is dangerous. I suppose every step in some way is dangerous. When you get out of bed you could fall and break your neck. But generally speaking, I could imagine 90% of American men never leading their families into danger. Not once.
If everything is danger, then nothing is. If everyone is a missionary–as we know–then the Seth Meyers church planters are forgotten. And if everything is danger–which your quote implies–then haven’t you weakened the vocabulary we use to laud Judson and Taylor?
#1: I have not found a way to avoid that danger entirely. It would seem that our Father wants us to live with this tension so as to comfort some groups and guard others from pride.
#2: If a person who is living at a 2 on the spectrum above sees someone at a 5, he will call that man in danger even though there are others living at 8-10. If a guy can take a 7 and his wife can take a 4, they might need to leave the 2’s and 3’s. Words like “danger” and “safe” are too elastic for discussing every situation with every personality.