The greatest biblical characters are known to be risk takers. Even in the midst of uncertainty, fear and danger, they go forward. They are capable of giving up comfort, power, prestige and security. And they even risk their reputation, future and own lives as they face what lies ahead. Both the Old and New Testaments are replete with exemplary figures that I can learn from when it comes to taking risks.
In the Old Testament, Abraham and Moses stand out. Abraham, an old man in better-off conditions, set out to an unknown place with his wife, servants and livestock despite his advanced age and socio-economic stability. These are reasons valid enough against any unlikely risk taking. How in the world could he opt for such a risky journey towards uncertainty? He could have spent the remaining days of his life in comfort and peace.
And there is Moses, son of a Hebrew family who was rescued, nurtured and educated by Egyptian elite and power as their own. He was groomed to rule Egypt like the Pharaohs. But his life changed as he discovered his origin. He saw the suffering of his own people under slavery. He suffered at the sight of oppression. He committed crime in defense of his people and from then on his life went out of proportion. Egypt closed in on him as the sea and desert opened up to terrifying risks. What drove Moses to face innumerable risks in place of his acquired identity and everything good Egypt had given him? He could have been better off ruling at the side of the powerful Pharaoh.
In the New Testament, I focus on Jesus and Paul as models of risk-taking who have impressed me to no end. Jesus, a simple son of a carpenter from Nazareth left his hometown to announce the Kingdom of God for the benefit of the sick, the poor, the hungry, the downtrodden, the prisoners and the sinners to the point of breaking religious laws for their sakes. His words and actions were messages of peace, justice and love. He even called God Abba in the same manner a Hebrew son would address his own father, something daring and blasphemous in his time. By doing so, he became a threat to existing religious structures and ideologies imposed by dominant religious authorities. Eventually, they had Jesus killed to their relief and delight. Jesus assumed the risks of proclaiming what he believed in as God-given truth. What could have run in his mind to the point of giving up his own life? He could have been safer and more respectable following the official religious standards and prescriptions of his time.
The Jesus who took risks and died was the inspiration and model for Paul, a once staunch defender of his religion and persecutor of Christians. His life had a sudden turnaround upon conversion to Christ. His religion which had provided him prestige, power and sanctity suddenly lost its glamour. His ardor in persecuting the followers of Jesus turned into zeal in proclaiming Christ within and beyond the frontiers of his religion and society. He formed communities in the name of Christ. But both political and religious powers were against him. As a Christian, his life was put into a series of risks as he faced hunger, persecution, defamation and consequently, death. What made this devout Paul turn upside down and suffer all sorts of trials? He could have been safe and well under the care of his religion.
Risk takers in the Bible, especially the ones exemplified, have a lot to teach me. First off, I learn that all of them had a vision that was above each and every risk. The promised land and offspring consumed Abraham. Liberation from Egyptian rule and the quest of the promised land drove Moses. The Kingdom of God was the reason for every word and action of Jesus. Living and dying for Christ made Paul run the race to the end. The vision that captured the biblical characters is the final goal, a clear and non-negotiable destination. The risks that come their way are a consequence of an assumed option in view of their vision. Similarly, my life undertakings should be guided by a vision – a clear objective or dream that gives meaning to each and every step I take no matter what risks come along the way. Risks lose their meaning before the vision that sees me through moments of pain and danger.
Second, I learn that every risk taking endeavor needs a strong sense of purpose to prevail over risks. It serves as an inner light to remind me why I am doing what I am doing. It inspires me to believe in my own capacities as well as the people around me. And when I run out of personal resources and external help, I have this light within which keeps on burning. We may call it courage, determination, focus or will power which can go beyond limitations in the face of adversities. Abraham was courageous in his old age. Moses was determined to lead his people to the land of freedom. Jesus did what he did to inaugurate the reign of God on earth. Paul was focused on his mission of proclaiming Christ among believers and non-believers. In moments of pain, anguish and rejection, they suffered and cried like any ordinary mortals in times of weakness. But they knew the reason of their toil and sorrow. Risks acquire new meaning because of the burning light within.
Third, I learn that I have power over risks which God has given me. Call it faith, hope or love, this power is what propels me to victory or success. I know sincerely that my own power is limited, that I tremble at the face of danger and that I lose courage sometimes for one reason or another. I know that I am fragile and incomplete, and therefore need help. When there seems to be no way, when I am down, weary and alone in this journey, and when my own forces fail me, I can rely on a backup power to lead me on. My exemplary biblical risk takers were not supermen. They were able to face risks because of the power that God gave them. I just have to recognize this power and use it to the fullest. Paul says he can do everything through the One who gives him strength (Phil. 4:13).
Finally, once I have the vision, the sense of mission and Gods gift of inner strength, the rest is planning and hard work to the end. And if I do something good that goes against what is ordinary, standard, popular, traditional and official, then like Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Paul, I should be prepared to risk my comfort, reputation, security, future and even life. After all, risk taking is not a matter of certainty because no one knows the future. It is a matter of surrender and trust in the One who holds the future. The One who holds me firmly and lovingly since birth till death come what may.