Letter from a Member of the Ministry Team. Iffley Parish Magazine, September 2020
I have just been on a bus for the first time in nearly five months. As I stepped on I had a feeling of disquiet – I was taking a risk. Though the word risk is not very prominent in these times of pandemic, the decisions taken by us as individuals, and by our families, schools, health service, government, and politicians, are profoundly shaped by risk.
Risk begins at the very beginning of life, for conception is a risky matter, as is our birth. And we are at some risk at every moment of our lives thereafter. At all times our instincts are unconsciously working to minimise the risks that we are challenged by. This system feeds into the conscious monitoring and processing by our brains of information received through our eyes, ears, touch, smell, and taste, interacting with our memory. We have evolved, like the whole living world, as living organisms which, in part, survive because we can face up to and cope with risk: at the deepest, instinctive, level we fight or flee when faced with risk. It is important to remember that we take risks when we are aware of them, but we are also at risk or run risks without being aware with them. And we may take risks for ourselves as distinct from imposing risks on others.
In today’s world, we often assess risk in terms of numbers – statistics – the value of which depends upon the appropriateness and accuracy of the source measurements, and the validity of their interpretation. We are bombarded with statistics of variable reliability or quality. As individuals, and as communities and nations, we need to view the best information available, with critical minds to reduce risk, but rarely to eliminate it. At present we are in a situation with so many uncertainties that we find it very difficult to decide what risks we may take. And so there is a great variation in people’s willingness to take risks: some are quite fearful about taking even minor risks, while younger people seem to accept risks remarkably lightly during the pandemic.
The pandemic has caused many to be confronted, sometimes fearfully, with their mortality. Death is the point where risk ceases, but it is also the point of the greatest unknowing. We need to ask ourselves how readily we accept this one certainty for us all. If we cannot face or accept this then we can easily become unduly fearful of the virus, and become socially isolated, with serious ensuing problems. By contrast, those who can accept the reality of death often become more relaxed and stronger.
Where can Christian faith give us insight and hope? Scripture abounds in people who take huge risks, and Jesus in particular. Following Jesus’ fundamental commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves is full of risk. Without risk there would be no love, and without love life would have little to offer us. A central aspect of the Good News in the face of risk, and particularly at this time of pandemic, is that the death and resurrection of Jesus has changed the nature of death for ever. Our faith calls us to trust that this is so.
We may find it hard to understand exactly what this means, especially as we get older, when some traditional images of heaven may become harder to accept. In his first Letter to the Corinthians (15.12-19) Paul accepted that for some people the resurrection was too good to be true. Yet he was confident that the heart of our faith is the resurrection of Christ: if it were not so then their faith, and our faith too, is false and built on a lie, and they, and we, are to be pitied. Paul’s trust in the resurrection was complete. He asked the Corinthians to choose which assertion to trust, and thus to risk, for trust and risk go together. Now may be the time for us to contemplate our own mortality, and in particular the choice that Paul put before his readers, which includes us.
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