The Danger of Safety and Liberty
Updated: Aug 14, 2022
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
“Aslan is a lion-the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh,” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver ,“Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis
It is only in this past year that I’ve gotten to read/hear the stories from C.S. Lewis about Aslan and company. Ami began reading the stories to the girls (and me). Still, I had heard the quote from above often enough, especially in college. Is Aslan safe? Nope. Not at all, but he’s good. I bring this up because Ami has mentioned how curious it is how we all retreat back to our corners and think we should find safety there. Whether we think our homes are safe or our churches are safe, we have this weird preoccupation with safety. I wonder if this was the case in Lewis’ time. Even when not in war, we pursue safety because we fear suffering, and certainly war was and is unsafe. Or maybe we think safety has to do with safety from temptation (but unfortunately Adam and Eve found temptation in the most unlikely of places, the best of places). Or maybe we think of safety from sickness. Our world’s response to Covid was a pursuit of in part of safety. Somebody was trying to preserve life, but still people died. And still people are tempted to sin in every place. Are we fools for pursuing safety at all?
I think that in a sense, yes, we are fools for living for the sake of safety. We’ve been indoctrinated that safety is an essential status for humans. This is actually not necessarily the case. Children need to fall to strengthen their bones. They need to have relational bruises with their friends to learn to love their friends better. Safety isn’t really a good thing of itself. It’s not a virtue to pursue nor is it a controlling virtue. Here’s the basic point: we often make lesser things virtues, and we often make these lesser things the most important virtue. And when this happens, it distorts all of reality. So, think of if safety is the only and controlling virtue: 2020 in China was the place to be. Or when we are thinking car safety, you shudder at the thought of buying something as unsafe as a Dodge Grand Caravan and you will only buy a Honda Odyssey or a Chrysler Pacifica that has top crash ratings (I honestly don’t know the specifics here except I think that our Pacifica might be less safe than most of the 2017 versions since they updated some hinge halfway through manufacturing.) So maybe we’re the problem? And we could keep looking at other areas of perceived safety in preventing violence, preventing fires, preventing harm. We live in a society that over-values safety at the expense of more important virtues. If anything, what should be a controlling virtue? Might I suggest love? But we usually aren’t interested in letting love be a controlling virtue where it is the most difficult for us.
And the question we should ask is ‘Safe from what?’ We are not going to be safe from temptation anywhere. Honestly, wouldn’t you think the tempter would love to especially attack us when we gather for worship? Or perhaps we think, safe from others? And we’re not going to be safe from sickness. Nor death. But we can seek to love one another (as Christ has loved you) through it all.
I think a balancing but equally problematic virtue in our world (including in the churches we are members of) is a skewed freedom. We imagine we are completely free and independent. And freedom means we are free to do what we want. Now the problem is that you may think this, but if everyone were free to do what they wanted, then we would be in a very dangerous situation. We believe that sin and the curse of sin, death, is pervasive and completely embedded in humanity. This is the problem with someone like Adam Smith: to rely on vices to run economies is quite ingenious, but I think ultimately foolish. Again, when the autonomous self is promoted as one of the key virtues of society, we have a problem. Here, love constrains nothing.
I’ve been reading this book, Why Liberalism Failed. His proposition is essentially that the modern Republic (as represented by America) is and has always been doomed for failure because of a wrong view of liberty. Liberty isn’t that we should do what we want. Instead, we are enslaved by our wickedness, and we only find liberty when we are trained by virtue. I assume he’s catholic, but as a protestant, we’d maybe take this a step further and acknowledge the need for us to be freed not simply by education but by God himself who redeems us from ourselves. Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will is quite right on this account. We might be free, but we’re free to do what we want, and unfortunately, apart from Christ, we are ever growing into our sin nature- that is what we most want. So our first step in finding liberty and pursuing virtue is that God must save us. Then the question we have got to ask is this: how can I grow into virtue? How do I apply the work of Christ, the gospel in every area of my life? How do I live into this freedom? Because you know that a man or woman addicted to his or her sin is not free. A compulsive gambler, an alcoholic, a compulsive worrier, a spendthrift, a person controlled by their fear of bad things happening and so many others, is not free. And honestly, they’re not safe from themselves, are they? And where do we turn but to that great virtue of love, first of God and then of our neighbor. This might seem trite, but I’ve yet to enter into an experience myself or as I pastor others where the gospel has been fully fleshed out and love has been completely applied. In my experience it’s the exact opposite. Most people are only just beginning to taste the gospel in their own lives, they’re only beginning to see what it truly looks like to love others. You see, God works throughout our lifetime to sanctify us and purify our hearts from that wicked old adamic self into that new glorious creation. And I’m sure that we are only beginning to see what will be fully blooming for all eternity as we bask in the glorious light of Christ in the heavenly city. Safe, oh, I suppose not. But you’ll be more than ok, in Christ.