Today we return to the theme of doomsday prepping, a follow-up from a listener named Matt. “Pastor John, hello! It seemed to me that your response in episode 1118 — ‘On Preparing for a Nuclear Doomsday’ — was all predicated on the assumption that anybody who prepares for a possible disaster does so out of self-preservation. As a father and husband, I have intentionally put myself in situations that caused extended periods of great personal discomfort and danger of injury and death for what I believed was the good of others. I say this not to puff myself up, because I certainly have strains of cowardice within me, but to make the point that some degree of preparedness for possible disaster may be from a desire to protect the people I am charged by God with protecting.
“In your book ‘This Momentary Marriage’ you say it is a husband’s duty to protect his wife, physically and spiritually. I have no great compulsion to preserve my own life, because I can honestly say with Paul ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21). But if ever I found myself in a situation where the people I love are suffering, when I could have prevented it, I would feel like I have failed in my God-given responsibility to protect their physical well-being. Is this wrong?”
Knowing When You’ve Failed
Let me restate the question: Have I failed in my God-given responsibility if the people I love are suffering when I could have prevented it? The answer is “not necessarily.”
“We are sojourners here, living for the salvation of people and for the good of this world.”
It is possible indeed that you have been careless in some way and have brought down suffering upon your family for no good reason except your own carelessness, selfishness, or foolishness. That’s possible.
Everybody would agree that thoughtlessness, carelessness, selfishness, and foolishness that results in people being hurt is our fault, and we should feel bad about it. We should repent and maybe even be punished in jail for such negligence.
But let me ask the question again. Have I failed in my God-given responsibility if people I love are suffering when I could have prevented it? My answer would be no. You have not necessarily failed if you are thoughtfully, prayerfully obeying God’s call on your life in the pursuit of a greater good than the physical safety of your family, including their greater good.
Living in Danger
There is a difference between trying to beat a train to an intersection and taking your family to Pakistan to serve Jesus. The first is probably foolishness and the second may be obedience.
I just typed into Google before we did this little podcast what parts of Minneapolis have the highest crime rate. Well, it’s very predictable. I knew what the answers were going to be. Northwest Minneapolis — “North Minneapolis” it’s usually called — is the most dangerous place to be, and second is Phillips neighborhood. That’s where I live and have lived for 37 years.
Thirty-seven years ago, when I moved in here, I’m pretty sure that, if there had been Google, Phillips would have been number one. I didn’t move here as a hero looking for trouble. I moved here so I could walk to church. I don’t like cars. If I’d been the pastor of a church in the suburbs, I would have lived in the suburbs guilt-free. Don’t anybody be bent out of shape that I’m telling everybody to live in the city. Hardly.
If you ask me, “Well, haven’t you been concerned about the safety of your kids and your wife?” We raised five kids here. My answer is “yes, but not so concerned as to keep us out.”
If one of the dozens of gunshots that we heard over the years had come through the window and killed one of my kids, would I feel like I failed? No, I would not. That kind of thinking is deadly to Christian obedience and the completion of the Great Commission and the living of kingdom lives that show our citizenship is not in this world.
We are sojourners here, living for the salvation of people and for the good of this world. There are many good kingdom reasons for being in this neighborhood besides convenience to get to walk to church. And I think our location is owing more to obedience than to foolishness.
Sheep Among Wolves
Now, here’s the biblical issue. Has Jesus failed when he sends his disciples out as sheep in the midst of wolves, and some of them are killed? Has he failed? Could he have kept them safe? Well, of course he could, but that’s not his top priority, and it’s not ours.
“If your family suffers because you are a selfish slacker, you’re worse than an unbeliever.”
Jesus said to those whom he was sending out, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:16–19).
Among those he was sending out was Peter. Peter had a wife. And according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:5, Peter took his wife with him on his travels — travels where they were like sheep in the midst of wolves.
Through Many Tribulations
What about Paul, when he was in Corinth and the Jews stirred up a case against him and Gallio? The Roman proconsul said, “This is not my business. Get out of here, I don’t want to mess with you Christians” (see Acts 18:14–15).
The Jews couldn’t silence Paul, so what did they do? They beat up Sosthenes, the poor guy. He’s a brand-new convert and a ruler of the synagogue. Paul refers to him later on in his letters. But we see in Acts 18:17 that they beat him up.
Was Paul a failure for converting Sosthenes and putting him in the way of danger? Paul didn’t think so because Luke tells us that, after converting many people to Christ, Paul went back to the churches to make sure they understood that to be a Christian means suffering.
Luke records, “[Paul was] strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). He didn’t want them to be naïve Christians. He had won them over to danger.
In other words, Paul was taking full responsibility for calling people into a life that would have more trouble and more danger than if they had not converted to Jesus.
Worth the Risk
Let’s ask the question one last time: Have I failed in my God-given responsibility if people I love are suffering when I could have prevented it? And the answer is “maybe so, but maybe not.”
I wrote an article on that a few weeks back called “Risk Your Kids for the Kingdom?” I would encourage folks to go there and look at it to see what kind of argument I developed from the Bible.
Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I argued that Paul was talking about world-idolizing slackers, not self-denying emissaries of Christ.
The same distinction needs to be made right here in answering this question. If your family suffers because you are a selfish slacker, you’re worse than an unbeliever.
But if they suffer in spite of your readiness to live and die for them, because God has sent you all to a risky place for his kingdom purposes, your heart may be broken, but you should not say, “I have failed.”
For every man who fails his family in the path of obedience to God’s call, I would guess there are probably a thousand men who failed their family by keeping them safe in the path of prosperity. I’m not claiming to know how much risk you should take with yourself and your family for Christ. I’m just saying if Jesus and Paul had made the safety of their converts a criterion of success, they would be failures.
Christianity cannot advance in a fallen world without risk to everybody.
Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes.