There is a saying in the Christian community that makes me angry. It’s a popular one too. I once heard missionary parents state that they decided to keep their three teenage daughters with them in a war-torn African city because they so firmly believed that “there is no safer place than the center of God’s will.” It didn’t worry them much that rebels were going house to house to find and rape young women, nor that other Christians had already been harmed. They were engaged in God’s work and convinced that he would keep them safe.
Their testimony was so gripping that their story was made into a documentary and shown around the world. It further disseminated the lie that no harm will come to us or to those we love as long as we are being and doing what God wants from us—as if our devotion exempts us from injury.
Say that to other families who chose to stay put in the face of increasing danger and saw loved ones killed or maimed by the dangers they could have fled. Say that to God-fearing victims of violence, abuse, persecution and defamation. Say that to people like me who, despite a lifetime in ministry and a concerted effort to live a God-centered existence, have had to contend with life-threatening illness and soul-injuring assaults.
Whoever first coined the phrase was probably well-intentioned, but its implications are murky at best—misleading at worst.
On the surface, it’s a wonderfully comforting statement. “I’m a safety kind of girl” (name that movie!), so I’m particularly tempted to believe it. I like to plot courses and plan outcomes and pull up on the handbrake and stomp out the bonfire and look both ways before crossing the street (even when there’s a French bakery on the other side).
Safety is something I have craved and fostered in my life, much to the frustration of my more spontaneous friends and students. So why wouldn’t I embrace the statement that I will never be safer than in the center of God’s will?
I won’t embrace it because it simply isn’t true.
According to the dictionary, safety means “Freedom from the occurrence or risk of injury, danger, or loss.” Has God ever promised that to us? Has he ever hinted that life would be nothing but health and sunshine if we just did his will? That we would be spared from injury, disease and death? Even if we were to sit squarely on the bull’s eye in the middle of God’s will, we wouldn’t be truly safe—not in Webster’s definition of safety.
Jim Elliott and his friends were slaughtered while in the center of God’s will.
Corrie Ten Boom was brutalized in a concentration camp while in the center of God’s will.
Countless Christian men and women, doing exactly what God had asked of them and in no way deserving of their fate, have suffered and died in abominable ways while in the center of God’s will.
So no, I don’t agree that the “center of God’s will” is the safest place for anyone, because we live on a planet where bad things happen to fairly good people. Perpetuating the lie sets us up for disappointment with God and inhibits intelligent maneuvers and wise choices as we encounter real dangers. Those dangers are the consequence of our fallenness and not in the least in contradiction with God’s goodness—and they must be faced and managed, not dismissed with illusions of immortality.
What I do believe is that the center of God’s will, though not guaranteeing physical safety, does offer a number of life-enhancing and perspective-altering benefits that should not be confused with immunity from harm.
This journey from cradle to grave might still hold more disease, pain and trauma for me, but because God exists (mystery, contradictions, and all) and comforts in ways I can’t begin to describe, I know that I will make it through them with the assurance that I am not alone. There’s a different, more profound kind of safety in that certainty.
The center of God’s will is not the safest place for me. But it is the best place for me. The human experience is inherently painful—the birth process itself is a potent foreshadowing of this—but if there can be fulfillment and purpose and comfort and peace and unconditional love and deep-rooted joy despite the harsh realities of life, isn’t that the very best I can hope for in a world where suffering is not only real, but inevitable?
Without a doubt, it is.