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.

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“We are never safer than in the center of God’s will.”

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.

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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.  They 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.  Though this journey from cradle to grave might still hold more disease, pain and trauma for me, 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.

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Comments(12)

  1. One reader who requested to remain anonymous related the story of a missionary family he knows whose “illusions of safety” while in Africa led to a protracted, forced separation under duress. The family has imploded as a result of the stress and fallout of those events. If only they’d had a realistic understanding of the dangers they faced and taken measures to protect their family.

  2. Good read and true. Think about examples in the Bible of people who were doing Gods will and lost their lives. There are examples of others who were careful about their own safety and avoided unsafe conditions … even Jesus at times avoided unsafe conditions because it was not His time yet. Don’t test God to see if He is going to rescue you from danger … He blessed you with a brain to know when to avoid satan and his efforts to destroy you.

  3. The idea that ‘the safest place to be is in God’s will’, is troubling. Perhaps because it sounds so ‘correct’ and convincing. For me, the danger lurks in the corresponding unavoidable opposite – ‘danger or harm or suffering means I am outside God’s will’. You encounter suffering or harm and suddenly you have to question if you were in God’s will, suddenly you have to wonder where you made a mistake in following, or how you had offended God. This inevitably leads to a fear-fuelled, doubt-riddled idea of faith that stinks at its core of legalism. This is not safety, this is having to depend on me.
    I had a few of those moments when our daughter, Anna Pearl died. Dark lonely moments of ‘what if’ and ‘what did I do wrong’? But praise God they were only moments. Praise God I had parents and other believers who had not only lived faithfully and (in that strange way) joyfully through suffering but also had taught and reminded me of real truth. One truth that I clung to was that ‘God’s compassions never fail’. There wasn’t a moment in that hospital (or any time in Anna Pearl’s little life) where He looked away, where He stopped for just a moment, being compassionate.
    And we have Hope. The safety idea sounds comforting, but the soul needs hope. Some things are beyond comfort.
    The grain of truth that this false notion has attached itself to, is the mighty hope that the souls of God’s children are safe. Always. Forever.
    A parenting class we participated in suggested that one of the most important lessons we can teach children (and I would say, that we can share with others) is how to respond to suffering. Because we will all suffer. There is danger, there is illness, there is evil, and in some capacity and probably more than once, we will face physical or emotional or mental harm and pain and suffering. Can we help our children and new believers to stand (or kneel or lay down flat) in the face of that suffering, held together and sustained by the truth that GOD Himself is with them? That beyond this, through this, there is glory?
    The other truth that is harder to say out loud (because I don’t understand it completely and will probably say something amiss and offend) is that God glorifies Himself and we are made to glorify Him. And sometimes, horrific and strange as it seems, He is glorified when we are crushed and the scent and smell that comes out of us, is the Life of Christ, an eternal smell of the defeat of death and the grain of wheat that dying brings forth fruit, the smell of promise and glory. I think the Holy Spirit fills us with hope in those times of crushing – and miraculously we can say like Job ‘yet though He slay me, I will trust in Him’ or like the three men on their way to the furnace ‘we know our God can save us, But even if He does not….we will not bow’.

  4. This is so amazing and powerful- “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.”

  5. Look at Job. Far from safe but watched over just the same. Great article Michelle.

  6. What a thoughtful, well stated blog. Michele’s perspective certainly supports faith and post traumatic growth rather than doing damage. Maybe the center of God’s will is not a foot path but rather a 6 lane highway that allows for freedom of choice, thinking and care for others.

    • jhurshman

    • 8 years ago

    I agree with what you’re saying, Michèle, and I have recently heard several people object to this statement.
    Personally, I never understood the saying to be referring to physical/emotional safety. I always thought of it as meaning “best place”. This piece (and what others have said) shows that not everyone took it that way.

    • SF

    • 8 years ago

    Thank you for writing about this. So much well-intentioned misunderstanding on this topic. I also like how C. S. Lewis approached the subject using Aslan: “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.”

  7. I agree with you. I hate that we have all these “spiritual sounding” quotes that are not scriptural. (” If God closes a door, he will open a window” No, I don’t think so – especially if you are on the 15th floor! “If God brings you to it, He will get you through it.” That sounds quite comforting if you don’t take into consideration “the refining fire” or any other way of getting through it is not what YOU plan. “God wants you to be happy.” Don’t mix up happy and joy. I could go on all day…) The best way to counsel or share God’s message, is to quote the Bible. Then you know it is true.

  8. Great article as always. I think it is important to acknowledge that suffering, pain and harm CAN come to those who are in God’s will, just as sometimes those who are outside of God’s will seem to be somehow charmed and free from suffering. God’s will is not a miraculous fetish that brings only blessing. And yet . . . even in those sufferings we find blessing because God uses them to grow us and make us more like Him. Your conclusion that God’s will is not the SAFEST place, but definitely the BEST place for each one of us is right on!
    I would simply like to point out (somewhat in dialogue with John L’s comments) that while God does indeed give us the intelligence to make wise decisions when danger lurks, it is more important to focus on the leading of the Holy Spirit in any given situation. Some missionary families, for example, might be led to stay put in the face of danger, while others may be led to flee. God’s ways and purposes are not the same for each of us and His methods vary from situation to situation. Sometimes His eternal (and not-understandable-by-our-finite-brains) purposes are best served when His children pass through the fire, and sometimes His children are removed from the fire before it gets to hot. So yes, let’s acknowledge that suffering and God’s will are not incompatible and also use our God-given intelligence to make the wisest choices possible, but always bathed in prayer and in dependence on the leading of God’s spirit for our particular family and situation. As we do, may God also keep us from exercising a critical spirit towards those who are led to different choices than we are! If we are led to flee, may we not regard those who stay as reckless or proud. If we are led to stay, let us not regard those who flee as weak and unspiritual.

  9. I also have a problem with the phrase or notion, “the center of God’s will” …
    I was taught all sorts of patent recipes for determining the center of God’s will for me, with that phrase usually understood as a single course of action that was right, with all others being wrong.
    Experience taught me that none of these recipes really worked; they were all open to being influenced by my desires, circumstances, other people’s agendas. For the longest time I thought something was wrong with me; reading Garry Friesen’s “Decision-Making and the Will of God” was an enourmously liberating experience: We do not need to worry about being in “the center of God’s will” (which is not a biblical phrase, and that should make us instantly suspicious!), we just need to take care to obey God’s word to the best of our abilities, and to use our God-given intelligence to make decisions based on the information we have (Friesen calls this “sanctified common sense”).
    One of these sanctified common sense decisions would certainly be not to expose our children (and ourselves) to avoidable dangers; martyrdom is so much more believable as a testimony if you didn’t put yourself or your children directly in its path.

  10. […] …and that bad things (horrible, unspeakable bad things) even happen to children whose parents serve God. We’ve anesthetized our caution with unfounded statements like “The safest place is the center of God’s will.” […]

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