Jesus and Risk Aversion

JESUS AND RISK AVERSION  by Philip Greenslade dated 28th November 2020

I tried to imagine the twelve apostles, in two groups of 6, striving to maintain social distancing, huddled in their ‘bubbles’ at each end of the Upper Room. 

I saw Leonardo da V. trying to get them together for a portrait of the Last Supper.  Frustrated, the great painter settles for a diptych.  Only problem now: where to fit Jesus in as the spare number 7 in either panel! 

I then tried to imagine Jesus in full PPE stooping to wash Peter’s feet with disposable towel and foot-sanitiser to hand!  I tried to imagine all this and failed!

My mind gratefully gravitated to Scripture for a better grasp of reality.

To Hebrews 2:14-15 in fact:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.


Two reflections cut through the vexation I was feeling.


(i) Firstly, Jesus had no immunity – diplomatic or otherwise.  He chose not to be risk-averse: he chose to be fully human.

Nothing that was human was alien to him, except our sinfulness which he bore in his holy heart on the cross.  He did not shield himself from total immersion in our mortal condition and     God’s moral judgment on sin.

He wears our flesh-and-bloodness in all its vulnerability. He fights our moral battles and wins. He feels our pains and weakness. He faces down our fears. 

He bears our sins. He dies our death and rises victorious from it. 

And now he wears our crown.


International savant and best-selling author, Nassim Nicolas Taleb calls this having ‘skin in the game’.  He summarises the basic premise (much expanded in his book with that title) of ‘skin in the game’ as having a heartfelt, responsible, skin-and-bones investment in the risks of the enterprise embarked on.

There is he says no love without sacrifice, no virtue-signalling without involvement in risk, no grand-standing without hands-on commitment to the cause. 


In the current climate Christians are obligated to be good citizens, careful of other people’s lives, taking sensible precautions.  But as Timothy Radcliffe OP urges us, we should never lose our sense of the adventure of living. 

Radcliffe cites the Christian philosopher, Charles Taylor, to the effect that one of the great results of the Reformation (especially with Luther) was the sanctification of domestic life but that such an outcome came at a cost.

The downside was that “the great over-reaching drama of Christian life, embracing the heights of our joys and the depths of our suffering, faded from view”.  

Now, not one of us, I suspect, would choose to live in previous, more precarious centuries and for good reason.  But modern comforts can easily cosset us into thinking that life at its best is risk-free. This colours our ultimate hope, too.  In Radcliffe’s words, “our ultimate destiny becomes a celestial retirement home in the sky” where we are free to play golf and are served by angelic agency nurses only marginally more marvellous than our NHS heroes!  But if heaven is to be believed, it too is an adventure – and all-the-more appealing for it.  


Ben Fogle, modern adventurer and broadcaster, has spoken recently of society’s unwillingness to embrace risk.  It’s all right for him, we might reply, he’s fit enough to row the Atlantic and climb Everest.  But I think he has a point.

Timothy Radcliffe again: “Christians must dare to challenge our fearful, risk-averse society, with its stifling multiplications of health and safety regulations and its fear of life.”   And he wrote this before the pandemic and the draconian and often arbitrary constraints on our normal human interactions! 

Somehow and soon this must stop.  No less than Sir Patrick Vallance,

the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, concedes that even a vaccine will not eliminate the virus and we shall have to learn to live with it.  Life is not risk-free.    


(2) And this prompts my second and greater concern: the unnatural level of fear hanging over us all and stifling our lives at every turn.  Even more am I deeply troubled by how this fear seems to have gripped mature Christian believers, distorting their sense of perspective on reality, and even endangering family relationships.  Recall Hebrews 2:15 and the purpose of the Incarnation and death of Jesus: that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

Fear of death is natural to us as mortal creatures – as is fear of dying.  But Jesus lived and died and rose again to conquer death for us – not least by defeating the one described here as ‘having the power of death’.  Even as a defeated foe, the evil one stalks us seeking to devour even forgiven and un-condemned believers with unreasonable anxiety, so locking us into ‘lifelong bondage’ to fear.

Whenever we become unduly fearful, we are acknowledging that our lives are under threat.   In this sense, every one of our everyday fears is at root a fear of death or dying.  But Christ’s victory over evil is effective not just for our ‘end-of-life’ destiny but for how we may live free and fulfilled lives in the here and now. 


This is gospel truth: and I trust I    can hear it.  My fears are as stubborn as yours.

As Hebrews makes clear: fear of death is natural but when that fear of death and dying binds and inhibits us and threatens to stifle our normal human loves and affections – that is the devil’s own work!  Lifelong bondage to fear – is surely not the Christian’s calling, it is demonically oppressive.

Not least it is injurious to our mental well-being.  The most repeated exhortation in the whole Bible – reiterated and emphasised by Jesus is: “Do not be afraid”.


As is often said, the NHS is secular Britain’s nearest thing to a national religion. But noted Christian ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas, points out that our own near-idolatrous trust in medical science can foster in us the illusion that – as he puts it: “We can get out of life alive”!   We can’t.

Irrational fear is the fellow-traveller of risk-aversion; paralysis follows paranoia as night follows day.

As FDR famously said in his inauguration speech in 1933: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

In Hauerwas’s words: “We have forgotten that the courageous have fears

the coward can never know because the courageous make the world more dangerous”!!


Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Saviour took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself,

he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.  (The Message)


So friends, look in the mirror!  Yes, I know… but indulge me.

That body before you is a baptised body, shaped by the Easter story in which suffering, and death are not regarded as the ultimate enemy.

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds

In a believer’s ear.

It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds

And drives away his fear.


My love to you all.

Stay blessed.  Be careful but be fearless.