Pastor Doug Wilson wrote a timely post, Is Church to be a Safe Space? It’s a timely post because for the past few weeks I’ve been speaking of safety, safe spaces, trigger warnings, comfort zones, from both a political and a religious perspective.
Safety is an issue that has been on many minds lately, what is it, where does it come from? What do we mean when we say “safety?” In the context of “safe spaces” on college campuses, we’re speaking mostly of emotional and spiritual safety, comfort zones. One issue there is that people are searching for an external solution to an internal problem. They’re l0oking for the outside world to provide them that sense of safety, by externally removing anything that might make them uncomfortable.
“Safety zones” are are a political and cultural phenomenon that continue to baffle me. We have these gun free zones, drug free zones, trigger free zones, inclusivity zones, compassionate living zones, as if we can just draw lines around certain areas and all other people will simply honor our emotional needs for safety.
I too have been thinking of the Apostle Paul lately, a former persecutor of Christians, and what it must have been like for the early church to not just welcome him in, but to have him in a position of leadership. In Acts 7:58, we read in regards to the stoning of Stephan, “……. and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” Saul goes on to have a spiritual epiphany, to become the Apostle Paul. I’m going to assume some may have had some feelings about that.
Safety is an important issue for people who have been abused and violated. That loss of safety and sense of control has to be regained in the healing process. I believe in the Great Physician however, in how surrendering to Him can enable one to replace what has been stolen, ten fold. It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, but people can and do heal, and God can take what has been broken and create something stronger and more beautiful than the original, a masterpiece fused together with gold.
God also took Saul and transformed him into the Apostle Paul, a powerful leader in the early church, one whose words of wisdom continue to lead us to this day. What a powerful miracle that is.
Doug Wilson speaks of safety in the church, of protection and shepherds, and says, “So yes, church should be a safe place. But our safety is in the gospel, and in shepherds who love the gospel, and who love what the gospel does in the lives of people who have been transformed by it.”
Amen! Although one should never underestimate the value of good shepherds, about the significance of protection, provision, good leadership, ultimately a sense of safety is an internal thing, something that comes from spiritual work and the gospel. Psalm 23:4 is the very definition of safety, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
So, I am of two minds here. While I recognize the need people have for safety, the wounding that comes from abuse, the gospel itself was designed to take us out of our comfort zones. A spiritual journey is not necessary a “safe” journey, in terms of leaving you emotionally unscathed and comfortable. Some people need rest when their souls have been wounded, and yet we don’t do anyone any favors by leaving them there indefinitely. People were designed to go forth and conquer, to overcome the challenges we face, to walk boldly in the world, victorious. I dream of healing, of empowerment, of people who come to replace fear with faith.
The gospel is simply not a “safe place,” nor should it be transformed into one. It causes discomfort, it was designed to. Genuine safety is to be found in the Lord, in His work within us and that is a priceless gift.