To risk one’s life for others – yes, or no?

The pandemic has raised questions that have really made me think what my answers would be as a Christian. For instance, “Am I required by government – and by Scripture – to put my life at risk to save other people’s lives?” 

Scripturally, we have Jesus saying, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you,” John 15:12, which he then expands in verse 13 to “Greater love has no one but this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” And John repeats that point in 1 John 3:16 when he writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us,” so “we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 

So Jesus was all for laying one’s life down for others, and many Christians have interpreted that to include risking life and limb going to war, or entering an area ravaged by a deadly disease to care for the sick, or being a missionary in a dangerous land. 

Other Christians, however, see these verses through a different lens, that in context Jesus was talking specifically to his disciples to dedicate their lives to him by living the same life of love he lived. It was more about a lifetime of loving and serving others, rather than putting one’s physical life at risk to save people from dying physically. 

And when Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:33, “For I’m not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved,” he wasn’t talking about saving people from physical harm and death either. Jesus had given him the job of rescuing people from “the power of Satan” and turning them to God, Acts 26:17-18, and Paul gave his life to doing that.  

Does that mean we shouldn’t put our physical lives at risk if someone is trapped in a burning car, or we shouldn’t choose a risky profession like firefighting or being a pandemic frontline nurse? But it’s also deeply embedded in us naturally to risk life and limb on behalf of others and do amazing acts of bravery. It looks like Jesus created that in us too, then. But is he asking us to risk life and limb for others when we also have family back home who depend on us being alive?    

It’s a dilemma, just like it must be when a nation declares war on other nations, and the call goes out to join up. Your government is now asking (or telling) you to put your life at risk for the safety of your nation. And the pressure applied is huge to do your part and be willing to die for others. 

What would God have us do in such a situation, then? Well, Christians can end up with widely different views, and very strong ones too when based on conscience and what we personally believe is right or wrong in God’s eyes (Romans 14). So we can’t judge each other, but we can learn from each other, and hopefully be able to reason together to come up with informed answers for what we do and why, rather than just emotional ones.  

And isn’t that especially important when facing life and death decisions like a virus that kills vulnerable people, and so do the prescribed vaccines? The risk of death in both cases may be small, but when someone dear to you dies from the virus or a vaccine, and huge pressure is also being applied by peers and government “to do our part as responsible citizens,” the risk involved becomes very real.    

And how many of us have had to face this kind of risk in our lifetimes? It’s probably treading new ground for most of us, which has probably made scriptures like casting all our cares on God, and seeking his wisdom, and knowing his promises, come alive. But isn’t that what this pandemic crisis, with all its conflicting information and evolving dangers, is teaching us? Surely it’s showing us that we have no foolproof solutions, no set of experts who know exactly what to do, and no one we can totally trust with an answer that fits our personal circumstances. In short we are faced with issues way beyond our control. 

But according to Paul, that’s good, because it teaches us to “not rely on ourselves but on God,” 2 Corinthians 1:9. And what God comes up with for us always fits in with his great wish to “present us before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy,” Jude 24. He will see to it, therefore, that no matter what we decide to do in a risky situation or how faulty our reasoning may be, it will never take away from that promise. As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!” 

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