The Risk of Love

Actuarial science is the discipline that applies statistical methods to assess risk of disability, morbidity, mortality, fertility, and other life-contingencies. Generally, actuaries are employed by insurance companies or risk management firms to calculate the “risks” associated with insuring individuals against life's catastrophes. Actuarial science offers accurate and razor-sharp predictive power in order to prevent capital loss for those very companies.

There are always exceptions, of course, that confound even actuaries. These events come unannounced. So rare are these exceptions that a theory was developed to explain their occurrence. The Black Swan Theory developed by Nassim Nicolas Taleb suggests that surprise events have major and long-lasting impact.(1) Mass-shooting events; the 9-11 terrorist attacks; the Pacific tsunami in 2004; the stock-market crash of 1987. Not even a seasoned actuary could have predicted these events with any level of confidence.

Even as dramatic and horrific as these events are, they are still rare “outlier” events. Nevertheless, their impact is long-lasting on the individual and public psyche. The result of unexpected and cataclysmic events can be a deep and pervading fear, a fear all that is beyond one's control, and a fear that often creates a deep suspicion of others.

In my own life, for example, I fear the worst possible scenarios regarding airplane travel—despite the fact that the odds are much higher for my getting in a car accident when I go to the grocery store. When I am in public places, like a shopping mall or at a movie theatre, I fear the loner in the dark clothing who may be a mass-shooter. When I swim in the ocean, I fear a shark-attack more than I fear the more likely event of drowning. These are the “black swan” outliers that haunt me. They are rare and infrequent events but their impact on me is as significant as the potential sighting of a real black swan in my front yard; an unlikely but extraordinary occurrence, indeed.

We do not generally react with the same kind of fear to the more likely and pervasive threats to our lives. For example, heart disease is the number 1 killer in the U.S. and around the world according to the CDC and the WHO.(2) According to recent statistics, 7.4 million people around the world died from heart disease, while 32,658 persons died world-wide in terrorist related events.(3) Yet our deepest fears seem to center on that which is a more remote possibility.

Jesus encouraged his followers not to be anxious but to trust in the God who could be trusted even in the face of our fears—remote possibilities, or far more likely outcomes. Hope, contrary to what many might believe, is not the absence of fear but often arises in the midst of fear. It is both that which anchors us in the midst of the storm, and that which compels us to move forward—however ploddingly—toward goals, our neighbors, and the God whom the apostle Paul names the "God of hope." We hold on to hope even as we understand that living involves risk—all kinds of risks from the commonplace to the extraordinary. Hope does not always feel heroic or brave, but can often feel like a desperate clinging to the God who is mysterious, and of whom we have no control.

Following in the teaching of Jesus, the Epistle of John seems to indicate that fear is the opposite of love. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love" (I John 4:18). Yet, to love, of course, implies risk since love can be rejected and scorned. Our attempts to love are misunderstood, unfulfilled, or unrequited. Yet, in order to love we must trust and hope even with the risk involved.

While there is no direct connection between a lack of love on my part and my fear of dying in an airplane crash, there are other very real fears for which this directly applies: My fear of the “other” whoever the “other” might be, my fear of speaking what is difficult, but likely true, and my fear of putting concrete action behind what I profess all seem tied to the difficulty of loving as Jesus loved. His was a costly love that encircled even those who would eventually call for his death. His was a bold love that risked even when that risk cost him his life.

Many in our world today would see Jesus as a fool. Naïve and trusting to the point that it got him killed. The foolishness of the cross and the weakness of God is all they can see, as the Apostle Paul noted in his letter to the Corinthians.(4) Yet, to love—even when it appears to be foolish like loving those we fear, or those deemed “enemies”—is the centerpiece of Jesus's life and teaching. But we cannot love when we are afraid. Moreover, loving as Jesus loved does not guarantee that our worst fears will not be realized or that the unexpected will not happen; it is not the actuarial near-certainty or risk avoidance. Instead, loving Jesus guarantees living with risk that encourages a freedom from fear and boldness to follow in his footsteps.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Nicholas Nassim Taleb, "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable," The New York Times, April 22, 2007. Accessed January 10, 2016.
(2) World Health Organization, "The Top Ten Causes of Death," Updated May 2014. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Heart Disease Facts," Updated August 10, 2015.
(3) Svati Kirsten Narula, "More people died from terrorism last year than ever before—and mostly in these five countries," The Economist, Nov. 18, 2015. Accessed January 10, 2016.
(4) See 1 Corinthians 1:18-30.

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