The Crime of Living Cautiously

“If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being?” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

All of life, in the entire world, no matter the era of history, is a risk. Standing behind a podium to deliver a lecture or a sermon, I have often felt a sudden jolt of adrenaline, a tingle of fear that the words wouldn’t come easily, the ideas wouldn’t flow or the audience would merely be bored. My dad, a fluent and articulate public speaker, once advised me that without a prickle of excitement or fear, a presentation would have little cutting edge.

Simply to drive a car, let one’s weight down on the seat of a chair, enter an elevator or plane, or walk down a flight of steps invites possible injury. Just to go to church and be confronted with a spiritual challenge we feel inadequate for, just to confide a secret to a friend, or use a computer knowing that our hard drive may fail, leaving us with a blank screen instead of a finished document, involves uncomfortable risk. Or voicing a controversial opinion, or visiting a foreign country. Or simply backing the car out of our own driveway in the morning—each is a moment of possible hazard, when we put ourselves in jeopardy.

How are we to live ordinary life, let alone the Adventure, in the face of such pervasive risk? Terrorism in our own time is frightening because it is in the air and its source is only guessed at, unpredictable, shadowy. The who, the when, and the where are unresolved questions that make us hypersensitive to threat. Dread is almost guaranteed given the number and diversity of known and unknown terrorist organizations, let alone the ordinary thugs and criminals who flourish in a free society. Each of us is at risk. And each of us must learn to live with it and even thrive on it.

As 1 John 4 reminds us, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Who in this terrible, beautiful world can attain to or experience perfect love—the depth of love that banishes fear? Or an absolute confidence that God is with us and that our welfare is best left entirely in his hands? Faith and love, perfect or imperfect, are intangibles—we experience them but cannot quite put our finger on or define them; they seem to escape us. Such spiritual qualities are, by definition, “unseen.”

We move in their direction, hopeful, believing, but seldom achieving with absolute certainty. God himself, a Spirit, real but invisible, calls us to live the Adventure guided by a hand and an arm that we cannot see or prove in irrefutable terms. And this is the dwelling of faith in which we all must learn to be at home.1

  1. This excerpt is taken from The Crime of Living Cautiously: Hearing God’s Call to Adventure by Luci Shaw (InterVarsity Press, pgs. 21–23). Copyright 2005. Used with permission. []

Luci Shaw is a writer in residence and lecturer at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. She has worked as an English stylist for The Message, serves as an editor for Radix Magazine, and she is the author of ten volumes of poetry. Visit her website,