Friday, January 23, 2009

Abundance of Caution

Some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said “what does this babbler want to say?” (Acts 17:18).

Wednesday was President Obama’s first day at work. His first day at work in the White House, that is. Among the many items on the Presidential ‘to do’ list was one that we might have expected was checked-off on Tuesday. Chief Justice John Roberts came to the White House to re-administer the oath of office.

If you were watching on Tuesday you might have noted the somewhat awkward, bumbling exchange between Justice Roberts and our new President. Apparently, Justice Roberts attempted to administer the oath from memory. It didn’t go smoothly. Justice Roberts and President Obama had a “do-over” on Wednesday to be above reproach and to make sure that it was done flawlessly.

The White House explained that the oath was re-administered out of an “abundance of caution.” An interesting phrase.

An abundance of caution can be a good thing. If you pilot commercial aircraft or regularly perform brain surgery, an abundance of caution will serve you well. When you’re being sworn in as President of the United States, an abundance of caution is wise.

But sometimes an abundance of caution slips over the line and morphs into fear, the kind of fear that keeps us from taking risks, the kind of fear that keeps us from trusting God and living by faith. Caution is admirable in airline pilots and surgeons, but even pilots and surgeons need to take risks. Too much caution and the plane will never get off the ground. An abundance of caution could have been disastrous as US Airways flight 1549 was ditched in the Hudson River.

A life of faith doesn’t flourish well wrapped in an abundance of caution. The overly cautious have a hard time seeing God in the everyday. They’re too busy making sure nothing goes wrong, eliminating the need to trust something or someone beyond themselves.


Paul in Athens is exemplary in his willingness to throw caution to the wind while at the same time being careful in his dealings with the Athenians and the audience at the Areopagus.

Speaking of the resurrected Jesus in Athens was risky. Paul was thought to be a “babbler.” An overly cautious Paul would have not spoken so plainly about Jesus. Paul went at the Epicureans and Stoics head on. He was bold and direct, reasoning in both synagogue and marketplace, taking the fight to his would be detractors. An abundance of courage.

But once he is asked to address the very same issues before the Areopagus, Paul is careful. His words to the Athenians are strategically chosen and nuanced. He compliments them, cites their poet laureate, and finds points of contact with their world view.

Seeing God in the everyday might mean placing ourselves at risk everyday, engaging situations and relationship where all we can do is trust God. We do well to take care, exercise caution that Jesus is presented well and truthfully. But when it comes to what others think of us or how they respond to us, take a chance. Don’t be burdened with an abundance of caution.

As you enter this day, where do you need to be careful in your life of faith? And where do you need to be bold?

Gracious God, make me careful in presenting you well to my world; careful to honor you in my speech and behavior. And relieve me of an abundance of caution that holds the world at arm’s length. Create in me a heart that holds courage and care together, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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