Why Risk It?

 [Picture of Andrew Cotton, 34, surfing an 80’ wave off the coast of Portugal in 2014]


I’m not naturally someone who is inclined to activities which are risky.  I don’t spend incredible amounts of money or energy searching for that jolt of fear and adrenaline that follows a free-climb up a sheer rock face or a jump across a chasm.  Nor have I ever taken a proverbial leap financially on a risky investment or cast all of my energy toward getting a job which was probably out of my reach.  You might even say I’m semi-risk-averse.  But what is interesting is that when I’ve completed personality assessments, each of them has revealed that I have a distinct passion for the risky.  There is something within me that values risk and wants irrepressibly to find an outlet.  Up until now, this odd dichotomy has been simply a weird quirk or mystery that has escaped my deductive capabilities of self-evaluation.  But I think that I finally have the answer as to why I love risk … and it’s an answer that I hope will help you too, whether you love or hate risk.


First, let’lay a little groundwork by talking about society in general.  You know how much of a history lover I am (why else would I have named this blog after words spoken by an obscure king well over 300 years ago?), so it should come as no surprise that I do a lot of thinking about the motivations of individuals based on how peoples have acted over the millennia of human history.  And when you look at motivation through history, you tend to suspect that Maslow was indeed right when he said that there is a hierarchy of needs – essentially that self-actualization cannot happen if more basic needs like food, water, clothing, shelter and love aren’t received.  After all, for millennia the rather constant dominion of man has been to spend 95-99% of his time on simply meeting those most basic needs.  


It is indeed the exception to history, rather than rule, that the West’s level of affluence over the last 100 years has led to thecommon man’s 40 hour workweek, frequent holidays and downtime to enjoy a movie, video game, a little social networking, or an extended vacation.  This can also explain why sports and activities like surfing, skateboarding, parkour and skydiving have only arisen in the last century (admittedly, skydiving wouldn’t have been possible prior to Kitty Hawk anyway – but you get my point).  The proliferation and popularity of these activities is the most relevant thing to our current discussion though.  There have always been activities which have sucked in the risk-lovers throughout history.  For example, I doubt that even the biggest riskophile (my term) out there would have braved the hangman’s rope, Marine’s musketand ocean storms in order to conduct piracy along the Spanish Main if it didn’t also offer a bit of bread, rum and belonging at the end of the day.  But in modern times, with less work needed to make ends meet and an entitlement net from Western governments which encourages loafing, the risk lovers are pulled into risky activities purely for risk’s sake.


To be perfectly honest, I love that there are so many opportunities for risky activities!  Though I won’t be taking up big wave surfing anytime soon, I love that other people do it.  Though I won’t be pitting my fingers, toes and nerve against El Capitan anytime soon, I love that people do that too.  I can’t ever imagine myself parkouring my way around downtown Los Angeles, but I think it’s awesome that other people do.  Furthermore, I love that nowadays a riskophile can make a living off of putting their lives on the line in such ways.


And the reason I love that others do these things is the same reason for my own inclination to risky actions.  Really it’s quite simple:  I love freedom and opportunity.  To me the actions of the X Games contestant, the Maverick Big Wave competitor or the independent French youth running up the sides of Paris buildings are all freedom and opportunity being borne out to their natural product.  It’s the desire to run faster, climb higher and break new barriers that brings exhilaration to life and it’s by attempting new things and stretching oneself to the limit that freedom and opportunity meet their potential.


That definition then means that you can extend the tribe of riskophilia beyond simple physical challenge and exhilarationby counting in the business entrepreneurs who break limits on what is considered viable in the market.  Or the young man who is born into poverty in the inner city but then works his fingers to the bone to better his plight through continual effort and self-improvement.  Or even an inventor who has to go through a thousand prototypes before he meets with success.  Risk is inherent in any activity that betters your life!


In fact, if you want the ultimate example of risk, think about love.  How truly risky it is to lay your heart bare in front of someone whom you love and whom you want to love you in return!  And yet it is an act which is undertaken everyday because the risks are potentially outweighed by the rewards.  A guy tells his girlfriend that he loves her and in the process takes a risk that: 1) she might not love him in return, 2) she will not laugh in his face, and 3) that at some point in the future that love will not sour and callous the heart through acts of selfishness and anger.  How much more risk could an action incur?  The answer is none … except one.  Think of the risk God took in sending His Son Jesus to die for us.  Yes, I know that His was a mission that was bound to succeed, simply based on His own infallibility.  But HIS infallibility is checked by OUR weakness.  He has placed everything He has out on the table for us:  Hisgrace, His mercy, His forgiveness, His Fatherhood, His light and His life … but also His heart.  He gives love freely even though the majority of us spit in His face.  He risks everything, every tangible and intangible blessing He can muster, simply to be one with you and me.  God truly is the ultimate risk-taker.


Which brings me back to the freedom and opportunity reason for loving risk: I risk every bit of my freedom and opportunity each day for love.  I risk everything by utilizing my time to better the lives of those who count on me.  I risk everything by not holding grudges against those who have wronged me.   I risk everything by showing grace and mercy to people around me.  My risks and my capacity to love may be miniscule in comparison to the limitless amounts God employs, but my riskophilia is still on display.  Undeniably, my risks may take a different form thanthe base-jumper or the kiteboarder, but they are stillcomparably powerful, even irrepressible, and are still bornefrom my exercise of freedom and opportunity.  Part of it comes from a decision I consciously make and part of it is an innatedesire to act; some of my risky actions are knee-jerk responses to my surroundings, some are carefully thought-out.  But to remove risk from me is to remove life from me.


I’m obviously not saying that I’m a risk Superman, able to conquer the tallest problems in a single act of goodness – or even a risk Wolverine, able to superhumanly-heal when my risky acts of goodness are lashed back at me by unrelenting fortune.  There are millions of other people who get up every day and do the exact same things I do – risking their livelihoods and reputations in the process.  The one thing that makes me different (and hopefully you too) is the motivation for it all.  I risk because I want to be like my Father.  When it comes to riskophiles, He’s the greatest.  Shaun White, Tony Hawk and Matt Hoffman have nothing on Him.  He gives and gives to people who take from Him and then spurn Him.  He loves and loves people who hate and despise Him.  He descended from on high, covered His glory in dirty mortality, felt the agony of the worst man can do and then voluntarily bore the sins of all menthrough the millennia to a death on the cross.  He did it all for 12 “friends who ran away when He needed them.  He did it all for His nation, who had been warned for centuries of His coming and still put Him to death when He came.  He did it all for the Roman soldiers who had the impudence to draw the immortal blood of God.  He did it all for the people of our day and age who boast about our refined civilization with a straight face while murdering millions of infants in the womb.  And He did itall for every sinner that comes in the days, months, years, decades and centuries of the future.


That’s risk that I want to emulate!  That’s ultimate risk!  To use your freedom and opportunity to love, as Paul said in Galatians 5:13, is what freedom is all about.  And if riskiness is all about freedom, then the best and greatest risk of all is to love!


One last thought I want to share before wrapping things up: how many of the greatest acts in history revolve around feats of physicality?  Sure, conquering Everest was incredible, circumnavigating the world in a dinky Portuguese Nau was impressive, and sitting on top of thousands of tons of explosive in order to leave earth is valiant.  But all those things pale in comparison to the work of St. Patrick, Wilberforce, or Mother Theresa.  Love accomplishes things which are so much more impressive than even the first Polynesians who crossed the Pacific in their outrigger canoes.  But greater by far than all of St. Patrick’s bravery in the face of druidic sorcery, or Wilberforce’s courageous stance for the value of all men, or Mother Theresa’s kindness in touching the untouchable is the love of God for us in dying for us while we were still sinners.  Yet He did it.  He risked it all in order to extend an invitation for us to love Him in return.


The naysayers and cowards may all askWhy risk it? Why risk love?  And we all must answer, “Because He does.


Oh Lord, I know that I’ll never be able to risk as much as You.  I know that I’ll never have that courage or that strength of will.  But I want to be like You and I want to know the thrill of risking it all and finding You at the end.  I want to run the race and find You at the finish line waiting for me.  I want to climb the mountain and find You at the top and then to jump wildly from its summit and find Your hands catching me.  I want to bend and groan like a palm tree against the hurricane of Your love and then rest calmly in the eye of that storm where Your grace is so abundant.  And I want You to lead me to love others … in spite of … No! BECAUSE OF the risk.

2 thoughts on “Why Risk It?

  1. Excellent. “Risk” is something I struggle with here where my Christianity makes me feel so different — so “other” — in a place where I’m already painfully aware of how ver different I am at every moment of every day. You are right: I must risk it , because He does.

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