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What is Risk

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We all know what risk is, right? Of course, we do. We’re familiar with risk because, in one form or another, we all face some type of risk every day. So, asking what risk is, seems to be kind of pointless. Yet, the concept of risk, while simple on the surface, is deeper than it appears at first glance. In other words, there’s more to risk than meets the eye.

Let’s start with the standard definition of risk. In the dictionary, a risk is defined as a chance of loss or a peril. In addition, it is further defined as the person or thing that creates this chance of loss or peril. This means that the very concept of risk contains two separate, yet intertwined ideas – the chance of a negative result, along with the action that made that chance a possibility. This is critical to the understanding of risk.

The key word here is – possibility. A possibility is not a certainty. If something is possible, it may occur. At the same time, it may not occur. This means that the negative result at the heart of a risk, while possible, is by no means certain. Because of this, a positive result is also possible. So, when we define risk, we have to take this fact into account. Any risk also contains a potential reward.

Risk itself is not a negative concept. It is not simply a loss. It is a CHANCE for a loss. That chance may or may not occur. The lower the odds are that the loss will not occur, the higher the odds are that a reward will be the result of undertaking a particular activity. In other words, a risk is a fluid concept set on a sliding scale. At one end is almost certain negative results. On the other end is almost certain positive results. In between is the chance.

Furthermore, there is a subjective element to any risk. Risk is defined by both the chance for a negative outcome and the person who is willing to accept the odds that that outcome will not occur. So how daring you are – how willing you are to risk a negative outcome for the chance to gain a positive outcome – is an important element of risk. Another important subjective element is perceived risk. Negative outcomes aren’t always factual possibilities. Sometimes we perceive the possibility of a negative outcome that just isn’t there. Other times we may overestimate or underestimate how likely the negative outcome is.

What does this have to do with your spiritual life? People often find themselves “stuck” in their relationship with God out of a fear of risk. Some of these fears are real – pouring ourselves out in love for the world in imitation of our Lord means sacrifice! In cases where the risk is real, we need to evaluate it based on what we stand to gain rather than only on what we might lose. Jesus teaches us, in Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” We can flip this around too. What can we gain if we give up the whole world but save our soul?

The other evaluation of risk we need to do in our spiritual life is to recognize when unfounded fear is holding us back. Many of the risks associated with the spiritual life are perceived risks rather than actual risks. So often we refuse to be spiritually daring because we are afraid of standing out in the crowd. We don’t want others to see us as “holier than thou.” But is this a real fear? If we live bolder, holier lives, isn’t it just as possible that others would come to see us as kind and loving? Isn’t it just possible that they would like us more because we dare to follow Jesus more closely? What unfounded fears are holding you back from really embracing your spiritual life?

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Also published on Medium.

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