Risk (n.): exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous chance
This dictionary definition of risk scares a lot of people. Who would want this “exposure?” Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we never had to take any risks? Maybe.
In many settings, there exists a concept of “no risk, no reward.” Some examples:
- You’re at a casino playing roulette. Taking a small risk of choosing one color means that if you win, you double up your money. However, if you choose a single number (a very risky move since you have a low chance of winning), and actually win, you multiply your money by a factor of 36.
- You’ve been given some money to invest. Putting it in risky stocks will yield higher returns if the stocks do well, but investing in a safe government bond will not yield nearly as much return (but will also not lose, disregarding inflation).
- Your doctor recently told you that you need to stay away from gluten in foods, but your favorite food has a little bit of gluten in it. If you take the risk of eating it and it doesn’t affect you, you reap the rewards of its deliciousness.
- You’re buying shoes online and notice that they’re cheaper than the ones in stores, probably because you can’t try them on. If you take the risk of buying them online and they actually do fit, you’ve saved yourself money.
- You’re currently in New York at a stable job that you find unfulfilling. A job offer comes your way that’s higher paying and would be in an industry that you’ve always wanted to work in, but it’s in Chicago. If you take the job, you run the risk of losing touch with your close friends in New York but if you’re able to move on and find a new community in Chicago, then the positive career move is a great reward.
An interesting thing that all five of these risks have in common is that the “safe” option is not necessarily riskless. Here’s why:
- If you put the money on a color instead of on a number in roulette, you are risking the potential of winning 36 times your bet.
- If you put all of your money in government bonds, you are risking the potential of higher returns in stocks.
- If you don’t choose to eat your favorite food, you are risking the potential of harmless deliciousness if the food would actually do nothing bad to you.
- If you choose to buy shoes in store instead, you are risking the potential dollars saved by shopping online for shoes that could also fit just as well.
- If I had chosen to stay in New York, I would have been risking the potential of a more fulfilling job and a new community.
Many people will react to this by saying, “Well, no. Risking something certain for something uncertain is foolish. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely wisdom to this, but on the other hand, what is certain? (Ecclesiastes 8:7)
Therefore one way to view our life is that it’s full of risk because we have no idea what plans God has for us, other than that they are good for us (Jeremiah 29:11). This may seem daunting, but instead of calling it a “risk-filled” life, we can also generalize this idea to the more familiar idea of Biblical decision-making. In every decision we make in our lives, big or small, we are both uncertain of God’s will in the matter as well as the outcome of each choice. I still remember the valuable lesson I learned about this during Spring Retreat of my freshman year. The speaker told us that sometimes, we just need to have faith that God will redeem our choices and just make a decision (Romans 8:28). For me, that says that sometimes I just need to take that risk instead of being paralyzed by indecision (which is also a decision in itself, but is one that is often driven by doubt). But is it really that big of a risk when we have a God who has already won the battle and promised us an inheritance through His son?
That’s about as much wisdom as I can offer on decision-making/risk-taking in a Biblical context. But I also wanted to touch upon financial risk and stewardship in Christianity because I’ve been asked more than once how one “invests” as a Christian. First, the dictionary definition of invest:
Invest (v.): expend money with the expectation of achieving a profit or material result by putting it into financial schemes, shares, or property, or by using it to develop a commercial venture
Just to clarify this definition, investing is not only buying stocks, property, etc. but is also putting money in a savings account (it’s a “financial scheme”). Investing is not putting your money in a checking account or putting cash under your bed.
What does the Bible say about this?
Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-8)
God wants us to be wise with our finances and resources. We are definitely called to be wise and save our provisions when they are abundant so we can access them when we need them later. But how should we save? What is allowed?
Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie. Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.
Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well. (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6)
I must admit, I pretty was surprised to find this verse in the Bible. Solomon essentially describes here in Ecclesiastes the financial concepts of hedging and diversification of risk. Because we don’t know what God has planned, we are to diversify our investments (and not just financial, since “sow your seed” can be applied to other things/actions as well) because we “do not know which will succeed.” Finally, the Parable of the Talents speaks more to this:
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.” (Matthew 25:24-27)
Therefore, whether it’s our spiritual gifts or our material gifts, God has given both to us. We are called to invest in and develop these gifts rather than be lazy and let them sit stagnant in the ground.
Even though the Bible has given us general guidelines on investing, what is allowed and not allowed eventually comes down to intent. Some types of investing are similar to gambling in that the returns are primarily determined by luck, and these should probably be avoided. Another heart check (that I will admit that I sometimes fail) is to ask yourself “Why am I investing in this/doing this? Is it to ‘make a quick buck’ or is it with the intent of growing God’s gifts?” The answer to this, as well as one’s risk appetite, can differ among people and determine whether investment decisions are wise or not.
I’ll leave you guys with a link to a secular explanation of why risk isn’t always bad because of the potential lost by not choosing to take a risk. I also know that many people are more risk averse than I am so I would love to hear your opinions on this!