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27 May, 2015


Abraham believed and trusted God when he risked it all and took his family to a strange land. He did not question the Almighty, he simply packed up his family and went – even without knowing where he was going. Now that is a risk! Some call it blind faith and perhaps that is why Paul reminds us that if we saw where we were going we would not go there (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Thinking of God may give people the courage to seek out and take risks, a new study suggests.  The study was particularly relevant to me because I had engaged in a controversial exchange on this very subject on a Facebook church group site in recent days.

I have never liked the word "risk".  To me there is just something negative about it.

It is my contention that a more biblical way of talking about risk is using the phrase "to step out in faith." It is something that can really change lives. When you take a risk for the Lord, it means you are going out of your way to do something for Him and you have positive thoughts about the outcome. When you take normal risks that involve something other than religious faith, there is at least a 50/50 chance of negative results and you keep your fingers crossed. It is important to know the difference between positive and negative risks. Criminals, after all, are perhaps the most notorious risk-takers...They risk the consequences of breaking the law for the sole purpose of personal gain at the expense of others.

The aforementioned study findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, goes against previous research that indicated religious people are less likely to engage in risky behaviour. To me, there is nothing new or surprising in that disclosure.

Lead researcher Daniella Kupor of Stanford University Graduate School of Business, noticed that the risks examined in the previous studies tended to focus on negative behaviour. She and her colleagues reasoned that thinking about God may have a different effect when the risks are morally neutral, such as skydiving, because they believe God will protect them from harm.

To investigate, they issued online surveys to nearly 900 people and found that those who were reminded of God – either by working on word scrambles that included God-related words or by reading a paragraph about God – were more willing to take risks than participants who weren't prompted to think about religion.

In one study participants were asked to choose which version of the survey they wanted to complete. One version would give them a small bonus payment, but involved looking at an 'extremely bright colour' that they were told could potentially damage their eyes, while the other version involved looking at a harmless darker colour.

The researchers found that participants who had been reminded of God before making their choice were more likely to opt for the dangerous version of the experiment (96 per cent) than those who hadn't been reminded of God (84 per cent). 

In a different study, the researchers posted variations of three advertisements online and recorded the click-through rates for each. Some adverts promoted an immoral risk, such as 'learn how to bribe,' others promoted a non-moral risk, such as 'find skydiving near you' and another set promoted no risk, such as 'find amazing video games'. In some cases, the adverts included a mention of God – for example, 'God knows what you're missing! Find skydiving near you.'

The research revealed that when the ads included a religious reference, people clicked on the non-moral risk of skydiving, more often. However, they clicked on the bribing – moral risk – less often.

"We were surprised to find that even a simple colloquial expression – 'God knows what you're missing' – influences whether people click on a real online ad that is promoting a risky behaviour," Ms Kupor said.

The study also indicated that people who were reminded of God perceived less danger in various risky behaviours than participants who were not reminded of God, suggesting that Christians have the courage of their convictions and do not consider a risk to be a risk when acting on God-inspired impulses of faith.

I publish the foregoing knowing full well that there will be those who say "so what?" and others who will not appreciate this risk-taking disclosure nor my reason for engaging it, choosing instead to believe that a risk is a risk no matter how you look at it, who takes it -- or how it is taken.

To my mind, however, it is better to have "faith" when taking a positive risk.  I'm no gambler, but it helps put the odds in your favor!

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