Courage

I have mixed feelings about courage.  In theory, it is a great concept—be brave for things that matter.  And Christian courage—being brave for God and things that matter to God—sounds even more appealing.  I am moved and and inspired by Esther and her willingness to risk her life to save her people.  She speaks up when it is forbidden.  And as James reminded us, we all need to speak up in love, especially in times of hatred.  And this I could not agree with more.  Too often we are complicit in the darkness around us simply because we don’t shine our own light.  In so doing, we share in that sin.  After all, darkness is the absence of light, and so inaction is itself a sin.  Nowadays, people feel emboldened to say whatever cruelty crosses their minds under the guise of freedom and honesty.  Those of us called to love by a God who loved us first need to counter that cruelty with gentle words of kindness.  We must risk being the spoil sport who does not join in, and we must offer a different way of being and talking.  So when blogs and Twitter and Facebook light up with a nasty comment or insidious “joke” about people different from us, Christians must have the courage to kindly disagree, without adopting the language of the haters.  And if we take to social media in order to disparage those same haters, who are also made in God’s image and share with us in the hope and promise of God, we have already lost the battle that is only won with love and forgiveness and the cross.  So this courage—to love when others hate, to speak up when others are silent, to follow God when others follow the world—this courage I totally agree with.   

 

But there is another type of courage that has been fetishized in our society, and it is not gentle or life affirming.  It worships pure, abstract ideals at the expense of flesh and blood, and it leads to extremism in service of human ambition and greed.  It is this courage that I take issue with.  It is a worldly distortion of our Godly call to love.  And it places little value on life which is a gift from God and precious as such.  Most clearly, terrorist suicide bombers exhibit this kind of courage.  But it would be a mistake to condemn their actions without seeing the same type of behavior celebrated in others.  We cheer the hero who takes matters into his own hands.  We admire those who die rather than deny their beliefs.  We are proud of the ones who fight to protect friends and family.  At first glance, there is nothing wrong with any of these actions.  The danger is when we value the courage and the cause, more than we value real life.  Because each life, our own and that of the other, is an everyday miracle and a gift from the Creator.  More importantly, as Christians we are asked to trust not in our own salvation but in God’s salvation.  We cannot right the wrongs of this world with our own force of will.  Rather, we are called to deny ourselves and pick up the cross.  The world is only changed through love—which requires faith not in ourselves and our own bravery but in God’s power to transform and redeem—often in ways we do not understand.    

 

If we need an example of this more difficult type of courage, we need only to look at the example of Jesus.  He did not come to lead armies or a resistance movement.  He did not even seek his own martyrdom but begged God for another way.  His courage was loving people who were unlovable.  His courage was trusting God when it didn’t make sense.  His courage was becoming human because life was worth it.  Jesus was no modern day super hero.  He was a mere human who died on a cross—and still managed to save us all.  God’s ways are not our own.  We need to be careful of worshipping human courage more than we worship the Creator.  Doing so makes us idolaters who trust in something other than God.  There is only one Savior and we are not it.  Christian courage is choosing love and hope instead of violence and despair in a world that expects us to do otherwise.  Others might call us naive, but that’s what makes it all the more courageous.                      

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