Because courage is a necessary virtue…

Posted by on Jan 21, 2024 in Blog | 0 comments

person climbing on mountain

American poet and social activist Maya Angelou famously noted, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” If you think about it, she is probably right. After all, what good is it to be passionate about justice if you don’t have the courage to stand up and do something about it. It doesn’t help to feel awful about what is happening to someone else while knowing that you don’t have the courage to say something in their defence for fear of what might happen to you. To make a difference, or to practice virtues we aspire towards, takes courage, and without it, these virtues will be noble ideals which condemn us – for they point us to what we should but don’t do.

It’s one thing to note the importance of courage, another to find a way to be courageous.

Some advocate the “just do it” route. They argue that courage is about being afraid of something, but doing it anyway. I heard of a woman who had always been terrified of water, but when her 3 year old nephew suddenly darted away from her and fell into a flooded river, she barely hesitated before diving in and rescuing him, placing herself in real peril in doing so. When asked how she had overcome her hydrophobia she paused thoughtfully and then replied, “In that awful moment when I saw him being swept away I felt sick with fear. But then I was overcome with an even greater fear – the fear of doing nothing. That fear got me to jump in after him.”

Others more pragmatically note that we discover we are more courageous than we imagined in the flow of life. Tough situations require us to dig deeply into our identity and being, and we land up doing things we didn’t think we were capable of. Often it’s the one foot in front of the next principle. By speaking up when we thought we couldn’t, we discover that words come – and then we do it the next time – and the next time. Or we take a daring action because we don’t see any other possible path.

John F. Kennedy when asked how he had come to be a hero during the war replied, “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.” This was a huge understatement, and Kennedy’s courage is helping to save many of the crew of PT-109 is well documented. For all that, there is a certain truth in what Kennedy said. He didn’t try to be a hero – but after his boat was rammed and sank, he had no choice but to spring into action. It wasn’t as though he sat down and carefully thought, “now I must prove I am a person of courage.” He spontaneously did what needed to be done in that situation and in doing so, displayed great courage. Courage is often situational, and if we never find ourself in tough situations, we may never know the depth of courage that resides inside of us.

In the course of history some have shown astonishing courage in standing up against oppression, injustice and cruelty. The state has often pushed right back, and many have been arrested and imprisoned. Some have been tortured. Many have lost their life. Where did they find the courage to do this? When asked where it came from, many point to convictions that were strong enough to overcome their fears and insecurities.

Many Christians have shown extraordinary courage – the kind of courage that sees evil regimes ended, laws changed and new orders birthed. While not the only people who have been courageous, Christians are disproportionately represented in the list of prophets of social change. In his Theology of Hope, German Theologian Jurgen Moltmann suggests a possible reason. Christians live and are guided by eschatological hope, and that hope is informed and shaped by the resurrection of Jesus. Because Christ has been raised from the dead, death is relativised. Christ’s resurrection gives us the confidence to hope for our own resurrection.

In a collection of talks and sermons, The Experiment Hope, Moltmann spells out the practical implications of this hope by approvingly quoting some lines from Ingeborg Bachmann’s poem, Every Day

The uniform of the day is patience,
its medal the pitiful star of hope above the heart.

It is awarded
for desertion of the flag,
for bravery in the face of friends,
for the betrayal of unworthy secrets
and the disregard
of every command.

While some people find the courage to do remarkable things by simply telling themselves to be courageous, Christian people have persistently suggested another source. Courage comes to the people of God because of the resurrection of Jesus. Finding the courage to do the right thing is often difficult, but the ability to march to a different tune is linked to the hope birthed by following Jesus.

May the resurrection of Jesus give you the courage to do the right things today, and every day.

As always, nice chatting…

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