RELIGION: What is Courage?

One dictionary defines it as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear.”

I would agree with that definition if the last two words were removed: “Courage is the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc.”

Piers Anthony points out, “The one who feels no fear is a fool, and the one who lets fear rule him is a coward.”  Nelson Mandela, who faced much fear courageously while battling apartheid in South Africa, adds, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

When I find certain character traits to be weak in me, I often look for persons in the Bible who exhibit that character trait so that I might learn from their example.  Courage is one of those character traits that is weak in me; I find a good example of it in the life of Nehemiah whose story is told in the book in the Bible that bears his name.

In the sixth chapter of Nehemiah I learn three important lessons about courage.

#1: Courage does not have to do with the absence of fear but with acts of perseverance amidst difficulty, danger, or pain.

While covering the news during World War II, the Army transport plane Eric Sevareid was riding in over Burma developed engine trouble.  He and others had to parachute out.  Victor Parachin records what happened:

“They parachuted deep into the mountainous jungles of the Burma-India border.  Once on the ground, they had to begin a painful, plodding march out of the jungle to meet up with friendly forces.  ‘We were faced with a 140-mile trek, over mountains, in August heat and monsoon rains,’ Sevareid recalls.  During the first hour of the march, he accidentally stepped on a nail that punctured deeply into one foot.  By evening he had bleeding blisters the size of 50-cent coins on both feet.  ‘Could I hobble 140 miles?  Could the others, some in worse shape than I, complete such a distance?  We were convinced we could not.  But we could hobble to that rise, we could make the next friendly village for the night.  And that, of course was all we had to do.’”

That’s the courage of perseverance, or the perseverance of courage.

#2: Courage does not have to do with the absence of fear but with a life of integrity amidst difficulty, danger, or pain.  Ambrose Redmoon remarks, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

When six-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first African-American student to break segregation in New Orleans schools, she was greeted each morning by a crowd of people shouting at her, shaking their fists at her, and threatening her.  Escorted by two U.S. marshals walking ahead of her and two walking behind her, she entered the school each day.  In his book The Moral Life of Children, Harvard professor Robert Coles reports what Ruby’s mother said about her daughter’s courage: “There’s a lot of people who talk about doing good, and a lot of people who argue about what’s good and what’s not good,” but there are other folks who “just put their lives on the line for what’s right.”

That’s the courage of integrity, and that’s the integrity of courage.

#3: Courage does not have to do with the absence of fear but with asking God to provide what is lacking in me but present in Him.

An anonymous writer suggests, “Real courage is fear that has said its prayers.”  That’s what Nehemiah did.  It worked for him.  Maybe it will work for us as well.

—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa. Pastor Tripp can be reached by e-mail at: tomtripp@frontiernet.net

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Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa. Pastor Tripp can be reached by e-mail at: tomtripp@frontiernet.net