Number six in a series of seven articles on virtue
Courage is one of the most important of virtues. In fact, it is involved in the practice of all other virtues.
In hope of increasing the understanding of this virtue, here are some essential components of courage. Components which define both what courage is and is not.
Courage Is Not The Absence of Fear
This is a common myth that is often dispelled by real-life experience as a person matures. The first time one makes a courageous stand in any situation the experience will be accompanied by a certain level of fear.
It might be just a small twinge of uncertainty in the back of the mind. A slight cringe in the spirit because of the costs of making your brave stand.
To the extent any of that is true, a certain amount of fear is present. Courage is acting in the face of that fear.
Moreover, courage is impossible without fear being present. It takes no courage to act in an atmosphere without any risk.
Author George R.R. Martin wrote in character voice,
“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”
Bran’s father is right. Unless there is a real fear, bravery is not necessary.
Fear defines and can shape action courageous or cowardly. However, courage must not give way to panic and act in a foolhardy manner.
Courage Is Not Foolhardiness
Acts of courage are often portrayed in popular media as acts that seem hopeless from the start. In fact, they seem so hopeless that a reckless and foolish response of someone to rescue the imperiled is deemed necessary.
There is an old saying, “Discretion is the better part of valor.” These words have been misused in the past to excuse cowardice.
However, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one of the main definitions of discretion is,
The quality of having or showing discernment or good judgment…the ability to make responsible decisions.
This definition of the word discernment sheds further light on why discretion is called the ‘better’ part of valor. Discernment is,
It means to act with understanding. Understanding the consequences not just to oneself but to others as well.
Discretion is why soldiers train for battle, law enforcement trains to fight crime, fire fighters have rigorous training and testing, and ordinary people learn CPR.
Courage can take many forms. It can require quick and decisive action. It could be a persistent effort over a long period.
Whatever the situation, discretion employs wisdom and thinking. It is especially important to use discretion if one’s valor is to be service of what is good rather than what is evil.
It would be tragic and foolhardy to risk for evil. For courage requires righteous faith, thus it is wise to exercise discretion in choosing the beneficiary of valor.
Courage Requires Righteous Faith
Real bravery requires faith in someone or something. Without a belief important enough to risk perhaps life and limb for, courage is impossible.
The faith itself does not have to be in a higher being. Moreover, it does not have to be faith in a being at all.
Faith can be faith in an ideal. However, for courage to be truly virtuous, it must be employed on behalf of righteous ideals and principle.
Someone may have risked their life as part of the Gestapo, but that does not qualify as true courage. Conversely, those involved with Operation Valkyrie against Hitler demonstrated real valor.
The officers involved in this failed attempt to assassinate Hitler realized their faith in the Fuhrer was misplaced and evil. They risked and paid with their lives trying to atone for that misplaced faith.
Bravery is not amoral. Nor is it without context. It requires a context of righteous faith and that is found by faith in the LORD.
Real courage requires a righteous faith because it will also inevitably involve sacrifice. Sacrifice akin to that given by Christ.
Courage Is Sacrificial
Acts of courage are sacrificial acts. They exact a real cost from those who exhibit them.
This is easy to understand when speaking of physical bravery. Anyone can see that physically defending a person from another, stronger person sacrifices personal safety to varying degrees.
There is another level of courage involved when many people are in danger. It is a willingness to sacrifice even your life for those you may not know.
The ultimate example of self-sacrificial courage was given by the Lord Jesus Christ. He gave His life even for people who hate Him, scorn Him, and reject Him.
In fact, while on earth Jesus chose to spend a lot of time among those that had been rejected by the world.
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:15-17 [ESV]
The courage displayed by Jesus began when He left His heavenly home to become a child in the virgin womb of Mary. As the Son of God, to know the fate and sacrifice which awaited and choose to go anyway is an astounding display of courageous sacrifice.
A sacrifice which culminated upon the cross of Calvary, when the sinless Son took upon Himself the penalty for our sins.
Courage is compelled by sacrificial love which puts the other person ahead of oneself. That is known as agape in the New Testament Greek.
Agape is by far the most common type of love spoken of by Jesus. In the next and final piece on virtue, we will look at agape as well as the other types of love in the Scriptures, as love is the queen of all virtue.
Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
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