The quality of our lives expands or contracts based upon the amount of courage we possess or don’t possess. With courage, we are far more likely to attach our lives to a transcendent cause and mission, which demands sacrifice but through it deepens our soul, faith, and grafts into our lives greater meaning, purpose and significance. With courage, we are better able to produce tangible expressions of faith in action.
But the area in our lives where courage is most needed is love. Without courage we can obtain some degree of three out of four forms of love. We can get to the love of the familiar (storge), we can obtain some level of sexual love (eros) and even some degree of loving friendship (philia). But it’s agape, deep and abiding love, we cannot obtain. Deep and abiding love is risky, sacrificial and dangerous to our self-preservation and sense of control. To love deeply is to open yourself to inevitable suffering, usually through rejection or loss. But it is this kind of love that we are commanded to obtain and spread, and it is the kind of love that makes life glorious and heroic.
When asked what is the greatest expression of love, Jesus did not provide a sentimental example, such as giving your wife 12 long-stem roses on Valentine’s Day. Rather, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” [John 15:13]. Jesus was foreshadowing His own death, but he was also telling us that the greatest form of love is more Marines than Mother’s Day, more courage than sentiment.
More so, we are called to love people through our courageous strength. Jesus said that the greatest of all commandments is to “Love God with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself" [Mark 12:33]. Not only do we see once again the three parts of our human essence, we are told that we are to love God and others through our courageous strength—not God’s strength in our lives.
And finally, courage fuels the most noted examples of Christian witness and faith, examples that even the cynic cannot ignore. Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., William Wilberforce, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Mother Teresa, Harriet Tubman, Pope John Paul II, Chuck Colson, Dr. James Dobson—to name just a few—all in their own way, through their courageous capacity, have battled to defend human dignity, which is a gift from God that no person should tear asunder.
These people of tremendous faith in action, the kind of people that the book of Hebrews says are “too good for a world like this,” [Hebrews 11:38] shook the world by their courageous faith in action by reflecting the nature of the God they serve, setting captives free and making both atheists and believers weep with awe, gratefulness and sometimes even envy.
God has given each of us the capacity for courageous strength. When honored, grown and maintained, this virtue that underpins all other virtues finds its most noble expression in the service of dangerously unselfish love.