Many conditions and fallacies drain our lives of courage. Cynicism drains our lives of hope, optimism and creativity—raw material that help build our foundation of courage. Men are especially seduced by cynicism’s ability to look like you are on the playing field of life, committing deeds that are useful and powerful. But in reality the cynic is comfortably anchored on the cushy sidelines of life, lifting no burdens, creating no light and being no salt. This ability to always see the worst in people and situations is often a hiding place for fear, timidity and indifference. It allows us to be invulnerable observers rather than participants at risk and of sacrifice. Worse, the cynic often justifies his lack of redemptive and courageous action. Ultimately, cynicism is the language of self-preservation, which drains us of courage and shrivels our souls.
Jesus’ warning against materialism—a life comprised of a full garage but an empty and trivial soul—has largely gone unheeded, especially in America, and the impact upon our capacity for courage is devastating. This is because the love of money and possessions often keeps us from doing the right thing with our time, treasure and talent. Materialism conditions our soul to play life very safe and to be very selfish. By contrast, courage requires an ability to be dangerously unselfish. Materialism actively opposes sacrifice because the goal of materialism is comfort, which stunts spiritual growth and harms our ability to persevere through hardship—part of the definition of courage.
But the condition that robs us of this life-giving virtue is one of the largest roadblocks to a larger and more purposeful life: Fear.
This emotion is like cholesterol: Some of it is helpful and necessary yet some is also harmful. When it comes to creating a more courageous orientation toward life, understanding the two sides of fear is essential.
The Bible tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom [Proverbs 1:7 and Psalms 111:10]. Here we learn about what theologians call “Holy fear.” This kind of fear is God-given and enables us to reverence God’s authority, obey His commandments and hate and shun all forms of evil. This holy fear is even one of the divine qualifications of the Messiah, Christ, as foretold in Isaiah 11:2.
But some fear is destructive and irrational. For example, some people possess a destructive pre-occupation with what others think about them—what the Bible calls part of the “fear of man” that causes them to betray their values and integrity. They have the “disease to please” man instead of God.
And some people believe that they are going to be harmed by forces that are possible but not probable in their life. The fact is fear is often best described by the helpful acronym: False Evidence Appearing Real. Many times what we fear simply does not come to pass. Still, when in the grip of such irrational fear, we hide and cower. We live very small lives by avoiding any potential risk and sacrifice. When fear possesses our heart, we will not live with boldness and courage, which the Bible exalts us to do more than 25 times.
This is where a better understanding of our created nature and our inner capacity for courage comes to our rescue, which is found in the next article.