On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused a bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a white passenger. As a result, she was arrested for civil disobedience in violating Alabama’s segregational laws. Her courageous act led to a year-long boycott of Montgomery buses and was a spark in the civil rights movement. Later, she also collaborated with civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Parks took a courageous step in what she did, but as she said, “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear, knowing what must be done, does away with fear” (seattletimes.com).
Courage is not the absence of fear.
WHAT IS COURAGE?
A dictionary defines courage as “that quality of mind which enables men and women to encounter danger and difficulties with firmness” (webstersdictionary1828.com). It is bravery, valor, boldness, and resolution, even in the midst of fear. It is also a strength in the face of pain or grief. A blog, Lions Whiskers, refers to 6 different types of courage: physical, social, moral, emotional, intellectual, spiritual (lionswhiskers.com). I want us to look at courage in an additional way by distinguishing two major different types of courage.
Firstly, there is “red hot courage.” This is the courage of a person who rushes into a burning building to rescue someone trapped in the flames. It is the courage of a person who dives into troubled waters to rescue a swimmer in danger of drowning. It often involves the risk of bodily harm or even death. It happens, often without thinking. It is done at the moment of a crisis, and often the person is self-effacing when it is all over.
Secondly, there is what I call “cold-blooded courage.” This is the courage of someone who has had time to think about a circumstance or situation, what it would involve, and what the consequences might be. It is done with deliberate action, knowing what it might lead to. This is the kind of courage we need today. Let’s look at some examples of “cold-blooded courage.”
I came across a marvelous story of courage—the story of Sophie Scholl.
Sophie Scholl was raised, along with her older brother Hans, in a nominal Lutheran household. Like most German children at the time, she was a member of the League of German Girls and her brother a member of the Hitler Youth. However, as they grew up, they became more and more disillusioned by the Nazification of virtually every area of German life and Hitler’s tyrannical opposition to much they believed to be good, such as works of art and music considered to be non-Aryan.
As students at the University in Munich in the early 1940s, they began seriously to consider, partly due to the influence of Christian professors, what their faith was demanding of them. Finally, the slaughter of Polish Jews and Russian POWs pushed them to act against Nazi atrocities. Hans founded an underground resistance group called The White Rose and began, with a few friends, to write, publish, and distribute leaflets advocating passive resistance to Hitler’s policies and for the eventual overthrow of National Socialism.
When Sophie, having arrived at University after her brother, was introduced to his friends, she insisted on joining the group. They acquired a typewriter and a mimeograph machine to produce their leaflets and bought paper and stamps in small amounts from different sources so as not to arouse suspicion. They would mail them anonymously to nearby homes and distribute them secretly around their university campus.
While distributing their sixth group of leaflets at the University, Hans and Sophie, along with friend Christoph Probst, were discovered, arrested, and charged with treason. Within four days, they had been accused, tried, condemned, and executed. Sophie was 21.
According to several witnesses, Sophie died as she had lived, with grace and courage, and without regret. As she was led to the guillotine, Sophie reportedly said, “Such a fine sunny day and I have to go …. What does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
As Hans once wrote to a friend: “Should one go off and build a little house with flowers outside the windows and a garden outside the door and extol and thank God and turn one’s back on the world and its filth? Isn’t seclusion a form of treachery-of desertion? …. I’m weak and puny, but I want to do what is right.”
Few, if any of us, will face a guillotine for our faith. We will, it seems, face lesser challenges and persecution. Like Sophie Scholl, we will need a courage and a commitment that only comes from understanding that we are called by God to this time and this place. We’ll have to know not only what we are saved from and what we are saved to, but what we are saved for. We’ll have to learn to speak the truth in love, not because it will necessarily “work” but because it is our Lord’s command. We’ll need to strive faithfully to educate and catechize our children, even as we seek to protect the most vulnerable among us, and proclaim God’s vision for human flourishing.
We may have to risk our friendships, our reputations, and even our careers, but, to quote Sophie Scholl one more time, what does that matter, “if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” (breakpoint.org).
To commemorate her 100th Birthday in 2021, Germany is minting a sterling silver coin. The coin will bear Sophie’s likeness with her words “a feeling of what is just and unjust” along the edges.
A great example of “cold-blooded courage” is Queen Esther in the Biblical book that bears her name. She had the courage to take an enormous risk, which put her life on the line, but in so doing, saved the lives of her people. She was challenged by Mordecai to make a request of the king when she had not been invited, which could result in her death. Esther’s courageous response was, “and so I will go to the king, which is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). As it turned out, the king received her, the Jews were spared, and they overcame their enemies.
Another great example of “cold-blooded courage” in the Bible is Daniel, who, while serving a pagan king, still served the Lord, praying to Him 3 times a day. His enemies set a trap that resulted in him being thrown into the lion’s den. All because Daniel would not stop courageously praying to his God. God came to his rescue and honored Daniel’s stand and closed the mouths of the lions.
With Daniel, prayer was at the center of what they did. In Esther’s case, fasting was the key.
THE CHALLENGE TO BE COURAGEOUS
When Joshua succeeded Moses as leader of the children of Israel, God’s word to Joshua was, “Be strong and very courageous… do not be afraid, nor dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7&9).
That is the same challenge for us today. To be a people of courage, especially in times when the world is getting darker, and much opposition is arising against the people of God.
Where does courage come from? It comes from a relationship with God that is consistently built on prayer and the Word of God that builds our faith and confidence in Him. It comes as we commit ourselves to do His will like Esther and Daniel. It comes out of a confidence and trust that is built up in the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit.
A CLOSING CHALLENGE
“The Western World has lost its courage” (americanrhetoric.com). These were the words spoken by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a celebrated Russian dissident, poet, and Nobel prize novelist. He spoke those words in a commencement speech in 1978 at Harvard University, which according to Eric Metaxes, “turned out to be, in the opinion of many, one of the greatest speeches of the twentieth century”(Metaxas, 2020).
Those words “lost its courage” strike a chord in me. Have we, as individuals, as a church, and as a nation, lost out courage? That is a question all of us have to answer.
Metaxas, E., & Morse, A. (2020). 7 more men: And the secret of their greatness. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Books.