Greater Than Fear

I am currently taking a Composition class, and recently wrote a short definition essay about courage and its importance in a believer’s life. I have been urged by several people to post it, so here it is. Enjoy.

Greater Than Fear

Courage is a quality with a thousand definitions, the majority of which depend upon the opinion of the definer. The dictionary definition is, “…the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear.” A person in the military may believe courage is what drives him to fight on the front lines and prepares him to die for the welfare of an entire nation. G. K. Chesterton believed an aspect of this, saying, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.” A plethora of examples of what is perceived to be courage and its products exist, but I believe courage to be something very different from the most common definitions.

Harper Lee defined courage accurately in her book, To Kill A Mockingbird. Atticus, a main character in the book, was speaking to his son, Jem, when he said: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” In the Vietnam War, something drove many soldiers to continue fighting, even with the chaos of war surrounding them. One must only imagine walking through the jungles of Vietnam, struggling to fight with the corpses of fellow brothers in arms scattered across the ground, to get a sense of the reality in this definition. Courage gave soldiers the strength to carry on. Lee’s definition is correct, but is it complete? I believe her concept of courage is lacking a key ingredient: purpose. Why does courage carry us through a noble task amongst incomprehensible opposition?

Since ancient times, wars between tribes, states, and nations have been waged constantly. The nation which successfully builds an empire is the one that efficiently utilizes the most destructive weapon of all: fear. Adolf Hitler used this powerful force to his advantage in World War II, a war in which tens of millions were killed. Fear also proved itself to be Hitler’s own undoing through his suicide. Courage is the antonym of fear; to resist fear, one must have courage. Another famous author of American literature had his own definition for courage. Mark Twain said, “Courage is the resistance to fear, the mastery of fear – not the absence of fear.” For there to be courage, there must also be fear. Courage has to be in opposition to something; otherwise, there would be no need for courage. Bravery caused the Allied forces to stand the gap against Germany’s seemingly unstoppable reign of terror. Is that all there is to bravery though? Is courage simply overcoming fear, without any purpose? What truly caused millions of men to accomplish that which many would label brave?

Although the definitions I have given so far are rather insightful, I believe they are insufficient, because they do not answer the simple question of purpose. Why do soldiers continue to fight when victory seems to be unreachable? Why does a believer in Christ stand up for what he knows to be right amongst those who might persecute him? My favorite definition of courage explains this; it is a revised version of Ambrose Redmoon’s definition, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather action, based upon the realization that there is something more important.” This is why: Something greater than our fear exists, and that is why we persevere through difficult times; that is why we fight for our nation, and that is one reason believers stand up for the Word of God.

No matter what definition for courage the reader prefers, it likely contains truth. I believe the definition stated above is the best because it describes not only what courage truly is, but why we must have courage: because there is something of greater importance than our fear, and ultimately ourselves. In reality, true courage cannot be practiced with a selfish attitude; it must be performed with humility of mind, regarding others as more important than oneself. In fact, to practice any other virtue, one must have courage. C. S. Lewis said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Whenever one encounters a trial, he faces fear. To truly practice any virtue, one must have the courage to overcome this fear, realizing the end result is much more important than the fear that impedes one from growth as a believer. Courage is one of the most important virtues one can possess, as it drives all others. As Christians, we cannot walk with the Lord without courage.