Jules Tompkins is one of my close friends and absolutely one of the finest writers I know. He’s a freelance writer based out of Phoenix. Hire him if you wanna. You can and should. Email him here. And enjoy this post from him about courage [and cowardice].
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When we think of courage, we think of men like William Wallace (what’s guestblogging for a Scotland-based blogger without a mention of WW?), who stared down his enemies with steely eyes and faced death with lionhearted bravado. It’s natural for Mr. Braveheart to come to mind, as Wallace’s courage was outward, vocal, and expressive.
But how do you and I — mere commoners, or so I assume — channel such animate, spirited, boldfaced courage in our day-to-day?
“Commoner” — that’s what I just called you and I and that’s probably what we are. (If you’re something else, forgive me.) The fact of the matter is, Mel Gibson probably won’t make a movie about either of our lives. And thus, our plight, as commoners, is to figure out when and where we can plug in the aforementioned Wallace-like bravado. If your life is like mine, such opportunities are few and far between.
Instead, we’re stuck with mundanity. That was reality check number one.
Courage has one antonym, in particular, that’s pretty indicting — “cowardice.”
Cowardice (n): lack of courage to face danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc.
Sure, there are some other antonyms: fear, doubt, timidity, faint-heartedness. But none of those really come with the sting and zing of cowardice. While I’m quick to empathize with the fearful, doubtful, timid and faint-hearted, the last person I want to identify with is the coward.
I hate the coward.
If I were to be honest with my self, though, I am the coward. (Reality check number two.) Thankfully, though, I’m in good company.
The book of Judges tells the story of a coward named Gideon. While he’s tending the vineyard, Gideon is visited by an angel who greets him with an encouraging salutation: “The Lord is with you mighty warrior.” Gideon’s response to the greeting is very unmightywarrior-like. He questions God, asks for a sign, and hides. In the end, however, Gideon fulfills his purpose, and his title, by bravely leading the Israelites to victory over the Midianite army.
The gospels tell Peter’s story, which is a similar one. Peter was one of Jesus’s top disciples, if you will. He was one of the three present at the Mount of Transfiguration and one of three at Jesus’s side the night before his crucifixion, in the Garden of Gethsemane. As such, you’d expect some kind of unwavering loyalty, no? Yet, regardless of even being foretold of his cowardice, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times in a matter of hours, due to fear of dying with Jesus. However, a few decades later, history tells us that Peter — a bold, passionate apostle at this point — dies a death much like Jesus’s, as he was martyred on an upside-down cross.
Finally, there’s Jesus. Before you are outraged and begin chanting, “Away with Jules! Give us Barrabas!”, let me clear this up — I’m not calling Jesus a coward. Yet the emotions he faced as he went to the cross weren’t very Wallace-like and the weren’t much unlike Gideon’s or Peter’s. Prior to facing his trial, while praying in the garden, Jesus faced immense, unimaginable stress, as he sweated blood and wept. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried out as he hung on his cross. His emotions were thoroughly human.
This is good news. As the book of Hebrews tells us, in Jesus, we have a High Priest who can sympathize with our every weakness. He’s not a mythical, super-human character in a Hollywood film whose valor cannot be attained. As Jesus died his death and breathed his last, he didn’t defiantly belt out, “Freedom!” Rather, his story ought to leave us in awe, wondering who God is that he would clothe himself in flesh and enter in to the vulnerabilities of an infant with his first breath and the weakness and shame of a crucified crook with his last.
Indeed, if we are to live lives of courage, it isn’t Wallace we’re called to imitate; it’s Jesus, who, along with Gideon and Peter, has shown us that bravado isn’t the mechanism necessary to overcome our particular trials.
In the end, “God, take this cup from me” will give us courage,
as God will enable us, despite our weakness, to overcome.
. . . . .
[And I’m speechless. -Annie]