One more thing needs to be said about courage before moving on. Recall in the last post that courage needs a moral compass to direct it and practice to sharpen it. It also needs something to inform it, something to give it the strength of resolve to act when the time comes. That something is love. Not the romantic or erotic love of the man who woos a woman (though he may need that before all is said and done). It is what CS Lewis called agape, or what is really meant by the word charity, a love not motivated by self-interest, a love that seeks the good of the beloved above the lover’s own, even at the lover’s expense.
This type of love can be difficult to understand for it does not rely on affection or emotion. Not because emotion is not a part of agape, but because agape is larger and more decisive than emotion. Agape is the result of a promise; a lawful vow, a covenant between the lover and the beloved. We are frequently told that emotion is love, but emotions can change rapidly based on the circumstances of the moment. An angry word in a moment of weakness, a pretty face and figure passing by, a bad day at work, or even simple weariness can cool the flames of the most ardent lover. Because agape is based on decision and not emotion it can continue to love and seek the good of the beloved even when emotions fail the lover.
Agape can have any number and types of objects. Friends and family are the first that come to mind. There is little doubt that many men are willing to sacrifice to protect their loved ones. But there are more abstract objects; things like country, honor, freedom, the good, the true, and the beautiful. The greater and more noble the object of one’s love, the greater the deeds of courage a man may exhibit. This is not to say that there can be no other motivation behind heroic deeds. Fear, hatred, and greed can all be strong motivators to action, but the action they motivate, however heroic, will ultimately fail. Love ennobles and builds a man up. Evil can only destroy the evil man. Taking it further, love is infinite and will continue to build a man up until, by God’s grace, he enters the Kingdom. Evil is finite and turns back in on itself like a black hole. Hell has boundaries; Heaven does not. So then, the action born of evil motives must eventually fail the one who relies on them. The man who loves his country and his kinsmen will continue to hold the field long after the slave, the oppressed, and the mercenary have fled. He may be defeated, but not until he has given to the uttermost.
This agape, then, is what gives real courage its strength. GK Chesterton spoke of it when he wrote: “the true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him”. Steven Pressfield wrote about it in “The Gates of Fire”, saying: “the opposite of fear is love.” It is mentioned repeatedly throughout Scripture; for example in Romans when St. Paul writes “you did not receive a spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adaption, by whom we cry out “Abba! Father!” or St. John in 1 John 4:18 “…perfect love casts out fear” This is the love that strengthens the courage of the husband, the father, and the employee as much as it does the hand of the soldier in battle. It gave Martin Luther the courage to stand firm against the combined powers of the Emperor of Europe and the Roman Catholic Church. It comforted thousands of martyrs as they went peacefully to face horrible deaths at the hands of the Roman Empire. And it was love for His Father, and for us, that led to the greatest act of courage the world has ever known when a humble Jewish carpenter, God who was made man, allowed human hands to nail him to a cross. The love that held Him there until all was accomplished is the same love that will give us the strength to courageously face every day the moral battles of life until we hear Him say to us, “well done” and enter into His rest.
There is so much more that could be said about courage, and maybe I will revisit it in another post. For now, though, having talked about courage, honesty, fidelity, physicality, it may be time to lighten up. What do you think?