By Jonathan Lewis
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.” — C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters
For me, this quote connects with the biblical command “Do not be afraid.” Courage might be described as fear’s opposite. While the biblical writers wanted us to “not be afraid,” the next question might be “Why?” What’s so important about not being afraid? Or put another away, what’s so important about courage?
As you can see, C.S. Lewis has a thought about this. What he seems to be saying is that courage is the foundation of every other virtue. No good thing, no valuable quality, no aspect of anyone’s personality or heart or character will really, in the end, be worth much without courage. Because, as Lewis points out, every good and valuable thing in life will eventually be put to the test.
What good is a compassionate person if they can only show compassion in situations that are easy? Of what use is a wise person who can only express wisdom when it doesn’t contradict another person or won’t step on someone else’s toes? What value is there in a love that can only work, can only act, can only love when no risk is involved?
In the movie The Edge the character played by Anthony Hopkins says it this way: “We are all put to the test. But it never comes in the form or at the point we would prefer, does it?”
No, it almost never does. And that’s why, at some point, in some form, we will all need to be courageous if we hope to be strong, or to be loving, or wise, or merciful—or to be anything else worth being. And that’s probably why biblical writers tell us no less than 366 times that simple and ever-important message: Do not be afraid.
And we shouldn’t be. We don’t have to be afraid. We never ever have to be afraid as long as God is with us, and He is with us as long as we ask Him to be, as long as we let Him be. With us, protecting us, helping us – this is where God wants to be, if we will let Him.
So let us be courageous: courageous that we might not be afraid, courageous that we might be everything else God wants us to be. Let us be courageous even when, especially when, it’s hard.
Jonathan Lewis is Staff Chaplain at Methodist South Hospital.