I’ve heard it said that courage is not a lack of fear, but is carrying on despite our fears. Many variations of this quote have been attributed to Mark Twain, Nelson Mandela, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Bruce Lee (among others). I particularly like the version attributed to John Wayne: “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
There’s a good deal of truth to this idea that it’s courageous to press on despite being afraid. A Christian might even be tempted to think that God wrote the original version of that quote. But if God made a meme of what He had to say about fear, is that what He’d write? I wondered that today as I read a verse that said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9). Notice it doesn’t say, Be courageous even though you’re frightened and dismayed. No, it simply says: Don’t fear!
Another verse came to mind as I considered that. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). Is God actually saying here that courage IS the absence of fear, contrary to all the cultural quotes we’ve read? Does God actually want us to have a courage that isn’t afraid of things because He is our God?
What these two verses (and other Bible verses) have in common is that they literally command us to have no fear, and then change the focus from fear (or from what we’re afraid of) to a focus on God. In other words, by focusing entirely on God instead of the circumstances, it’s possible for fear to vanish and for us to be left standing there with Almighty God, facing the same situation that we’d previously been so frightened of, but no longer afraid. How is that possible?
The only way it’s possible is if we personally know the God of the Bible for who He really is. When Joshua was told, “for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”, Joshua was meant to remember the God who had already provided Israel with a mighty deliverance from Egypt and with faithful care in the wilderness. When we take our eyes off of what scares us and choose to truly focus on the mighty and faithful God who is with us, God expects fear to flee away. In this way, if we know God for who he really is, and keep our spiritual eyes on him in all circumstances, courage can actually be the absence of fear.
But this will all be a pipe dream if God is just a theological construct in our minds. It’s when we’re convinced that God is always with us, know Him for who he really is, and continually look to Him for help that we can adopt a new definition of courage in our lives (which is actually a very old definition): Courage is the absence of fear when we’re focused on the mighty God who is always with us!
© 2018 by Ken Peters