I have been very afraid at least four times in my life. On one occasion I fought a man who had attacked my wife in a dark alley late at night. On another, my daughter Jacqueline was extremely ill with a mysterious virus. A similar experience took place when my son Michael was struggling with serious health problems. And lastly, I was numb with shock and fear when my doctor told me that I had a life-threatening brain and lung illness.
The fear I encountered during those trying occasions took different forms. In the instance when I had to fight to protect my wife and myself it was a stark fear. With my children’s health crises I felt a sense of utter helplessness. With my own health emergency, I experienced inner existential angst at the thought of possibly leaving my wife and small children while only in midlife.
As a proud man it is difficult for me to admit when I’m afraid. Acknowledging fear makes me feel uneasy. Yet I know upon reflection that the virtue of courage is not the absence of fear but the recognition that some things are more important than my personal safety and peaceful state of mind. Thus, courage can be defined as the mental or moral willingness to face danger, difficulty, or trial.
The great Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) thought that courage or fortitude was a foundational virtue. In Aristotle’s golden mean (system of ethics) courage is the mean and thus the moral ideal between rashness (an excess) and cowardice (a deficiency). Aristotle then defined courage as confidence in the face of fear and danger.
Ironically, the thing I probably fear most is that I will not rise in confidence to face the challenges of life but rather succumb to cowardice. So the inner fear of lacking courage may actually outweigh the external challenges and dangers I face in life.
As a Christian I know God sovereignly orchestrates the circumstances of my life in order to transform my moral character and to make me trust uniquely in him. I am therefore thankful to the Lord even for the trying times that have stretched my character and for providing me with the strength to face those fears and to fight through them. I think about those hard times when I need to summon the courage to face new challenges. Even in my field of Christian apologetics courage is a necessary virtue.
Life is short, fragile, and filled with many difficulties. May God’s grace continue to build in me and you the necessary virtues to face inevitable trials that await. The apostle Paul reminds us of the great comfort that God works all things for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28) and that nothing can separate us from Christ (Romans 8:35–39). Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ provided a moral example by exhibiting great courage during his earthly sojourn of suffering. May his presence in our lives encourage all of us to look to him for help during our struggles.
Reflections: Your Turn
How has God used trials to transform your character?
- For an account of how I faced a life-threatening illness, see the epigraphs in my book, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test
For more about the virtue of courage, see: