Courage in Tiananmen Square
I had never felt more alive than the day I stood with a group of pro-life protesters before a police station in Tucson, Arizona, hands cuffed behind my back. About a hundred of us—mostly Christians—had violated the law to protect the lives of innocent, preborn babies and their mothers. In the line, guarded by officers with their guns ready, were grandparents, parents and children, teenagers, young couples and singles.
Many will cringe at that description of abortion, an emotional reaction which is another indication that the culture of death has dominated the US and much of the world. Women are objectified and babies murdered, all within the law. Moral evil is rampant in our world.
For years we have condemned the killing of innocents in far off places like the killing fields in Cambodia and Rwanda, and—in an earlier day—the Nazi extermination camps. We speak piously of what we would have done in those places, how we would have stood against the evil. Today the evil is part of our daily environment. We drive by a building where women are violated and children killed and don’t see what is happening. It is easier to not see. To see requires responding, which requires a virtue mostly lacking in the postmodern world: courage.
Why did I feel more alive standing in front of that police station? Because I not only saw the evil; I had the courage to act appropriately.
There is no freedom without courage
I am writing not only to my readers, but to myself. At this moment in the life of my nation, with the growing onslaught of tyranny, I find my courage lacking. I need to be reminded of this essential virtue.
The Athenian historian Thucydides wrote, “The secret to happiness is freedom … and the secret to freedom is courage.” What is this virtue of courage that needs to be restored in the lives of all who would live free?
As the Hebrews prepared to enter the promised land, Moses passed the mantle of leadership to Joshua with these words: “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you,” (Deu 31:6 NKJV).
The land promised to them was home to a large enemy force living in fortified cities. “Descendants of Anak,” the spies said, “We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them!” (see Numbers 13:28-33). But Caleb and Joshua dissented. “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
These two faithful leaders understood that the people of God should not fear. Why? Because the Hebrews were superior soldiers? Because they had better weapons? Because they were more numerous? No, no and no. They should not fear, because, as a later Israelite king, David, would say facing the giant, “the battle is the Lord’s and he will give all of you into our hands,” (1Sa 17:47 NIV).
Courage, the highest virtue
So what virtue pushes back fear?
Courage, first used in English in 1300 AD, means “heart … spirit, temperament, state or frame of mind.”
The American Lexicographer, Daniel Webster, in his 1828 dictionary defines courage as
[Latin, the heart.] Bravery; intrepidity; that quality of mind which enables men to encounter danger and difficulties with firmness, or without fear or depression of spirits; valor; boldness; resolution. It is a constituent part of fortitude; but fortitude implies patience to bear continued suffering.
Westerners often lack courage because we value our affluence and personal peace more than freedom. We cringe in fear before tyrants when we should live courageously to ensure our freedom. To fight against tyranny will lead to suffering. We prefer a lifetime of enduring the abuse of tyranny to living courageously in opposition to the evil so that we might live as free men and women. C.S. Lewis said it best in the Screwtape Letters: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means the point of highest reality.”
A compelling example
Marvin Olasky recently published an interview with Canadian author and artist Michael O’Brien who has lived a quiet life of courage. The article is titled “Out of Desolation, Fruitfulness.” It is a wonderful interview with a remarkable man who followed his calling as an artist and stood against the moral evil and growing tyranny in Canada. I have excerpted part of O’Brien’s reflections in response to Olasky’s questions.
Your novels warn of the development of a totalitarian government. Are we heading in that direction? My nation, Canada, is far worse than yours, but apart from a massive turning back to God, there will be further degeneration. Totalitarian systems have three things in common: the rejection of binding moral absolutes established by God, the minimizing of the absolute value of human life, and the elevation of the state to be the final arbiter of good and evil.
What signs of the times should we be particularly looking for? A crucial symptom is the violation of personal conscience, where your government commands you to do immoral things and presents evil as good. That’s the way Satan works. We need to awaken to something that Christians have known of for 2,000 years: spiritual combat. We need to ask our Father in heaven for the grace to discern good and evil, and the grace of hope. Hope is not optimism. It’s a supernatural gift.
Abortion is one evil to which leaders demand complicity. To what else should we be paying attention? Murder and falsehood are of the realm of Satan, and to the degree that as a nation or in our own lives we make active murder part of policy, we are cooperating with the realm of evil spirits. Murder is the unjust taking of life: Abortion and euthanasia are acts of murder that cannot prevail in a society without bringing down the justice of God. Punishment by the state of those who do not comply is a symptom we must look out for. Parents especially are under great burdens in our times, and all too easily the state can parachute in and relieve us of some of our responsibilities: Be extremely careful because freedom cannot continue to be freedom without responsibility and hard labor. Life costs. To raise a family costs. Sometimes it costs a great deal, sometimes everything. So, what then do we believe in? Are we willing to give our lives that life and light may prevail?
Courage is contagious!
It takes courage and sometimes suffering, to follow one’s calling, to stand against tyranny. It takes courage to disobey a government that demands you speak only government-approved speech. It takes courage to stand against a government that forbids you to do good or demands that you do evil, to pay the price of doing good or opposing evil.
The full article may be found here.
As the great evangelist Billy Graham said, “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”
As we face growing tyranny, may we be the people in our generation who stand with the saints of previous generations to Moses’ charge: “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”
- Darrow Miller