Thoughts on fear, courage, and foolhardiness.
| It would be considered most natural that a man when confronted with danger, would seek to avoid such at all cost. We would imagine very few that would hurry toward the teeth of conflict. And yet, there are times in the course of our lives when such audacious behavior is indeed the call of the moment.
So now, in charting a course for this writing we would seek to know what a man should do when aroused by the sounds of battle – of whatever kind it may be. We must surely understand that battles in their purest sense are not fought only on blood-soaked killing fields. Many are fought in homes and workplaces. They are part of those long-standing battles of the heart which leave many maimed and bleeding in their daily course of life and survival. And so it is here, into whatsoever kind of fight we are called, that we must study and learn what we are to do.
A QUESTION IN EVERY MAN
It is so very easy for a man to say what he would do if ever challenged to a fight. One author writes: ‘We can never be certain of our courage until we have faced danger.’ A man must learn what he is to do, and if he is able to do it. Many a man has thought himself brave, only to find himself trembling at the report of the guns. Fear has gripped many a seemingly stalwart heart and run through them like an icy winter chill. These had pictured themselves rising to the challenge. But then, in making what they told themselves was a discretionary retreat, they felt a cramp in their bowels and a bitter taste upon their tongue. How many questioned, am I a coward after all? There are others on these fields of choices which have given their challenges a full and welcoming embrace. In spite of a cacophony of voices which cried reasonable things, they drew swords or shouldered rifles and advanced to the fight. Many a brave young man has stood shoulder to shoulder beside his comrade marching to bugle and drum across open fields into the withering repulse of a hundred rifles. What man among them would not have given thought to take flight for the salvation of life and limb? Could they not be exonerated from a coward’s shame if they had run or refused to go? It may be that some would have done so, but the called and the brave could not bring themselves to such a consideration.
FEAR… THE GREAT MOTIVATOR
As unusual as it may seem, fear is one of the great motivators of life, for it not only motivates a man to run away from danger, it can also motivate him to feats of great courage. But why, you may ask, would a man – or woman for that matter – advance toward a certain danger when all that was sanity advised him or her to escape? The answer is not overly difficult when you think about it. For, in many, there was a mandate of righteousness, a clarion call to do what was right. There was a cause greater than even their lives. In others, there was the shame of being seen as cowards by those who had invested in them their trust and confidence. These they could not bring themselves to disappoint, even if it meant the forfeiting of life itself.
RUNNING TO MEET A GIANT CHALLENGE
There is a well-known example of one of our points shown to us in the pages of Scripture. Most people have some knowledge of the account of David and Goliath. As the account is given, King Saul and the army of Israel stood arrayed for battle against the army of the Philistines. The Philistines, however, held one very certain advantage. They had a champion of war named Goliath. He had been raised to fight from a youth, and just to mention it, he was around nine feet tall. As was not particularly uncommon in the day, Goliath challenged Israel to single combat with the champion of their choice. The outcome of this single combat would decide the battle. There was one outstanding problem; the army of Israel had no champion who could possibly stand against such a man as Goliath. Day and night he roared his challenge, and day and night the army of Israel trembled at the sound of it. David was the youngest of eight sons, three of which were fighting with the army of Israel. David was told by his father to bring his brothers a ration of food so David set off for the army’s encampment. As he arrived he sized up the situation quickly. There on the side of the Philistines was a man shouting curses to the God of Israel and no one was doing anything about it. David, a very spiritual young boy on whom rested the spirit of God, could not tolerate the irreverent defiance of Goliath. If no one else would defend the honor of the Holy One of Israel, he would. David’s oldest brother chided him for being so presumptuous as to consider joining the battle. But David would not be dissuaded. After much discussion, David is allowed by King Saul to meet Goliath on the field of battle. The Biblical narrative is filled with little details which describe an exciting and heroic epoch. One of the most interesting elements of the contest between David and Goliath is the manner in which each man approaches the battle. Goliath is insulted that he is to fight such a stripling youth. What honor is there in such combat for a man of his obvious abilities? Goliath bristles at the sight of David and lashes him with verbal disdain. David is no less cutting with his own tongue as he counters with his own challenge. Goliath then begins to close the distance between David and himself. As he approaches note how David responds. The Bible says that David “hurried and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.” David shows himself to be a courageous young lad. There was a cause to be defended as He seems to have no doubt that God will defend His own holy name.
David ran headlong to Goliath’s roar because he knew his cause to be just and in line with the will of God. The words of Cicero seem most fitting in David’s case: ‘A man of courage is also full of faith.’ We should not for one moment doubt that David certainly had great faith. Please give ear to Cicero yet once more: ‘Never forget that no military leader has ever become great without audacity.’ Once again David fills the bill. Any child of God would do well to have the same boldness, but only if the fight is truly the Lord’s and not one of bravado and pride. Some believers and non-believers pride themselves on never backing down from a fight. In the old days they referred to such boldness as “having sand”, but having sand will not suffice if the motive is prideful or the action foolhardy. Many things in this life are worth fighting for or confronting. You may lose in this fight or you may win. But if you so chose to – as it were- to shoulder your weapon or draw the gleaming blade from its sheath, be certain that you never do so with reckless abandon and without first counting the cost. You may well be cut from the cloth of those who covet the hero’s mantle. Be careful that you are not a hero only to yourself, while others view you as impulsive and careless.
THE QUIXOTE SYNDROM
Many have read the adventures of the hero of knightly virtue named Don Quixote. Quixote is a retired country gentleman who becomes obsessed with reading books recalling times of chivalry and heroism. The story suggests that Quixote somewhat loses his mind to another reality of his own making. He sets out on his own quest to righting wrongs and correcting injustices. Don Quixote imagines foes everywhere. They may have been the fabrication of his own mind, but they were certainly real to him. The term, “Tilting at windmills “ speaks of the act of attacking imaginary enemies.
There are many people who have been fighting imaginary enemies their entire lives. As a matter of fact, they wouldn’t know what to do if they didn’t have someone to fight. Through all of their many confrontations, they are always convinced that they cannot retreat. They must correct a perceived wrong or fight for an imagined right. It is – to be sure - a difficult, dangerous, and most laborious way of living.
. The Bible is sure to teach us that there is a time for war and a time for peace. This is true whether you are speaking of nations or men in their daily dealings with others. Being always found running headlong into some condition of battle is the manner of fools. We have all heard the saying, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Many a man and woman have never taken heed to that saying. They have spent their lives governed by the basest of instincts and emotions. Such is the common problem with those who are controlled by their own wills.
THE HUMAN WILL…A HARD TASKMASTER
The will can be likened to a man becoming an overseer who is unfit for the job. In such a case woe be to those placed under his charge. When personal will governs a man’s life, woe is to that man. It is true that men have thought it a wonderful freedom to direct their own wills. It is, no doubt, the prevailing mindset of our world today. Our postmodern society sets a high store in the individual’s free and unhindered will. But what so many have yet to learn is that the greatest pleasure is to be enjoyed when a victory is won over our personal ways and determined wills. So similar to this thought is when the savior said, “Whosoever will find his life will lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.” It is in giving up the very thing we thought indispensable for true happiness that we find true freedom. When we consider the blessed saints in heaven along with the Holy angels, how do we picture their state? Do we see them as free willed and free thinking? If we do we are sadly mistaken, for their wills are captive to the pure and righteous will of God. They are enjoying the greatest freedom in that they have given up freedom into the hands of infinite wisdom. John Calvin’s words are most appropriate here: The great point, then, is, that we are consecrated and dedicated to God, and, therefore, should not henceforth think, speak, design, or act, without a view to his glory. What he hath made sacred cannot, without signal insult to him, be applied to profane use. But if we are not our own, but the Lord's, it is plain both what error is to be shunned, and to what end the actions of our lives ought to be directed. We are not our own; therefore, neither is our own reason or will to rule our acts and counsels. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make it our end to seek what may be agreeable to our carnal nature.
CHOOSING WITH CAUTION
And so in this life among men, there are many choices to be made, and many battles to run toward or retreat from. It is true that the very thought of retreat may cause some to bristle with disgust, but in that certain season, there may be little else you can do. By all that lies within you, be brave, stand like men, and fight the good fight. I Cor. 16:13 reads, ‘Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, stand ye like men, be strong.’ This is surely how we all should be, but we should always be cautious and wise to know when the time is warrant to do what these words enjoin. Without such understanding, all action may well turn to folly. So go forth to the fight if clearly called, but only in the wisdom of God. And remember, like David of old, the smooth stones you take up for the fight must be of God’s choosing. And if the call to the conflict is not crystalline in your hearing, then stay your hand from striking out and chose rather to be patient. Surely there are battles which lie ahead. Use wisdom now, and when it is time God will call you, and stand with you in the fight.