I have been thinking about courage recently. Perhaps it is because Remembrance Day is just around the corner and the theme of courage, like that of sacrifice, are so central to our day of national remembrance of those who served in time of war. Perhaps it has also been seasoned a little from reading a book on evangelism and the courage it takes to “walk across the room” to speak to another person and simply become a friend. Perhaps my reflections come because this Sunday I am preaching on that difficult passage in Genesis 22 in which Abraham was called by God to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac. While we often use that passage as highlighting the faith of the old patriarch, I think it evidences a quite incredible degree of courage as well.
Though I think the greatest spur to my ponderings about courage come from that humbler and more ordinary source of watching two friends each of whom had to struggle with a hard decision that required a vast degree of courage. For one of them, the challenge that required deep courage was to apologize for a particular behavior in the past and admit he had been a bit of a jerk. For the other, the courage-demanding question was whether he would accept the apology as truly coming from a broken heart and then yield forgiveness and hold out the hand of reconciliation. Both needed to find a well-spring of courage to propel them into the places of humble repentance and gracious forgiveness – spiritual geography which many of us will go to great lengths to avoid.
Which reminded me of Jesus’ marvelous parable about the prodigal, who “came to himself” there in the muck and mess of a pig sty, no doubt the realization of his own shameful and selfish actions a greater stench to his soul than that which arose from his surroundings. Whatever else we might say about the repentant young man, I marvel at the courage it must have demanded for him to take step after step down the road of harsh self-appraisal and harder self-humbling as he prepared manfully to voice his now well-rehearsed confession and throw himself upon the hoped-for mercies of his father. The ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, once suggested that “faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.” Or as old time Hollywood star, John Wayne remarked, “courage is being scared to death… but saddling up anyways.”
Admitting one’s mistakes or failures and the wounds we have caused, whether from naiveté and innocence or from willful folly and pride-driven orneriness, demands more than a humbled heart. Confession and repentance demand courage. How often have we continued to bluster out our self-righteous defenses, even when we knew we were only making ourselves look more foolish, rather than journey the healing road of saying “I was wrong. I’m sorry.”
Equally, to accept another’s apology and request to be forgiven takes a deep courage. It may seem far simpler to belittle, ignore or otherwise offer a token acceptance of an apology, all the while continuing to stoke the fires of our bitterness and desire for vengeance, rather than having to humble ourselves and, regardless of the pain suffered beforehand, pursue the blessing of reconciliation.
The physicist Albert Einstein suggested that any intelligent fool could make things bigger or more complex. But it took, he said, “a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” Choosing to turn, and be turned, and moving in the opposite direction is very much what is involved in repentance. Metanoia, the Greek root word for repentance, means basically an about-face. And for any meaningful reconciliation to happen between two people who have been at odds, a double about-face is always required: not only does the one who caused the hurt need to “about-face” and apologize, so too does the one who was hurt need to “about-face” from any stance of unforgiveness to a stance of graciousness and forgiveness. And such movement takes courage on the part of both.
Where would God have you act with courage?