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Fear & Courage

My mother once, when I was still quite young, told me a story of a rich lady who was hiring a coach driver. To find out whom she wanted to employ, she asked each of them the question how courageous they were when driving a coach on a mountain road besides a ravine. The one bragged even more than the other, until one said that it was his custom to stay away as far as possible from the edge and he of course got the job. Later I would conclude that driving too close to the mountain wall would not be wise either, as it would damage the wheels. Still later I learned about virtue and about Indian gurus who attempted shortcuts too Nirvana. Many people that are too fanatic in climbing up, run the risk of falling down deeply. This holds also in the matter of fear and courage. Courage is indeed not the absence of fear, but the virtue to act in the face of fear. A calculated risk is not a gamble.

"Be it we live, be it we die; be it we eat, be it we fast: we live life for the Lord."

"A man proposes..."

"...but God disposes."

Literal or physical aspect

Intellectual aspect

Emotional aspect

Spiritual aspect

"Fear not!" "Take courage!"

"Buy out the time!" "Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."

"You must not tempt the Lord, Your God."

"With trembling and fear work out your salvation, for God is the one that effects both the working and the willing."

Power of positive thinking. God as a kind leader for our own ends.

Power of negative thinking. God as a stern teacher for our own ends.

Too daring. Treating life as a gamble. God is seen as a kind of Saint Nick.

Too anxious. Too careful. God looms practically as a bogeyman.

Irrational courage. Rashness. God pictured as an automaton.

Irrational fear. God seen as a consuming fire.

Deathwish/Paranoia. God considered as a sadist.

The science of invention is often said to be a question of trial and error, but the Christian life is not supposed to be that; even though it is a learning process of falling and getting up again. An inventor follows an idea, a Christian is supposed to follow the light. And the crucial beginning is the life giving conversion by faith, the transplantation from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. And on the new and eternal road the Christian encounters philosophies like the power of positive thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. In reaction to him others wrote about the power of negative thinking. The former turns the Christian virtue and habit of prayer into a farce and attempts to subject it to a supposed power of positivity. Many Christians have been adversely influenced by this hollowed out way of thinking, from which the blessed gospel is sapped out.

A supposed courage through optimism without the clear inspiration and advice of the Bible, is like setting sail without a compass. And a set of calculations reasoned from negativity, so as to eliminate fear, is like making a boat with a number of reserve masts, reserve compasses and as many things as possible in double or even triple backups. The first is too cheap and risky and the second one is too expensive and cumbersome and both are actually foolish.

As to our outlook as Christians on life, we are told not to fear and to be courageous. As to our power of thinking we are told not to lean on our own understanding (not that we should neglect it!), but to be renewed through the spirit of our minds. As to our relation with the Lord, we are told not to tempt God, but to work out to completion the fruits of our conversion (I put it in my own weak way) with fear and trembling and then we will experience that God is the One that effects both the working and the willing. Thinking about Solomon's advice not to take your own power of reasoning too seriously, but to be supported by trust in the Lord and His Word, makes me conclude that Christian intelligence actually can be dynamic and not static like an IQ developed to maturity. And through the working of the Holy Spirit through prayer, we can even be lifted up beyond ourselves.

However, often it is not as beautiful as that. There can be overwhelming fears and even sicknesses like paranoia. There can be sinful rashness and careless gambling. There can be the following of false and misleading teachers that conjure up visions of heaven in the face of a wicked world. There can be the ideas of financial pundits at the local bank that rob you of your life savings. In short, there can be a time like Job's in your life. Things so stark that they threaten to strangle your very Christian faith. Remember then that the Lord prays for us. Whether it be we betrayed the Lord like Peter, or became unfaithful like Samson; or whether Satan attacks us like a roaring lion to destroy our faithfulness. Scripture promises us that the Lord will not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength, but to provide a way of escape with the temptation. Let us not, then, harden our hearts like David did in the affair with Bathsheba. Let us heed the Lord's words: Be vigilant and pray that you do not come into temptation. When you do that faithfully, you will hear the alarm bells before the devil can hit you by appealing to your own sinful desires and you will stop at red signs.

When things get serious and vicissitudes follow each other, it is possible to land in a vicious circle. Then we easily get angry with God and, like Job, accuse Him of making us the target of His wrath. It is also possible to be led astray in successive stages towards rashness and insane optimism as with the so-called Toronto blessings, when some people made the strangest sounds, supposedly through the Holy Spirit. Holy rollers turn God into a caricature. Even though the apostle Paul warned against philosophy as empty deceit, it still happens all the time that people think up new philosophies and theologies. And once a trend has been set, people tend to go off on a limb and can thusly end in the lopsided idea of God as (mainly) a consuming fire. People that listen to such sermons become psychological and spiritual jetsam and flotsam. After God had broken Job's spirit (note: not destroyed) through accumulated adversities, He taught him to trust again and have faith in the all-knowing wisdom of his Savior. He had already exclaimed that he would see his Savior in his (resurrected) body, but in the end he learned his lesson and repented of his accusations against God and even became an intercessor that had to pray for his friends.

Often, when we have been inordinately bold, fooling ourselves that the Lord has opened doors for us, we revert to the opposite by some kind of bounce reaction and we retreat into a fearful attitude. Or, what is worse, we become outright rash after we have been fooled by the devil. Also in the matter of the virtue of courage it is a question of balance, of weighing consequences and possibilities. But all of that in the light of the Bible. Historic examples, biblical prophecies, warnings and encouragements, proverbs and forbidding counsels, we must let them all speak to us. The Bible promises the crown of life to those that endure and become approved. Also, in the epistle of James, we are reminded of the fact that in the end Job found mercy in the sight of God.

We are told in the Word that we must enter the kingdom through many setbacks. No easy journey has been promised to us, but certainly a safe arrival. Unfortunately, the security of salvation is withheld from many true believers, as they have been told that that is a careless picturing of the safe haven of heaven, whereas you might be on your way to hell. Others are taught that it is a sin to believe that you are definitely on the straight and narrow towards the New Jerusalem. Again others are told that one can fall from grace and lose one's salvation. This is the ultimate question of fear and courage. But amidst all this theological chaos the Word states that When you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord ánd believe in your heart that God has raised Him (literally, the apostle Paul means) from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation, (Romans 10. 9, 10). And When we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous that He forgives us our sins and cleanses us from every unrighteousness, (1 John 1. 9).



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