We live in a world that no longer encourages people to be courageous. Men, especially, are told to stand down, mind your own business, and let other people take the initiative for a change. I saw a very troubling video on a news show earlier this year. It was in New York City, where, as in many cities, there has been an increase in violent crime. Surveillance footage at the stairs going down to the subway showed a homeless man pushing an old woman down the concrete stairs. She tumbled down the stairs and stopped about halfway down the long flight. Although the fall could have easily killed her, she was still moving. The man then descended the stairs, and as she tried to stand up, he grabbed her, and pushed her down the rest of the way. It was very disturbing to watch. Doesn’t your blood boil as you read this?
But the video caught another thing that was equally disturbing. There were two people walking up on the set of stairs right next to it. They saw the entire incident. And do you know what they did? Nothing! They simply looked and then walked on, going about their business. Now I don’t know anything about these onlookers. But they were physically able to walk up long stairs at a reasonable pace. So I infer that they could have done something. I don’t know if they ever acted. I don’t know if they called 911 or helped her afterward. Perhaps they did. I’m not suggesting that it would have been easy to step in. Who knows if the man had a weapon? But a courageous person would stand up for justice.
The aggressor in this story was not courageous. He was a bully. It does not take courage for an adult man to push an elderly woman down the stairs. In fact, it is a cowardly thing to do. It’s the same with bullying in a school setting or on the playground. Bullies have no courage; underneath it all, they are often insecure cowards. Yet too many bullies get away with it—on the playground, at the subway, and in society. And why? In part, because of the ones who sit by and do or say nothing. They do not cause the bullying, but they enable it by allowing it.
Among the many virtues in short supply these days—in our society in general and often among Christians in particular—is courage. “For such a time as this,” as Mordecai told Queen Esther, we need more courage, not less. We need people with a voice to speak up for the people of God, even at the risk of their lives, as did Esther. We need people who are willing to stand up for Christ and for truth, motivated by love, but with the boldness that moved the early church to action (Acts 4:29).
The newest video learning module from the Center for Christian Studies is called, “The World Was Not Worthy of Them: Stories of Courage.” The title is taken from Hebrews 11:38—the heroes of faith who “conquered kingdoms,” “escaped the edge of the sword,” “were tortured,” “suffered mocking and flogging,” “were sawn in two,” “wandered in deserts and mountains,” and the like (Heb. 11:32–38).
In this video series, I begin by examining the virtue of courage in its Greek philosophical context as one of the four cardinal virtues, and then its reception among Christian theologians such as John of Damascus and Thomas Aquinas. In subsequent videos, I take stories of inspiring people from church history and show how they exhibited courage in their lives—from Polycarp of Smyrna to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
As with other video learning modules provided by CCS, this series includes study questions and links to primary-source readings for further engagement and digging deeper. This series will be informative and inspiring for you and your fellow church members, or for a small group study.
Right now, churches can subscribe to the CCS video library, including this series on Courage, at a 50% discount, available here.
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See our YouTube page for more samples from this course!